The Influence of Administrative Culture on Sustainability Transparency in European Local Governments

Published date01 April 2018
Date01 April 2018
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18xjo5oRuxGHXv/input 616838AASXXX10.1177/0095399715616838Administration & SocietyOrtiz-Rodríguez et al.
Administration & Society
2018, Vol. 50(4) 555 –594
The Influence of
© The Author(s) 2015
DOI: 10.1177/0095399715616838
Administrative Culture
on Sustainability
Transparency in
European Local
David Ortiz-Rodríguez1,
Andrés Navarro-Galera1,
and Francisco J. Alcaraz-Quiles1
Although the transparency and sustainability of governments are currently
of great interest to researchers, few studies have specifically addressed
these issues. Nevertheless, previous research has found sustainability
transparency as a key issue in government–citizen relations, especially for
local governments (LGs). The aim of this article is to identify factors that
promote online transparency regarding the sustainability of public policies,
by means of an empirical study of 62 LGs in the United Kingdom, Ireland,
and Southern Europe. Our results show that the prevailing administrative
tradition may influence the degree of transparency of LGs, with population,
socioeconomic, and financial factors being relevant.
sustainability, local governments, administrative culture, transparency
1University of Granada, Spain
Corresponding Author:
David Ortiz-Rodríguez, Associate Professor, Department of Accounting and Finance, Facultad
de CC Económicas y Empresariales, University of Granada, Campus Universitario de Cartuja
s/n, 18071 Granada, Spain.

Administration & Society 50(4)
Researchers and international organizations have identified sustainability and
transparency as factors that are crucial to our understanding of the impact of
government actions on society and of the working of public administrations.
Accordingly, various agencies have recommended that governments should
adopt socially responsible practices (European Union [EU], 2007; Organization
for Economic Co-Operation and Development [OECD], 2006; United States
Agency for International Development [USAID], 2011). Organizations such as
the EU (2013) and the Office for Budget Responsibility of UK (2014) advocate
making the adjustments necessary to maintain perspectives for growth, by
reducing public debt and the budget deficit to achieve financial sustainability.
In the same vein, stakeholders are demanding that government actions
should be more sustainable and are calling for more information to be pro-
vided in this respect (Coglianese, 2009; Crane, Matten, & Spence, 2008).
Internationally, the economic crisis has led to transparency about the sustain-
ability of government finances becoming an issue of major concern to citi-
zens (Alcaraz-Quiles, Navarro-Galera, & Ortiz-Rodríguez, 2014; Burritt &
Schaltegger, 2010; EU, 2012a; Navarro Galera, de los Ríos Berjillos, Ruiz
Lozano, & Tirado Valencia, 2014).
Transparency and accountability provide essential support to the public
sector, and sustainability reports provide mechanisms to reflect past achieve-
ments and to motivate future action (Lee, 2008). Accordingly, authors such as
Greco, Sciulli, and D’Onza (2012), García-Sánchez, Frías Aceituno, and
Rodríguez Domínguez (2013), Williams, Wimshurst, and Clift (2011), and
Navarro, Alcaraz, and Ortiz (2010) have concluded that the analysis of trans-
parency practices regarding government sustainability is a research topic of
great current interest.
However, despite the various reasons for studying the sustainability of
public entities and the interest aroused by this issue (Dumay, Guthrie, &
Farneti, 2010; Osborne & Ball, 2011), to date, very few studies have focused
on the disclosure of government information about sustainability. Among
these, Herbohn (2005); Navarro et al. (2010); Guthrie, Ball, and Farneti
(2010); García-Sánchez et al. (2013); and Navarro Galera et al. (2014) have
concluded that sustainability is a key factor in the modernization of relations
between government and citizens and have highlighted the need to carry out
more research into how governments promote the dissemination of sustain-
ability information.
Local governments (LGs) are a very appropriate area in which to analyze
sustainability transparency in the public sector (Williams et al., 2011). First,
because these institutions are close to citizens and must respond directly to

