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In this article, we develop a theoretical argument that leads to a more optimistic outlook on the present state of accountability. By combining the different forums and functions of accountability in a multidimensional manner, the possibilities to hold power to account may be larger than often assumed. The main reason is that functions no longer depend on the well-functioning of a single forum and each forum serves multiple functions. In order to study accountability on a more systematic basis, we urgently need a solid conceptual framework. We aim to contribute to this much wanted coming to terms with accountability.
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Coming to Terms with
Tom Willems
& Wouter Van Dooren
Department of Political Science, University of
Antwerp, Sint-Jacobstraat 2 Antwerp, 2000, Belgium
Department of Political Science, University of
Antwerp, Sint-Jacobstraat 2 Antwerp, 2000, Belgium
Published online: 14 May 2012.
To cite this article: Tom Willems & Wouter Van Dooren (2012): Coming to Terms with
Accountability, Public Management Review, 14:7, 1011-1036
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Combining multiple forums and
Tom Willems and
Wouter Van Dooren
Tom Willems
Department of Political Science
University of Antwerp
Sint-Jacobstraat 2
Antwerp, 2000
Wouter Van Dooren
Department of Political Science
University of Antwerp
Sint-Jacobstraat 2
Antwerp, 2000
In this article, we develop a theoretical
argument that leads to a more optimistic
outlook on the present state of accountability.
By combining the different forums and
functions of accountability in a multidimen-
sional manner, the possibilities to hold power
to account may be larger than often assumed.
The main reason is that functions no longer
depend on the well-functioning of a single
forum and each forum serves multiple
functions. In order to study accountability
on a more systematic basis, we urgently need
a solid conceptual framework. We aim to
contribute to this much wanted coming to
terms with accountability.
Key words
Accountability, democracy, public govern-
ance, networks, partnerships
Vol. 14 Issue 7 2012 1011–1036
Public Management Review ISSN 1471-9037 print/ISSN 1471-9045 online
! 2012 Taylor & Francis
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Contemporary analyses of accountability, both academic and political, tend to be
rather pessimistic. They generally contend that the central ide a of ministerial
responsibility has eroded and that the once solid democratic pyramidal chain of
delegation is broken; as a result, ‘accountability gaps’ and ‘demo cratic deficits’ are
identified (e.g. Flinders, 2001; Mulgan, 2003; Papadopoulos, 2007; Pierre, 2000;
Rhodes, 1997). Questions like ‘Is it possible to safeguard accountability in horizontal
public governan ce?’ are usually approached sceptically and answered negatively
(Michels and Meijer, 2008). The pessimistic narrative risks idealizing the past, as if
holding a government to account was ever that ea sy and straightforward; and it also
risks leading to unrealistically high expectations and con sequently to negative
assessments of the present.
Yet, trends such as horizontal public governance may also have led to a displacement
of accountability, away from the traditional chain of delegation. Maybe the picture of
contemporary accountability does not look so bleak when taking displaced
accountability into accoun t. In order to study this proposition, we need broader
conceptual lenses on accountability. This article develops a conceptual framework based
on combinations of forums for accountability and functions of accountability. We do not
want to re define accountability. Rather, we build on existing concepts in order to
develop a macro-perspective on the complex nature of accountability. We believe such
a macro-perspective to be crucial to understand and evaluate how accountability works
in the complex world of public governance. The main ambitions of this article are of a
conceptual nature. Although actual empirical tests or results fall outside its scope, this
article hopes to enrich future empirical research.
Bovens (2010) in our view correctly states that the concept of accoun tability urgently
needs more systematic, comparative and cumulative empirical analysis, but a basic
condition for this is an agreed upon concep tual voca bulary. Yet, Pollitt and Hupe
(2011) recently describ ed accountability as a ‘magical concept’, based on its broad
scope, great flexibility, normative attractiveness and being ‘hard to oppose’. It is one of
those fashionable concepts with global appeal, which risks becoming analytically useless
because it serves as an umbrella covering various other, conflicting and contested
concepts (Bovens et al. 2008). This article attempts to bring more conceptual coherence
into the diverging development of the literature. To make accountability operational,
we first need to come to terms with it; that is exactly what this article may add to the
already vast amount of literature on the topic.
This conceptual clarification also serves a broader purpose that goes beyond scientific
research as such. Accountability is a core value of public management. Pollitt (2008)
claims that ‘almost everyone, it seems, is agreed that ‘‘accountability’’ is ‘‘a good
thing’’, that is fundamental to liberal democracy and that we need more of’.
Accountability indeed holds a promise of fair and democratic governance. This renders
the research anything but non-committal. Therefore, by studying it in detail we want to
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improve how accountability works; we want to contribute to ‘better public services’, as
formulated by Andrews and Boyne (2010).
The article is stru ctured as follows. In the first section, we distinguish between the
two basic approaches to accountability. While starting from the notion of answerability,
we gradually move beyond strict principal–agent (P–A) thinking and open up to the
complexity of accountability. The second section then identifies five accountability forums
in which multiple accountability processes are at pl ay: the political, judicial,
administrative, public and market for ums. In the third section, we discuss three
functions which accountability is supposed to have: the democratic, constitutional and
performance function. The fourth section presents a conceptual framework combining
different forums and functions.While‘unidimensional’approachesusuallyattributea
particular function to a forum (for instance democratic function to political forum), we
argue that forums may have many functions and these functions may seek many forums.
This approach suggests that the possibilities to hold power to account may be larger
than often assumed. We conclude with making specifications for empirical research by
formulating hypotheses and indicating a suitable research method. We also point to
some important challenges and limitations.
Accountability is a key concept for understanding democratic governance. The question
of how to hold governments to account has a long history. It has evolved from mere
financial accounting into the much broader concept of good governance. In the 1940s,
the Friedrich-Finer debate set the stage on the subject. Samuel Finer believed that
accountability could only be guaranteed by maintaining hard external constraints,
whereas Carl Friedrich argued that self-control is feasible based on broader array of soft
internal norms and values. These two interpretations of accountability are echoed in
much of the recent scholarly discussions (Acar et al.,2008).
Bovens (2010) described a Transatlantic divide in the literature. In the American
discourse, accountability is used predominantly as a virtue or as a set of normative
standards for the evaluation of the behaviour of public actors. In British, Australian or
continental European debates, accountability is seen as a social mechanism, as an
institutional relation in which an actor can be held accountable. These two concepts of
accountability lead to different research agendas and different deficits.
It is, however, doubtful if there is really such a Transatlantic pattern to it.
Moreover, it remains to be seen if the distinction is as clarifying as the author claims.
Social mechanisms surely need norms to function (and vice versa). The intermingling
of both dimensions seems unavoidable. Although both approaches are usually portrayed
as two distinct options, they appear to have more in common than often claimed.
