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Conforming or transforming? How organizations respond to multiple rankings

Pollock, Neil and D'Adderio, Luciana and Williams, Robin (2017) Conforming or transforming? How organizations respond to multiple rankings. Accounting, Organizations and Society. ISSN 0361-3682

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Abstract

The dominant theme within extant research on performance and ranking conceptualises the organisational response to a ranking as one where it responds by ‘conforming’ to the measure (Korberger and Carter 2010, Scott and Orlikowski 2012, Shore and Wright 2015). This process of ‘reactivity’ (Espeland and Sauder 2007), however, is not always possible, especially in the complex and rapidly - changing settings described in this paper. In cer tain contexts organisations are typically surrounded by multiple measures, raising the question as to which they should align. Drawing on an ethnographic study across a number of sites, we show how some organisations instead of conforming to a single measu re are ‘transforming’ to respond to the challenge of multiple rankings, by constructing and elaborating new forms of expertise, knowledge and connection with rankers. Unlike prior research that presents organisations as constrained by systems of measuring (which we name ‘reactive conformance’), we examine how they are becoming more proactive towards this challenge (described as ‘reflexive transformation’). Specifically, building on themes from accounting and the ‘sociology of worth', we present evidence tha t organisations exercise greater choice than expected about which rankings they respond to, shape their ranked positions, as well as wield influence over assessment criteria and the wider evaluative ecosystem.