The purpose of this paper is to examine the reasons why public sector managers approach either consultants or academics for their help in solving problems related to public sector accounting and management reforms.
A field study based on reactions to real‐life constructs and answers to questions about the experiences of public sector managers in Italian, Dutch and Swedish central government agencies.
Public sector managers approach consultants, due to their experience‐based knowledge, for solving well‐defined practical and technical problems. In the case of tacit knowledge, a strong interaction between the public sector manager and the consultant, denoted as socialization, is the typical way of knowledge transfer. In accordance with expectations, public sector managers approach academics for advice regarding value‐laden problems in their organization. However, academics also give advice about practical and technical issues, usually being the primary domain of consultants, but often when impartial advice is required. Although the authors expected academics to transfer knowledge rather detached from their clients (interiorization), this was not corroborated, because often academics work closely with their counterparts in the client organization.
The theoretical framework was helpful in explaining the role of consultants, but it required refinement in explaining the role of academics as external experts.
The paper contributes to a better articulated set of preferences of public sector managers in asking advice from either a consultant or an academic.
The paper offers a simultaneous and systematic empirical examination of the roles that consultants and academics play in public sector management and accounting reforms.