Both are contrasted in the literature for analytical purposes. Therefore, differences get
more attention while similarities are silenced. We argue that an attempt to bridge the
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gap could turn out more fruitful for understanding accountability as a concept and
Finer and beyond: Having to answer to a principle
The first basic notion of accountability points to a condition of having to answer to an
individual or body for one’s actions (Flinders, 2001). In line with Finer, external
constraints guide the agent’s behaviour. It presumes a clear P–A relationship of
bureaucracy that is accountable to its main principles; the citizens and their elected
representatives. Mulgan (2003) defines accountability as a relationship of social interaction
and exchange involving complementary rights on the part of the account-holder and obligations on
the part of the accountor.’Hestressesanumberofdeningfeatures.First,itisexternal
which means that account is given to some other person or body outside the entities
being held accountable. Accountability is distinguished from ‘responsibility’ which
concerns internal norms and values. Second, it also involves social interactions and
exchanges. Third, it implies some rights of authority. The relationship is unequal,
because the account-holder has some kind of moral authority over the party being held
accountable. Yet, this does not necessarily entail actual or formal power.
Although accountability has been a key concept in the field for a long time, there is
recently a tendency to expand its core meaning and a remarkable resurgence of
popularity (Mulgan, 2003; Pollitt and Hupe, 2011). Koppell (2003) for instance offers
five dimensions of accountability: transparency, liability, control, responsibility and
responsiveness. Accountability is, in his view, all those things combined. Those who
build on the Finerian notion of accountability point to the risk of over-stretching the
analytical concept. They argue that the principal agent defin ition leads to conceptual
straightforwardness. The original core sense of accountability, signifying external ex
post scrutiny, is sufficiently distinct from its extensions to warrant separate
Rubin (2006) explains t he attempts to expand the notion of accountability by
referring to a widespread anti-administrative, anti-bureaucratic movement. He
underlines that accountability involves many of the features that are central to the
modern administrative state and what many people find so unattractive about it:
hierarchy, investigation, evaluation, r ules, reporting, etc. He also stresses that
accountability has awell-establishedmeaning:‘the ability of one actor to demand an
explanation or justification of another actor for i ts actions, and to reward or punish that second
actor on the basis of its performance or its explanation.’ Clearly, his view needs an account-
holder who is able to reward or punish, who is de facto aprinciple.
Mulgan (2003) also distinguishes accountability from its related concepts.
Transparency is a vital condition of accountability, but it does not capture the whole
process. Accountability is linked to the internal responsibility of public actors. It is an
important part of the institutional checks and balances system, but there are other types
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of control mechanisms besides ex post accountability. It is related to being responsive to
the wishes or needs of citizens by the government, but that does not mean that they are
induced to do so by processes of calling to account. It also involves public explanation
and discussion in a forum, but it is not the same as the dialogue between citizens in
understandable because they are so closely related to the practice of accountability.
It seems that the influence of the hierarchical P-A approach is so inherently present
that even its critics have difficulties escaping i t. Philp (2009) for instance argues that the
tendency to see accountability as a P–A relationship should be resisted mainly because
the bilateral relationship between P and A is too simplistic and it treats contingent
conditions as necessary ones (like the required level of authority). Yet, his definition of
accountability is interesting: A is accountable with respect to M when some individual, body or
institution Y, can require A to inform and explain/justify his or her conduct with respect to M.
Yet, he mentions the words ‘Y can require A to’. T he account-holder is apparently in a
position to make demands of accountability to the party being held accountable. Again,
this position is not necessarily based on formal or actual power. Although a formal P–A
relationship is not always required in this view, some P–A ingredients are clearly there.
Friedrich and beyond: Managing expectations of multiple principles
In their reference article about the Challenger tragedy, Romzek and Dubnick (1987)
claim that accountability can play a greater role than expressed by the idea of
answerability. Holding someone answerable implies the presen ce of prior expectations
for such actions or behaviour. They state that public administration accountability involves
the means by which public agencies and their workers manage the diverse expectations generated
within and outside the organization’. Public administration has to deal with many different
and often conflicting expectations, which lead to complex overlapping accountability
relationships. Viewing it as a strategy for managing expectations, accountability is more
than the actual fact of being held accountable. It is a continuous process of anticipation,
identification, definition and responses to pressures, which eventually leads to certain
This approach puts a stronger emphasis on the internal dynamics, norms and values
of the entities being held accountable, and hence is more in line with the Friedrich
position. Yet, unlike the ideal-typical Friedrich model, they usually do see a role for
external control. Strong bureaucratic control is, however, one of many forms of
control. Romzek and Dubnick (1987) did not denounce the importance of the basic
notion of answerability. They claimed that ‘limited, direct and mostly formalistic
responses to demands generated by specific institutions or groups’ are just one of many
forms of accountability. Their classification of four alternative systems of accountability
is based on two critical factors: (1) whether the ability to define and control
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expectations is held by some specified entity inside or outside the agency and (2) the
degree of control that entity is given over defining those agency’s expectations. Instead
of downplaying its significance, the authors still use control as crucial for understanding
Acar et al. (2008) claim tha t this strategic approach for managing expectations is
more realistic in prese nt-day complex gove rnance. In stead of relying merely on
public administrations’ complian ce with the rules and prefer ences determined by
elec ted politicians and rewarding or punishing its performance , the strategic approach
focuses on the way public administration manages the diverse expectations placed on
it by many internal and external stakeholders. Many scholars have followed this
‘loo sened up’ line of reasoning. They stress th at the traditional P–A interpretation of
accountability, with its one-sided focus on formal control and sa nctions, is becoming
less suitable to gra sp the real nature of public governance (Behn, 2001; Considine,
2002; Dowdle, 200 6; Flinders, 2001; Hodge an d Coghill, 2007; Mulgan, 2003;
Poll itt, 2008; Scott, 2000; Stone, 1995). The general argum ent of the ‘loose ned up’
approach to accountability is that in complex and dynamic contexts, th e relianc e on
vert ical oversight and control will fail to ensure accountability because it is inflexible
and formalistic. Furthermore, it tends to produce accountability systems that are
risk-averse and retrospective in nature rather than pro- and interactive (Acar et al.,
Michels and Meijer (2008) suggest that there is a need for supplementary horizontal
mechanisms of accountability in line with the structures of government becoming
more horizontal as well. Schillemans (2008) also emphasizes the promising nature of
new horizontal mechanisms. Grant and Keohane (2005) identify no less than seven
accountability mechanisms in world politics; three of them (market, peer and
reputation) are horizontal. They are called ‘horizontal’ because the account-holders are
not true hierarchical superiors: like clients, stakeholders and peers. Nevertheless, the
entities being held accountable are (or do feel) compelled to render account for their
actions to these ‘informal’ account-holders, which makes the process anything but
Their impact, however, should not be exaggerated. Schillemans (2008) admits that
they only work effectively in the shadow of hierarchy. Moreover, Michels and Meijer
(2008) emphasize that they are not intended to replace hierarchical accountability, but
are instead to function as extensions. A mixture of vertical and horizontal mechanisms
can only work if certain requirements have been met, which is currently not always the
case. Hodge and Coghill (2007) identify a pyramid of accountability practices, building
further upon the work of Ayres and Braithwaite (1995) on regulatory practices. A full
appreciation of accountability should therefore include the whole range of possible
consequences (from strong to weak) at the disposal of the account-holder (Considine,
2002; Hodge and Coghill, 2007; Scott, 2000). The minimal threshold to speak of
accountability, however, should always be kept in mind. There has to be a certain
obligation to answer, no matter how small.
