Governance and control in networks: a case study of the Universal Postal Union

Eksa Kilfoyle, Alan J. Richardson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to adopt “whole network” perspective and analyzes the governance and control mechanisms in the Universal Postal Union (UPU), one of the oldest and largest inter-governmental networks, through the lens of institutional entrepreneurship theory. The purpose is to introduce a typology of network governance forms to the accounting literature and to analyze the governance and management control mechanisms within the UPU, a “participatory federation” (Provan, 1983) type of network that has managed the challenges of collective collaboration since 1875. Design/methodology/approach – The study benefits from unlimited access to all archival materials of the UPU such as minutes of Congress and committee meetings since 1875 as well as secondary documents and market studies related to the postal sector. The data reported in this study are derived from the archives of the UPU in Berne, Switzerland and interviews conducted with senior officials. Findings – Drawing on the work of Provan (1983) and Provan and Kenis (2008) the authors identify five “ideal type” network governance forms based on such variables as differences in the relative power of network participants and whether these networks have arisen spontaneously or due to external coercion, the authors classify the UPU as a “participatory federation.” Within the theoretical boundaries of this typology the authors identify the multi level governance structures and the use of management control mechanisms by each level of governance. The authors introduce a distinction between the “network constitutional organization” that focusses on the socialization of network members and strategy-level orchestration of the overall network and the “network administrative organization” (NAO) that mobilizes management accounting and control mechanisms to monitor, encourage and facilitate member collaboration. The authors propose that control within a participatory federation is enacted through collective entrepreneurship by governance bodies using management accounting and control mechanisms as institutional carriers. Research limitations/implications – The paper is focussed on the current state of the UPU’s network structure and processes and did not explore the dynamics around the emergence of the different network governance and control mechanisms. An exploration of the collective construction by network participants of the need for these mechanisms would provide insights into how they emerge and might lead to a better understanding of the role of NAOs in networks. Practical implications – The paper highlights the challenges faced by collaborative networks and identifies enabling characteristics of a participatory federation’s governance bodies. The empirical observations within the context of the UPU contribute to the theoretical understanding of the desirable characteristics of participatory federations that might be applicable to similar public and private collaborative networks Originality/value – This study expands the knowledge ofmanagement accounting and control systems in networks. It bridges a gap in the accounting literature by adopting a “whole network” perspective and by differentiating types of network governance structures that usemanagement accounting and control systems. This contributes to the understanding of accounting and control across the full range of organizational forms.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA551
Pages (from-to)551-580
Number of pages30
JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Institutional carrier
  • Institutional entrepreneurship
  • Inter-governmental
  • Management control
  • Network governance
  • Public service

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