Michael Power

Organizations and Audit Trails


Audit trails are evidential pathways linking organizations and their environments. Audit trails in the accounting field are a special case of a more general phenomenon whereby organizations create micro-traces of performance which can be linked to institutionalised demands. The paper uses two contrasting case studies of such demands - the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation in the USA and recent UK requirements for universities to demonstrate research impact in order to explore the structure of audit trails. It is argued that audit trails vary empirically in terms of their primary traces, precision and traceability and a number of hypotheses are developed to explore the sources and consequences of this variation. While the vision of an ‘audit society’ may be overstated, audit trail analysis suggests empirically explorable patterns and similarities in the manner in which organizations create micro-facts of performance. Overall, the paper contributes to existing debates about ‘institutional logics’ and draws attention to an area relatively neglected by organizational scholars.