Cognitive affordances in performance reporting: The case of service performance in New Zealand universities
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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to propose that external reports may be assessed not only by their content but also by the affordances provided to assist the reader’s understanding. To operationalise this idea, it is applied to statements of service performance issued by New Zealand universities in 2000. Design/methodology/approach – Using concepts drawn from information systems design, the authors develop an index which is applied to archival reports. Findings – The index is negatively correlated with existing disclosure indices applied to the same set of reports, implying that it captures a distinct dimension of performance reporting. A trade-off is demonstrated between providing more disclosure and more cognitive affordances. The index is fairly robust to certain arbitrary choices in its construction. Research limitations/implications – The concept of assessing the quality of external reports by their cognitive affordances is shown to be feasible by applying it to one kind of report in a particular setting. Further research will be needed to establish how it could be operationalised in other settings, such as social and environmental accounting. Practical implications – With further development, the index may provide a way of assessing the presentation of external reports, and hence of improving accounting standards. It may also be helpful to preparers by providing a second dimension (besides content) on which they can evaluate and improve the quality of their reporting. Originality/value – External reports have previously been assessed in terms of content and of the sentence structure employed. This paper suggests a way of assessing how the structure and presentation of reports affects their usability.
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