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Friedrich meets Finer?
The main advantage of defining accountability in a P–A relation with answerability as the
main currency is conceptual clarity. Yet, when reconstructing how accountability works
in practice, it evolves almost automatically into managing different ex pectations. It reflects
a balancing act among multiple sources of control. Instead of a single P–A relationship,
public officials and politicians are confronted with many ‘principals’ with diverging
and often conflicting expectations. Yet, they remain principal–agent relations, albeit
complex ones. Both approaches to accountability hence do not have to exclude each other.
What follows is an at tempt at a conceptual framework that reconciles the clarity of the
P–A definition with the richness and complexity of real-world accountability.
Bovens’ (2010) definition of accountability as a relationship between an actor and a forum,
in which the actor has an obligation to explain and to justify his or her conduct, the forum can
pose questions and pass judgement, and the actor may face consequences is a good starting
point. Accountability has three indispensable components: (1) the actor should be
obliged to inform the forum about his conduct, (2) there should be an opportunity for
the forum to debate with the actor about his conduct as well as an opportunity for the
actor to explain and justify his conduct and (3) both parties should know that the forum
is able not only to pass judgement but also to present the actor with certain consequences.
The last part of the definition (‘may face consequences’) is crucial, but necessarily
ambiguous (Pollitt, 2008). What is the status of these consequences? In theory, the
lower limit of accountability is reached when a party being held accountable is
compelled, or feels compelled, to disclose information to the public, which has very
limited possibilities to ask questions or pass judg ement. Purely informal or voluntary
transparency does not amount to accountability.
Bovens (2010) labels the account-holder and accountor, respectively, actor and forum.
In our view, the conceptual potential of the term ‘forum’ is not fully exploited. Bovens
(2010) claims that a forum can be an individual, an organization, institution or even
an almost virtual entity like the public opinion. In this way, the idea of a forum loses
much of its clarity. For an actor does not give an account to a forum, but gives an
account to another actor in a forum.
The term ‘forum’ could evoke a strong and comprehensible image because it refers
to the etymological Latin origin of the word forum, i.e. marketplace. Think of the forum
Romanum of ancient Rome; the marketplace that was the centre of public life. This
gathering place was of great social significance, due to the hosting of diverse public
activities, including political discussions, judicial and other businesses. The metaphor
of the forum Romanum captures the notion that accountability is in essence a process of
discursive interaction in public.
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Building on this metaphorical meaning of a marketplace, we will use the term
‘forum’ in a more general way; as a virtual meeting place where ideas, views or
arguments of a set of actors on a particular issue can be exchanged. The term ‘forum’ as
used here is also related to the notions of ‘regulatory space’ and ‘audit space’ which
generally express the same idea (Hancher and Moran, 1989; Kells and Hodge, 2010).
Braithwaite (2008) calls them somewhat more abstractly ‘nodes in networked
If we paraphrase Bovens’ definition, we can describe accountability as follows:
‘a relationship between an accountor and an account-holder in a forum, in which the
accountor has an obligation to explain and to justify his or her conduct, the account-
holder can pose questions and pass judgement, and the accountor may face
consequences’. Black (2008) stresses that accountability relationships are relational
and dialectical in nature. T he interdependencies, which are particularly vital in what she
calls ‘polycentric regulatory regimes’, qualify the hierarchical approach significantly.
Figure 1 attempts to capt ure the interactive process of accountability visually.
In order to understand how it really works, we need to focus on the dynamics of the
many different processes of accountability. It can be extremely complex. Accountability
is definitely multiple in nature, and not dyadic as often assumed (Pollitt, 2008).
Governments are being called to account by diverse account-holders in different forums
for di fferent aspects of their conduct. The accountability process will be arranged
differently each time with different actors that demand different kinds of information.
In each process, different criteria to decide what defines accountable behaviour will
apply and different kinds of ‘consequences’ will be at the account holder’s disposal.
Figure 1: Schematic representation of the basics of accountability
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Governments are continuously being called to account within different forums at the
same time. Many scholars have attempted to reflect the complex diversity of
accountability by formulating classifications (Pollitt and Hupe, 2011). The overview in
Table 1 shows a selection o f some important works on accountability; not with the
purpose of being exhaustive or systematic, but rather to demonstrate the richness and
diversity of the literature.
The common denominator of the classifications suggests an overview of forums in
which the most relevant processes of accountability are being held: the political,
judicial, administrative, public and market forum (see Table 2). It corresponds with
the nature of the actors involved in the accountability processes. While the political,
judicial and administrative forums and account-holders are well-known in the literature,
we would like to draw the attention to the other two forums.
First, governments are also being held to account through critical debate and scrutiny
in the public forum. Many authors use the term ‘public accountability’ in a general way
to cover all kinds of accountability processes; almost paraphrasing Bozeman’s well-
known work ‘All Organizations are Public’. Although it is true that all accountability
processes are in a way public, the term ‘public’ has a more specific meaning in political
theory which is lost in this rather loose approach. Therefore, we delineate ‘public
accountability’ more narrowly: accountability of persons or institutions vested with authority
toward criticism, questions, and commentary voiced in public by citizens or organized civil society
(Steffek, 2010). It is accountability towards a wider public. It presupposes the existence
of a proper functioning public sphere, in which public opinion is formed. This public
sphere is conceptually distinct from the state; it is a place for the production and
circulation of discourses that can be critical of the state (Benhabib, 1993; Fraser, 1993).
The existence of such a non-state or non-governmental, yet intrinsically public forum is
thought essential to democratic governance .
Second, markets have developed into a distinct forum in which government’s actions
and decisions are being held to account (e.g. Goodin, 2008). This market-based
accountability applies to owners and shareholders who can call the company’s managers
to account for its performance, and to consumers who can refuse to purchase or exit to
another provider. It also applies to governments that have to finance public debt on
international capital markets. Due to various New Public Management (NPM)-reforms,
this peculiar accountability of the private sector gets also more prominent in the world
of governments. The increased role of market actors (e.g. rating agencies) in processes
of holding governments to account has led to a real ‘market turn’ for accountability,
which is recognized as significant by most recent studies on the topic (see Table 1).
It is important to note that the classification of forums serves analytical purposes. In
practice, interactions and overlaps between them should occur regularly. Moreover,
a certain forum can have different outlets a t local, regional, national and supranational
level. Yet, by identifying those forums, we hope to be able to better describe and
analyse these complexities. For the same purpose, a further addition to our concept ual
vocabulary deals with functions of accountability.
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Table 1: Different classifications of accountability
Author Different forums/mechanisms dimensions of accountability in literature
Romzek and Dubnick
Bureaucratic Legal Professional Political
Sinclair (1995) Political Managerial Public Professional Personal
Stone (1995) Parliamentary Managerialism Judicial Review Constituency Market
Haque (2000) External-formal
executive, . . .)
(media, interest
groups, . . .)
