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Digital archive of theses discussed at the University of Pisa


Thesis etd-04042024-111839

Thesis type
Tesi di dottorato di ricerca
Thesis title
Performance auditing in Italian municipalities: a relational approach to the construction, deployment and effects of an ‘audit(ing)-net’
Academic discipline
Course of study
tutor Prof. Ruggiero, Pasquale
  • audit(ing)-net
  • local governments
  • Performance auditing
  • relational sociology
Graduation session start date
Release date
Background: Despite a general agreed definition is lacking, performance auditing
(PA) in the public sector is commonly understood as an independent and objective
examination of government programs and activities regarding their economy,
efficiency, and effectiveness, aiming to lead to improvements. Moreover, PA has
traditionally been conceived as an activity involving two subjects: an auditor and an
auditee. This approach aligns with the auditing frameworks in place in countries in
which PA has been thoroughly examined, specifically those with a managerial
administrative culture of public administrations, such as the Anglo-Saxon and
Scandinavian ones. In these countries performance-oriented ideas facilitated the
early adoption of PA, with the practice currently considered mature. In contrast,
countries with a legalistic tradition, including Italy and the other Mediterranean
European countries, experienced a more gradual and often less satisfactory process
in introducing PA. These countries still lack complete institutionalisation of PA. This
absence of institutionalisation is observable in the fact that PA can arise from the
efforts of various subjects who, in different capacities, contribute to its ultimate
results and forming what I refer to as an ‘audit(ing)-net’.

Purpose: The purpose of this research is to investigate how the relationships
established between the subjects composing the audit(ing)-net affect how PA is
performed, and the results produced through it.

Design/Methodology/Approach: Drawing on relational sociology, this research
theorises that the mutual interdependencies between subjects generate social
relations. Social relations represent new entities with distinct properties that differ
from the individual characteristics of the subjects involved in the relationship. Social
reality is made of the effects produced by social relations and the relationships
between them. A case study is conducted from two Italian municipalities. Data are
gathered through semi-structured interviews with subjects, both internal and
external to the organisation, involved in PA in the two municipalities. The Interview
data are triangulated with the examination of various documents regarding the
performance system, produced both by auditors and the municipalities themselves.
The collected data are analysed relying on the methodological support of network

Findings: The relationships built within the audit(ing)-net are rooted in a
predominantly bureaucratic-compliance culture. The significance of sanctions and
remuneration linked to individual performance is pivotal in shaping both the interactions
between the net’s participants and the resulting impacts on the net. The propensities
and unique background of the subjects have the potential to make the outcome of
the relationships unfold differently. This could have an overall positive effect on the
functioning of the net in view of a gradual embrace of a culture of performance.

Originality: The use of a theoretical lens that draws on relational sociology
represents the original feature of this research. Additionally, by incorporating the
concept of ‘hybridity’ within relational sociology, this study values the influence of
the context and of the different relationships of which each subject can be part on
the process leading to the construction of relationships. Moreover, this research
stands as one of the initial studies delving into the analysis of how PA is carried out
in a country marked by a prevalent legalistic and bureaucratic culture.