Spotlight Accounting

Spotlight Accounting is based on dialogic, pluralistic, external accounting properties. Thomson et al. (2015) articulate that less-powerful stakeholders construct external accounts, create alternative representations of corporate information and communicate new visibilities, aiming to improve accountability. External accounts include systematic, partisan, contra-governing, and dialogic accounts (Thomson et al., 2015). Systematic and partisan accounts are commonly seen in practice and include silent and shadow accounts constructed by activists, NGOs, academics, and other stakeholders. Dialogic accounting remains more conceptual (Thomson et al., 2015) but has the potential to offer greater accountability through being multi-voiced, seeking change (Bebbington et al., 2007), and fostering democratic interaction (Brown 2009). Spotlight Accounting is an emerging form of dialogic external accounting and differs from previously established systematic, contragoverning and external silent and shadow accounts (Perkiss et al., 2019a). The unique features of Spotlight Accounting are the use of the “crowd and technology [crowdsourced platform] as a way of creating new visibilities and channels for participation, and making company performance more accessible” (Perkiss et al., 2019a, p. 93). The term spotlight, as presented by Perkiss et al. (2019a), reflects the illumination of particular stakeholder-driven aspects of corporate CSR as the vital outcome of the concept.

An essential prerequisite for pluralistic stakeholder engagement, and in this case, Spotlight Accounting, is the development of hybrid forums where all stakeholders engage in dialogue beyond technical inquiry (Callon et al., 2001; Godowski et al., 2020). The creation of crowdsourced accounts has become possible through technological advancements and the internet, which allow “citizen accountants” (Bebbington et al., 2017) to participate in accountability processes (Perkiss et al., 2019a). Crowdsourced accounts are one example of hybrid forums because they are spaces for collective learning, discussion, and decision-making. Functionally, Spotlight Accounting involves the systematic collation of sustainability information by independent stakeholders onto a central public hybrid forum – a crowdsourced platform – to enable shared utility, comparability, aggregation, analysis, and improved decision usefulness of CSR information (Perkiss et al., 2019a). Information entered into the crowdsourced platform is obtained from various sources, including corporate CSR information, media, government reports, and silent or shadow accounts (Perkiss et al., 2019a).

Spotlight Accounting bridges the gap between the contemporary reporter-driven CSR practices and the discursive external accountability framework of Dillard and Vinnari (2019). Previous contributions to the social and environmental accounting literature have focused extensively on reporting frameworks on the left-hand side of the CSR continuum; Spotlight Accounting is positioned in a “third space.” The focus of this “third space” is not on the provision of more disclosure but on improved access to information, which has positive implications for the accountability of CSR information (Dillard and Vinnari, 2019). To achieve this, Spotlight Accounting offers a different way of reframing monologic reports, as in the case of many external accounts. It enables alternative data sources to open the data up for broader accessibility and conversations through crowdcrowdstechnology. Spotlight Accounting is a relatively new concept in external accounting, and thus far, its benefits and limitations are only theoretical (Perkiss et al., 2019a). For example, Perkiss et al. (2019a) theorized that the crowd might rely too heavily on corporate-produced sustainability reports, which could impact dialogic accountability. The current paper is the first to utilize Spotlight Accounting in practice and to evaluate the concept’s practical impact on accountability through an analysis of empirical evidence.


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Tommy Andrian, S.E., M.Ak, Cert.DA., MOS.