Internal-formal (officials
rules, codes of
conduct, . . .)
ethics, peers, . . .)
Klingner et al.(2002) Politics Administration Markets
Flinders (2001) Parliamentary Judicial Managerial
Mulgan (2003) Political Judicial Other
Grant and Keohane (2005) Hierarchical Supervisory Fiscal Legal Market Peer Reputation
Dowdle (2006) Elections Bureaucracy Judiciary Transparency Market
Mashaw (2006) Public Governance Market Social
Scott (2006) Public law Markets and competition Networks and
Hodge and Coghill (2007) Hard law and justice
Formal sanctions from
markets and
Informal influences :
clients, media,
Social, personal,
ethical behaviours
Goodin (2008) State: hierarchy Market: competition Non-profit: Cooperative
Bovens et al.(2008) Political Legal Administrative Professional Social
Koliba et al.(2011) Democratic
citizens, legal)
Market (shareholder/
owner, consumer)
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Table 2: General overview of five forums
Type forum To whom? How?
Political forum Citizens as voters Elections Strong
. Campaign, election day, anticipation of elections (proactive
Members of Parliament Principal of ministerial responsibility Strong
. Plenary assembly . Questioning ministers
. Parliamentary committees . Scrutinizing legislation and budget (and approving it)
. Special committees (e.g. policy disasters) . Investigating public policy problems
. Deciding on support/resignation of Ministers
Direct democratic tools Dialogue with citizens Weak
. Referenda, citizen surveys/juries, etc. . Potential decisive vote by citizens
Political parties Dialogue with party executive committee and party members Weak
Judicial Forum Administrative tribunals Hear and decide appeals against government decisions or actions Strong
. Formal power to disclose information and overrule decisions
Judicial courts Strong
Administrative Forum Internal audit In general: Weak
. Court of audit . No formal power to sanction
. Auditors General/audit office
. Inspections
. Informal power to influence, publicize, benchmark and criticize
(naming and shaming, reputation)
. Visitations
. Advisory councils
. If any formal power, very specific and limited (like inspections,
self-regulating professions,. . .)
. Ombudsmen
. Commissioners
. Professional peer review
. Whistleblowers
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Table 2: (continued)
Type forum To whom? How?
External audit
. Regulatory and monitory bodies
. Private auditing firms
Public forum Mass media Information channel and opinion and framing Strong
. No formal power, but great influence
Organized civil society (formal) Monitoring, critical dialogue, petitions, protest campaigns, strikes, etc. Weak
. Naming and shaming, reputation
‘Ad hoc’ action groups or individuals (informal) Ibidem, growing in importance due to rise of the internet, increased
digitalization, Freedom of information legislation, sunshine acts, etc.
Market forum Shareholders/owners Profit, performance indicators Strong
Consumers Competition, consumer panels and surveys, reputation, performance
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Accountability as practice means managing many processes of information, discussion
and judgement in different forums. Not only do the actors use many different tools,
they also have many different expectations (Pollitt, 2008). Accountability tools thus
have various functions, as Table 3 illustrates.
By identifying the intentions behind processes of accountability, we start to unravel
some of the complexities which surround it. We need to understand why governments
are being called to account. Accountability has three distinct functions. First,
governments are held accountable for a variety of well-established rules and procedures
to prevent unfairness or abuse of power ‘constitutional function’. Second, citizens (or
by means of elected representatives) want to have the final say because the ultimate
authority and ownership of the state rests with the citizens ‘democratic function’. It is
not enough that governments act fairly and legally, citizens should be able to control
and elect them in a meaningful way. These two dimensions are concerned with how
government functions.Third,wealsocarewhat government actually accomplishes.Wewant
to hold governments accountable for their results ‘performance function’. Peters and
Pierre (2010) descr ibe the first two functions as ‘legitimacy by procedure’ an d the third
one as ‘legitimacy by performance’, elaborating the distinction between ‘input’ and
‘output’ legitimacy famously made by Fritz Scharpf (1999). They ask the mselves if
‘legitimacy by performance can compensate for a lack legitimacy by procedure?’ Their
answer is negative, which stresses the genuine and independent character of both
It is important not to confuse these functions of accountability with its possible results.
In a recent article, Bovens (2010) adds two more ‘systemic’ perspectives of
accountability: it can help to increase the legitimacy of governance, and it can provide
public catharsis by offering some purifying ritual. By using the term ‘function’, the
value of these additions can be questioned. Legitimacy and public catharsis are in our
view no inherent functions of accountability, but possible consequences of the process.
They can be either positive or negative, while functions are neutral in that respect.
In the previous decades the issue of performance in the public sector became more
prominent (Osborne and Gaebler, 1992; Pollitt, 2008; Van Dooren et al.,2010).The
increasing concern with performance expressed itself in an explosion of auditing,
monitoring and evaluating mechanisms which focus on economy, effectiveness,
efficiency and ‘value for money’ (Power, 1999). It extended beyond financial probity
and due process into a wider range of performance indicators. These new forms of
regulation entail a shift from prescribing actions to regulating for results. Thus, the
widely proclaimed ‘rise of the regulatory state’ has led to a proliferation of various
monitoring and regulating bodies designed to safeguard some ‘public’ standards in the
absence of direct ministerial control (Hood et al.,2004;Scott,2000).
The consequences for the processes of accountability are significant. Accountability
in the private sector applies not only to shareholders and owners who can call the
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Table 3: Different functions of accountability
Author Different forums/mechanisms dimensions of accountability in literature
Aucoin and
Control for abuse
and misuse of
public authority
Provide assurance
for use of public
resources and
adherence to
public law and
Learning for
Scott (2000) Economic values Social or procedural Continuity or
security values
Behn (2001) Finances Fairness Performance
Klingner et al.
Politics Administration Markets
Bovens et al.
Democratic: Control
by citizens
Prevention of
corruption and
abuse of power
Learning: Enhance
efficiency and
Steets (2010) Compliance (with
rules and
Financial Mission of
. Participation
. Avoid use
of authority
. Performance
. Market
. Independence
Accuracy and Quality
. Professionalism
Koliba et al.
Democratic Market Administrative
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management to account for the company’s profit and performance, but also to
consumers holding companies to account through their choice or refusal to purchase
(Mulgan, 2003). Competition is the basis for monitoring and rewarding compliant
behaviour throug h loyalty and for punishing deviant behaviour through exit (Scott,
2006). In recent times, three simultaneous trends managerialism, contractualisation,
and privatization (all falling under the broad label of NPM) had a prof ound impact on
public sector accountability (Hodge, 2009) in two ways. First, market accountability
emerged as an increasingly important and distinct forum and second, the general
orientation towards performance, outputs and results has crept into the other forums as
well. Hodge (2009) states that there is huge array of accountability bodies, including
output specifications, legal contracts and private commercial incentives to manage
commercial risks for performance. He concludes by saying that not only the guardians
have changed under regulatory governance, but also there is a change in what the
society expects of our guardians and governments.