Ortiz-Rodríguez et al.
their concerns, and second, because the decisions they take have direct eco-
nomic, social, and environmental consequences (International Council for
Local Environmental Initiatives [ICLEI], 2009). LGs, moreover, are princi-
pal agents of the recent administrative reforms carried out in the public sector
in Western countries, the main focus of which has been the pursuit of greater
transparency and accountability (Kickert, 1997). Finally, LGs, in many cases,
have had to cope with severe budget cuts during the recent economic reces-
sion. In fact, according to the EU “Fiscal Sustainability Report” (EU, 2012a),
analysis of the sustainability of European LGs is a key issue for their viability
and survival.
Taking into account these considerations, we now seek to achieve a greater
understanding of government transparency by studying, specifically, trans-
parency initiatives in various dimensions of the sustainability of public poli-
cies. Accordingly, the aim of this article is to identify factors that may
contribute to the online dissemination of sustainability information by LGs in
the British Isles and in Spain and Portugal via a comparative analysis of the
influence of administrative culture (in the present case, the Anglo-Saxon vs.
the Southern European cultures) on the transparency or otherwise of govern-
ment behavior.
We conducted an empirical study of the websites of 62 large munici-
palities, each corresponding to one of two administrative cultures: on one
hand, the Anglo-Saxon tradition (United Kingdom and Ireland), and on
the other, the Southern European tradition (Spain and Portugal). The data
obtained were then compared with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
guidelines. In addition, a statistical analysis was made of the relationship
between the level of information dissemination and 13 population, socio-
economic and political, and financial variables, to determine their spe-
cific influence on information transparency regarding local government
Government Sustainability Reports and
Administrative Culture
Conceptual Framework
In a context of financial crisis, citizens require governments to make proper
use of resources and to provide a better understanding of the actions taken by
public bodies. In this respect, various international organizations, such as the
G-20 (2013) and International Federation of Accountants (IFAC; 2013), have
highlighted the need for the public sector to increase transparency and
accountability, while achieving sustainable development.

Administration & Society 50(4)
According to the EU (2015), transparency should be viewed as the right of
citizens to access government information and to express their opinion. In
this line, the IFAC (2013) defined transparency in terms of information dis-
closed, regarding not only the actions taken but also the comprehension of
these actions by stakeholders and the responses made by them.
The IFAC (2013) defined sustainability as the creation of long-term value
by organizations, achieving sustainable economic, social and environmental
benefit, and taking into account the viewpoints of all stakeholders.
International organizations such as USAID (2011) have defined sustainabil-
ity as the government’s contribution to the sustainable development of soci-
ety. Finally, the EU (2012b) defined sustainability as the ability to maintain
current policies on the provision of public services, while ensuring that the
costs of present and future debt can be met.
According to Chan (2003), transparency is crucial to sustainability: It
improves relations with stakeholders and reduces the costs of information
analysis and evaluation by users. Similarly, Marcuccio and Steccolini (2005)
believed that the adoption of sustainability practices can improve govern-
ment management. This would account for the growing interest in the adop-
tion of sustainable practices and the increasing numbers of reports published
on sustainability in the public sector (Lewis, 2008). Thus, in a context of
sustainable governance, transparency practices on sustainability can improve
the effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability of public entities. With this
belief in mind, our research aim is to analyze information transparency about
the sustainability of public policies.
In this respect, many studies have been made of private entities, but in the
public sector, research into sustainability transparency is still at a preliminary
stage, and further study is needed (Alcaraz-Quiles et al., 2014; Dumay et al.,
2010; Lodhia, Jacobs, & Park, 2012). According to Milne and Gray (2007)
and Ebner and Baumgartner (2006), the most appropriate approach to ana-
lyze the sustainability reports issued by public administrations is that of the
Triple Bottom Line (TBL), by which the economic aspect of sustainability is
analyzed with the environmental criterion and the social dimension. In fact,
various authors have identified governmental sustainability as a concept that
has three pillars (economic, social, and environmental), with a...

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