During today’s Round Table Discussion, an issue arose as to why (some, many?) accountants feel the need for a conceptual framework.  One contributor noted that Basu and Waymire have a paper that observes other business disciplines (e.g., marketing) do not appear to have conceptual frameworks.  Why accounting?
My own speculation is that while accounting and marketing are both utilitarian endeavors, the scopes of the endeavors are quite different.  A company hires a professional marketer to improve direct communication about its products with potential customers.  A company hires a professional accountant to translate its activities into a “language” that investors, regulators, creditors and others find acceptable.  Accounting can only be successful if all of these different constituents either know what the accountant is doing or accepts that the accountant is translating the businesses activities in an objective manner.  Because the value of accounting depends on wide acceptance, a shared vision in the form of a conceptual framework is beneficial.

Is my speculation testable?  Perhaps, but not by looking at other business disciplines.  Instead, we should look for utilitarian endeavors that involve getting buy in from lots of constituents.  The Round Table participants noted that law is one example, and it seems to be a good one as Basu and Waymire document how accounting and law tend to co-evolve as human enterprise become more complex.  Another example might be the development of the protocols that allow the internet to function – this requires lots of different computers to share information.  Alternatively, development of computer languages or telephone network technology (wired or wireless) would be other potential endeavors.  The key is that the endeavor is undergoing continuous improvement, and the question is whether people find a framework useful in guiding those improvements (and possibly for giving new entrants a sense of the scope and importance of the endeavor).

I am aware that Shyam Sunder has a paper analyzing different standard setting arrangements – voluntary versus mandated.  But I do not recall that he addresses whether each endeavor comes with some sort of framework.