Forums and functions interact in a dynamic way. Functions may be directly opposed,
which means that satisfying one will affect another (Klingner et al.,2002;Kolibaet al.,
2011; Koppell, 2003; Pollitt, 2008; Sinclair, 1995). Lodge (2004) explains how
three doctrines in public management (fiduciary trusteeship, consumer sovereignty,
empowered citizenship) lead to different understandings of accountability, and
correspondingly to different kinds of expectations. Fimreite and Laegreid (2009)
describe how public governance through partnerships and networks needs to be
upwardly accountable to political sovereigns, horizontally to other agencies and
downwardly to citizens and clients. Although the welfare administration reform in
Norway claims to strengthen accountability on all these dimensions, they conclude that
in reality it is a major challenge to balance all these different accountability demands and
to achieve them simultaneously.
In particular, the performance function of accountability seems to set off a delicate
(re)balancing act for which most authors tend to have a rather negative outlook. Behn
(2001) talks about an ‘accountability dilemma’; a trade-off between accountability and
efficiency. Jos and Tompkins (2004) speak of an ‘accountability paradox’, because these
new NPM-styled audit and control mechanisms often threaten the qualities that support
responsible behaviour and judgement. Multiple legitimacy claims and engaging in
multiple accountability relationships can mean that attempts to make an organization
accountable end in the accountability equivalent of the ‘regulatory trilemma’: they are
ignored, co-opted, or destroy that which it is they seek to make acc ountable (Black,
2008). Some authors state that democratic and constitutional accountability is de facto
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being sacrificed in the name of public sector efficiency (Flinders, 2001; Haque, 2000;
Mulgan, 2003). The common outlook on the state of accountability is rather negative.
This is illustrated by the much diagnosed ‘accountability gap’ or even ‘democratic
deficit’ of governance (e.g. Papadopoulos, 2007; Pierre, 2000; Rhodes, 1997).
Yet, some NPM-advocates claim that the focus on perf ormance does not
necessarily imply a degrading of democratic and constitutional expect ations. On the
contrary, by upgrading performance a healthy balance can be found and democratic
governance could even be improved (Osborne and Gaebler, 1992). Responsiveness
towards users and cl i ents, combine d with greater managerial accountability for
results, acts as a promising substitu te for a diminished direct political control. They
claim that the balance betw een the three functions is restored instead of disturbed.
Performance in the public sector matters and may stand on equal fo oting with the
other fu nctions.
An interesting ‘intermediate’ position is held by Steets (2010) who claims that
assessing accountability must be done according to different standards, not a ll of them
democratic ones. She point s to a common shortcoming in many evaluations of
accountability: one perspective (i.e. the democratic one) completely overshadows the
others. It is, therefore, important to make the distinction between the different
functions and forums of accountability. Elaborating on this argument, we believe that
multidimensional way.
A misleading assumption in the negative narratives about accountability is the
‘unidimensional relationship’ between the forum and the function of accountability;everyforum
serves a well-described central function (and vice versa). In the next sections, we
explain its limits in two steps. First, we state that the traditional principal of ministerial
responsibility has (and always had) many pitfalls, which make the process of
accountability less straightforward than often assumed. Second, instead of fearing its
potentially disturbing effects, we argue that complexity and multiplicity also harbour
many possibilities. We illustrate this by using the democratic function of accountability,
because here the dynamic interplay between d ifferent forums is most explicit,
unexpected and interesting. A similar analysis could, however, be applied to the other
Limits of an ‘unidimensional’ approach to forums and functions
Many authors argued that accounta bility for performance disturbed the smoothly
working ‘unidimensional’ relationship of forum and function. The recent rise of
performance seems to disturb this composure, because it does not fit well in this
scheme. Performance used to be a side issue; it was mainly a preoccupation of private
companies, not of bureaucracies. Now a new market forum emerges in a public context
and expectations regarding performance intrude the other forums. Yet, some evidence
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seems to suggest that even in the past (before the pe rformance era), the relationship
between forum and function was troubled. The traditional principal of ministerial
responsibility presu pposes that the democratic function is essentially fulfilled by the
political forum. It is the pyramidal chain of delegation that works as c hief democratic
safeguard (Flinders, 2001; Stro¨m et al.,2008).Scholarshave,however,identied
important flaws in the principal of ministerial responsibility (Hodge, 2009; Stone,
1995). Barberis (1998) describes it as ‘a ruling fiction whereby ministers shelter behind
civil servants and vice versa’. Nevertheless, albeit a fiction, ministerial responsibility is
still ruling. It remains the frame of reference for many, because it has the virtue of
simplicity, according to Pollitt (2008). We have been, as Hodge (2009) says, very slow
to move away from the central idea of ministerial responsibility. Yet, the real world of
public governance has altered significantly.
The principal is imperfect in practice because the main sanction (ministerial
resignation) is applied rarely, arbitrarily and unpredictably. Yet, it faces more and
serious problems. Although elections are a vital way to hold governments to account
and influence the behaviour of politicians in different ways, they have some serious
limitations as processes of accountability (Manin et al.,1999;Papadopoulos,2003).
First, elections are not necessarily retrospective. They can also be forward looking;
voters can reward politicians with the best policy programme for the future. Second,
elections as accountability require politicians who face re-election and genuine political
competition. Otherwise the need to explain and discuss their performance is rendered
meaningless. Third, ideal type citizens vote after a careful process of information and
deliberation. This is a very demanding and unrealistic assumption. Fourth, in
democracies where executive power is shared in broad-based coalitions and elections
are proportional, guaranteeing accountability through elections is rather doubtful.
In addition, the formal powers of parliament to hold government to account can be
seriously eroded in practice for several reasons. Party discipline can tie down both
hands of members of parliament, especially in countries with broad coalition
governments and influential political parties. Moreover, incompetence or unwillingness
to devote time and energy in studying complex public policy in general can also
affect it.
Therefore, relying solely on competitive party elections and representative
parliaments to get democratic accountability, and relying solely on the political forum
for democratic accountability is limited and ill-fated. Braithwaite (2008) rejects this
unidimensional electoral conception of nationally sovereign democracy for application to a world
of networked governance’. Democratic governance is no longer simply a way of handling
the power of elected governments by electoral and parliamentary means. Following his
line of reasoning, we argue that analysing accountability in terms of multidimensional
relationships is more promising: every forum has multiple functions and every function has
multiple forums at its disposal. This intermingling of forums and functions challenges
the idealistic notion of accountability in the past, and also opens the door for a more
nuanced and positive assessment of the present.
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Potential of a ‘multidimensional’ approach to forums and functions
The increasing complexity of accountability is not only due t o the inclusion of
accountability for performance, but also because the forums get more ‘crowded’ by
actors and tools and the interchange between the different forums inte nsifies. Most
authors respond rather defensive to these developments. Koppell (2003) for instance
labels the many, often conflicting, accountability expectations the ‘multiple
accountabilities disorder’ (MAD). It is a prominent example of an important current
in the literature, where past accountability is depicted as being legible and clear and
contemporary accountability as chaotic and obscure. Yet, this negative read ing of
accountability is not unison.
Some scholars have recognized the ambiguous and complex nature of accountability
practice, without drawing the evidently negative conclusion of disorder, deficit, disease,
or worse (Aucoin and Heintzman, 2000; Considine, 2002; Fimreite and Laegreid,
2009; Goodin, 2003; Hodge and Coghill, 2007). Others have suggested ways to
facilitate these complicated accountability processes and to turn its multiplicity into
an advantage. Several related concepts have been issued; extended accountability’based
upon interdependent and redundant networks of accountability (Scott, 2000); aggregate
accountability to illustrate the necessary variety of accountability mechanisms (Freeman,
2000); compounded accountability in which each actor is subject to scrutiny from at least
one other (Mulgan, 2003); 3608 accountability in which each would be accountable to
all the others (Behn, 2001); hybrid forms of accountability ’whichbridgethevertical
horizontal divide (Goetz and Jenkins, 2001); a network approach to accountability to
include promising new tools like judicial and ombudsmen netw orking (Harlow and
Rawlings, 2007).
Braithwaite (2008) goes even further and suggests that a combination of nodal
governance of networks from below and metagovernance of networks by institutions of
representative democracy such as courts can provide superior accountability and superior
transparency than either approach alone. The superiority comes from covering the weaknesses
of hierarchical accountability with the strengths of horizontal accountability and vice versa’.
(emphasis added) Accountability is then accomplished by widening circles of
opportunities to vote for people who represent our interests, to contest power and
domination, and to deliberate in our own voice at many nodes of governance. The
importance of electoral and parliamentary democracy (political forum) is not denied,
but if that is all there is then we are likely to end up with a thin set of protective
measures, according to Braithwaite. The other forums step in and play a genuine role in
establishing and guarding democratic governance: the public forum with its power to
influence public opinion and reputation, non-elected courts which uphold rights of
citizens, a public administration acting on public interests and with a clear public ethos,
markets leading to forms of ‘corporate social responsibility (CSR)’, or more generally
processes of ‘publicization’ in which private actors increasingly commit themselves to
traditionally public goods and values (Freeman, 2006).
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All nodes of governance need enough autonomy and capacity to check others so that
autonomous forums could complement and strengthen each other. Keane (2009) calls
this the advent of the ‘monitory democracy’, where public scrutiny and control of all
kinds of decision makers is p rimordial. It is defined by the rapid growth of many
different kinds of mechanisms which go beyond more traditional electoral and
parliamentary means. In contrast to what is often suggested, they do not have to be
treated as small supplements but could also be genuine scrutiny options. Table 4
illustrates the challenged relationships between forums and functions of accountability.
The majority of the literature on the present state of accountability is rather sceptical.
The ‘democratic deficit’ or ‘accountability gap’ thesis is dominant in diverse (sub)
disciplines such as public administration, international relations, development studies
and EU studies. A good illustration of this common negative disposition is found in a
recent volume of Government and Opposition on the relationship between new modes of
EU governance and democracy (Bellamy, 2011). The typical line of reasoning is that
new, more horizontal ways to hold governments to account are only welcomed as long
as they are embedded within old modes of government that enjoy more traditional
forms of democratic accountability. In other words, they must operate under the
Table 4: Multidimensional relationship between forums and functions
Type of forum Traditional function New functions
Political forum . Democratic (major) 1. Democratic
2. Constitutional
3. Performance
Judicial forum . Constitutional (major) 1. Constitutional
2. Democratic
3. Performance
Administrative forum . Constitutional (minor) 1. Constitutional
2. Performance
3. Democratic
Public forum . Democratic (minor) 1. Democratic
2. Constitutional
3. Performance
Market forum . Performance (major) 1. Performance
2. Democratic/Constitutional
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shadow of hierarchy offered by the standard democratic mechanisms of competitive
party elections to representative parliaments to function properly. A broader basis for
accountability is only acceptable as a minor supplement to the formal institutions of
This article presents a literature review that paints a more positive picture. Core
concepts in our vocabulary are forums and functions of accountability. The identified
forums are the following: the political, judicial, public, administrative and market
forum. Accountability has three functions: the democratic, constitutional and
performance function. While ‘unidimensional’ approaches usually attribute a particular
function to a forum, we argue that forums may have many functions and functions may
seek many forums. This multidimensional approach to accountability suggests a more
nuanced assessment of accountability old and new. First, the traditional accountability
mechanisms such as ministerial responsibility have many pitfalls which make the process
of holding governments effectively to account much more difficult and complic ated than
often assumed. Secondly, the idealistic notion of accountability in the past leads to
unrealistically high expectations and consequently to negative assessments of
accountability nowadays. This is well illustrated by democratic accountability, which
clearly does not depend only on the political forum. The other forums intervene and
could even strengthen the overall democratic claim. In sum, the argument of this article
suggests that the possibilities to hold power to account m ay be larger than ever. The
main reason is that accountability functions no longer depend on the well-functioning of
a single forum.
In order to become a real counterweight in the debate on accountability, this
optimistic narrative needs empirical verification. Accountability needs more systematic,
comparative and cumulative empirical analysis (Bovens, 2010). The conceptual
framework now needs a translation into more specific empirical research. Lupson and
Partington (2011) offer an interesting example of how accountability can be studied at a
micro-level, by exposing the individual perceptions of senior civil servants. The authors
demonstrate that an evasive notion like accountability can be captured empirically. The
macro-perspective on accountability processes presented in this article faces that same
challenge. The next step is formulating hypotheses and indicating a suitable research
Although the claim that accountability is multiple and hardly new (Pollitt, 2008), we
argue that the more account-holders are involved in diverse accountability forums, the
higher the chance that an actor is being called to account to some authority for one’s
actions. The reason for these high demands on accountability lies in the distinctive
nature and scope of government power in a liberal democracy. Mulgan (2003) indicates
two types of justification for this stringent accountability. First, the democratic principal
of the rights of prior ownership, which stipulates that in a democracy a government
draws its authority from the people and is ultimately owned by the people. Citizens
have unique rights to call their government to account simply because it is theirs and
should therefore pursue their interests. Second, the liberal principal that those whose
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rights or interests are adversely affected by the actions of someone else have the right to
hold that person to account for the manner in which they have been treated. Since
governments have extensive powers which can adversely affect the interests of the
citizens, they need to be able to hold the governments to account for the manner in
which it uses these powers against them. Grant and Keohane (2005) call the first
principal the ‘delegation model’ and the second the ‘participation model’. T herefore,
many opportunities to being called to account are as such agoodthing.Especiallygiven
the complexity of the present-day public governance, it becomes increasingly difficult
to guarantee sufficient accountability through one actor in one forum. Although there is
a ‘unidimensional’ approach because of the importance of accountability. As Mulgan
(2003) states: ‘A circle of spotlights uncovers more than is revealed by a single
spotlight, however strong that single light may be’.
H1: ‘the more account-holders are involved in diverse accountability forums, the higher the chance that
an actor is being called to account to some authority for one’s actions’ (multiplicity).
Following this line of reasoning, accountability overlaps between account-holders
and forums increase the chance of being called to account to some authority for one’s
actions (compared to a clear division of tasks amongst them). It reduces the centrality of
one particular actor and compensates for each other’s flaws. Some authors have already
pointed to the potential benefits of redundancy in a complex and insecure context
(Braithwaite, 2008; Mulgan, 2003; Scott, 2000). Schillemans and Bovens (2011)
identify a number of them. First, it mitigates the inherent information-asymmetry
between agents and principals by offering extra inputs. Second, it may be the most
pragmatic and realistic option given the ever-expanding focus of accountability.
Coordination between different actors and forums is too difficult and expensive. Third,
it provides the opportunity to incorporate different values into accountability processes.
H2: ‘accountability overlaps between account-holders and forums increase the chance of being called to
account to some authority for one’s actions (compared to a clear division of tasks amongst them)’
One could make a distinction between contingent and designed overlaps. Although
both are promising regarding accountability, deliberate redundancy increases the
chances on accountability because it offers more certainty that nothing will stay under
the radar of the account-holders. Where one fails, another steps in and still prevents
accountability failure. This does not have to signify real coordination between actors
and forums with high transaction costs; increased awareness and relatedness of each
other’s activities can be sufficient. In other words, mere static interaction between
account-holders and forums should become dynamic interdependency to guarante e
better accountability.
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H3: ‘designed overlaps increase the chance of being called to account to some authority for one’s actions
(compared to contingent ones)’ (interaction becomes interdependency).
How to realize that kind of interdependency is the next question to address. We
claim that explicitly sought-after competition and contestation is a catalyst rather than
an impediment for good accountability (Hood et al.,1999).Thishypothesisbuildson
Flyvbjerg et al.’s (2003) argument that government has to organize its own opposition
against mega infrastructure projects as well as Mouffe’s (2009) ideas about the necessity
of adversarial conflict for a well-functioning democracy. It is important that both
authors indicate that those possibilities to public competition and contestation should be
(pro)actively initiated by the government. Scott (2000) argues that ‘we should not iron
out conflict, but exploit it in order to hold regimes in appropriate tension’. This acid
test of numerous overlapping ‘fire alarms’ is the bes t means for enforcing accountability
in the public sector. It is the only way to guarantee that the public interests are
maximally represented and protected.
H4: ‘designed competition and contestation functions as an important catalyst’ (self-installed fire alarms).
A final question concerns the most suitable research method to verify these hypotheses.
In-depth case studies a re able to capture the complexity and multiplicity of how
accountability works in practice. One approach to case studies is actor-based.Wealready
mentioned the research of Lupson and Partington (2011) into the perceptions of senior
civil servants. Bovens’ et al. (2010) study on accountability in an EU context is another
recent example. It focused on the role of some crucial actors (European Council,
European Commission, European Agencies and Comitology). An alternative approach is
process-based:adetailedmappingover time of a specific public policy or dossier that
involves all relevant actors and forums. Process-tracing has the possible advantage of
exposing the dynamics between account-holders and between forums. It should be the
goal to reconstruct the whole process and to identify the chain of (re)action, the
moment of ignition, the actor(s) responsible for this, etc. Afterwards, identifying ‘what
works’ and ‘best practices’ becomes possible. See Table 5 for a summary of the various
To conclude, we point to a critical note to this optimistic narrative: more
accountability is not always the same as improved accountability. Although accountability may
be a good thing, it also has some costs. Therefore, the following basic questions are
highly relevant: When does the cost of accountability surpass the benefits? How much
accountability is enough? (Pollitt, 2008) Many public officials complain about existing
accountability overloads (Bovens et al., 2008). They refer to the increasingly long
catalogue of rules and criteria prescribing their conduct. Not only do they complain
about the frequency of the reviews, they also denounce the nature and course of the
evaluation process. Adding new layers to the already gigantic piles of accountability
mechanisms creates more red tape and less public gains, according to some. In addition,
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citizens and act ion groups often complain that most information is too technical.
Documents should be made more understandable for a larger public. If one wants to
hold governments effectively to account, it is crucial that information is both condense
and comprehensible.
These arguments are further developed in a recent provocative article by Flinders
(2011) on the pathological effects of the ‘politics’ of accountability. He claims that ‘too
much accountability can be as problematic as too little’ and points to the link between
increasing levels of accountability and the falling levels of pu blic confidence in politics.
Although his caution is justified and needed as counterweight in the debate, one s hould
avoid ending up with a cure worse than the disease. The world of public governance is
in need of better accountability, not less accountability per se. Flinders’ plea for more
proportionality and realism is a fierce critique on how accountability works today.
Therefore, the pathologies of accountability could be diminished, not accountability
itself. It may be possible to turn the complexity and multiplicity of accountability into
an advantage, into a mutually reinforcing dynamic. The foundation of such ambition is
a solid conceptual work. This article may be a contribution to this coming to terms with
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Table 5: Summary of hypotheses
Hypotheses & research method
H1: ‘the more account-holders are involved in diverse accountability forums, the higher the chance that an actor
is being called to account to some authority for one’s actions’ (multiplicity)
H2: ‘accountability overlaps between account-holders and forums increase the chance of being called to account
to some authority for one’s actions (compared to a clear division of tasks amongst them)’ (redundancy)
H3: ‘designed overlaps increase the chance of being called to account to some authority for one’s actions
(compared to contingent ones)’ (interaction becomes interdependency)
H4: ‘designed competition and contestation functions as an important catalyst’ (self-installed fire alarms)
Research method: detailed process tracing overtime of a particular public policy
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... These stakeholder bodies are often suggested to stimulate stakeholder participation and consultation in bureaucratic policymaking (Braun and Busuioc, 2020;Péréz-Duran, 2019), but they can further be a relevant contribution for accountability purposes (Bovens, 2007;Sørensen and Torfing, 2021). Public administration scholarship often considers stakeholder bodies as an accountability innovation that provides societal stakeholders a greater role and influence in the accountability landscape of public agencies (Schillemans, 2011;Scott, 2000;Willems and Van Dooren, 2012). In various public sector reforms, stakeholder bodies have been presented as an attempt to strengthen agency accountability (Brummel, 2022;Mattei et al., 2018). ...
... Many studies have shown that accountability has become multidirectional; agencies are not only accountable upward to central government but are also increasingly faced with the expectations and judgements of various societal stakeholders (Hansen et al., 2022;Willems and Van Dooren, 2012). As Papadopoulos (2023: 25) argues, "accountability also moves" downwards" to become "proximate" with target populations in the role of accountability forums." ...
... Many agencies have committed themselves to account-giving practices, for instance via websites, press releases, or social media (De Boer, 2021). These practices are generally directed to wider and unspecified audiences, i.e. the "public at large" (Willems and Van Dooren, 2012). ...
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This article analyses how managers and officials within public agencies perceive the accountability function of stakeholder bodies. Many agencies have established formal accountability relationships with societal stakeholders by introducing stakeholder bodies, such as client councils and user panels. The academic literature has however debated whether and how stakeholder bodies can reflect a full accountability mechanism. Based on original qualitative interviews with 25 representatives from nine Dutch agencies, this study distinguishes five different perspectives that agency managers and officials have about the accountability function of stakeholder bodies: a control perspective, an institutional perspective, a managerial perspective, learning perspective, and a reputational perspective. Agency managers or officials do not often describe stakeholder bodies as a form of accountability, but their experiences and perceptions include elements of accountability. Rather than strengthening control and scrutiny, stakeholder bodies are perceived as an accountability mechanism that relates to a mixture of agency demands and motives.
... Finally, accountability may serve different functions, that is, there may be different reasons for accountability to begin with, and different expectations as to what "good" accountability entails. Willems and Van Dooren (2012) distinguish three different functions in accountability: constitutional, democratic, and performance functions. The first function deals with the prevention of abuse of power. ...
... The administrative accountability efforts focus predominantly on the constitutional character of algorithmic systems. Political accountability, on the other hand, deals with the democratic character thereof (Willems and Van Dooren, 2012). Within the SyRI case we see that in the period prior to the FOI request 32 A "hamerstuk" [tr. ...
... 43 Diagonal accountability relationships between the State, the Data Protection Authority and the Council of State produced some changes, but fundamental problems such as the system's proportionality and subsidiarity remained, to a large degree, unaddressed. As it stands, the stronger forum, that is the political one, failed to augment the accountability efforts of the weaker, administrative fora which played an advisory and administrative role (Willems and Van Dooren, 2012). ...
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The promised merits of data-driven innovation in general and algorithmic systems in particular hardly need enumeration. However, as decision-making tasks are increasingly delegated to algorithmic systems, this raises questions about accountability. These pressing questions of algorithmic accountability, particularly with regard to data-driven innovation in the public sector, deserve ample scholarly attention. Therefore, this paper brings together perspectives from governance studies and critical algorithm studies to assess how algorithmic accountability succeeds or falls short in practice and analyses the Dutch System Risk Indication (SyRI) as an empirical case. Dissecting a concrete case teases out to which degree archetypical accountability practices and processes function in relation to algorithmic decision-making processes, and which new questions concerning algorithmic accountability emerge therein. The case is approached through the analysis of “scavenged” material. It was found that while these archetypical accountability processes and practices can be incredibly productive in dealing with algorithmic systems they are simultaneously at risk. The current accountability configurations hinge predominantly on the ex ante sensitivity and responsiveness of the political fora. When these prove insufficient, mitigation in medias res /ex post is very difficult for other actants. In part, this is not a new phenomenon, but it is amplified in relation to algorithmic systems. Different fora ask different kinds of medium-specific questions to the actor, from different perspectives with varying power relations. These algorithm-specific considerations relate to the decision-making around an algorithmic system, their functionality, and their deployment. Strengthening ex ante political accountability fora to these algorithm-specific considerations could help mitigate this.
... Despite extensive work on network governance in public administration (O'Toole, 1997), few studies have examined the inter-organizational relationships among horizontal-level state agencies (Loyens, 2019). Meso-level institutional analysis tends to be about intra-organizational relationships (e.g., Rice, 2017) or relationships between state and non-state agencies (e.g., Hessevik, 2021;Willems & Van Dooren, 2012). Most other studies have focused on street-level bureaucrats' individual-level discretionary decisionmaking without fully considering the institutional design of a broader system (e.g., Hjörne et al., 2010). ...
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Introducing multiple layers of “independent” structures has become a go-to strategy for public agent oversight. The question remains whether such decentralized, overlapping structural arrangements of oversight reduce regulatory uncertainty and produce better policy outcomes. Using the case study of Ontario, Canada, I examine the consequences of institutional layering for the specific and broader goal of independent oversight and democratic policing, respectively. Semi-structured interviews with oversight officials and other key stakeholders as well as past governmental reports that led to the police oversight reform are analyzed to study the gap between the policy intention and outcome. I found that multiple “independent” investigatory agencies are meant to operate concurrently within an integrated system to ensure a responsive and comprehensive oversight system. However, their structural separation obstructs collaboration among the external agencies, causing various dysfunctional bureaucratic behaviors that undermine the overarching intention. The disconnect among different oversight authorities exacerbates their reliance on internal police-led procedures for all police misconduct inquiries. Implications of my research extend beyond policing and further the study of overlapping regulatory oversight and structural reform through institutional layering.
... El concepto de accountability sigue siendo central en las discusiones sobre cómo deben funcionar las instituciones del Estado encargadas de vigilar y controlar el ejercicio de la administración pública (Willems y Van Dooren, 2012). Pero también está la cuestión de cuales deben ser los límites de estos controles para evitar parálisis en las instituciones. ...
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Strengthening auditing is a current challenge for subnational governments, which seek to promote control mechanisms and curb corruption. In Sonora, the recent reforms to the Constitution and the Local Control Law grant full autonomy to the control entity, on the other hand, the municipal governments present difficulties in complying with the observations derived from the audit process. This can be attributed to the low probability of being penalized. The objective of this work is to present a comparative analysis of compliance with the observations made by the Superior Institute of Audit and Control of the State of Sonora (ISAF) to the Municipalities of the State of Sonora and to reflect on the possible consequences or sanctions for not be solved. As a methodology, the comparative study was used, it is divided into two blocks, one includes the years (2015 and 2016) before the ISAF obtained its autonomy and the others (2017 and 2018) with full autonomy. as well as the latest oversight reforms, information requests were also made to the ISAF to inquire about the sanctions imposed on the City Councils.
... i) Função constitucional, onde os governos estão sob uma gama de regras para prevenir abuso de poder; ii) Função democrática, onde os cidadãos e/ou os seus representantes eleitos desejam ter voz, já que por conceito a propriedade do Estado cabe a eles, "[...] não basta que os governos ajam de forma justa e legal, os cidadãos devem ser capazes de controlá-los e elegê-los de forma significativa"; (WILLEMS; VAN DOOREN, 2012, p. 1023 Função desempenho, onde o governo responde por suas realizações, resultados. ...
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RESUMO Compartilhamos a revisão de literatura da tese CIDADANIA EM REDE: transparência e accountability no acesso à informação, defendida no Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ciência da Informação da Universidade Federal da Paraíba, em 2021. Seu objetivo foi identificar em que medida os portais de transparência das capitais brasileiras e Distrito Federal atendem a características que permitem a realização da accountability. A partir da Lei de Acesso à Informação (LAI), surgiu no Brasil o movimento da transparência pública fazendo com que a opacidade pública perdesse espaço para a transparência pública. Este movimento, porém, por si só não é suficiente para consolidar a cidadania e a democracia, para tanto é fundamental que o cidadão possa exercer a accountability pública. da accountability. Identificamos que apesar do avanço em termos de condições que permitam considerá-los como transparentes e identificar indícios de accountabilty, e a a revisão da literatura foi fundamental nesse processo de conhecimento. Palavras-chave: Revisão de literatura, Transparência pública, Accountability pública, Informação-Políticas públicas. Brasil. ABSTRACT We share the literature review of the thesis NETWORK CITIZENSHIP: transparency and accountability in access to information, defended in the Graduate Program in Information Science at the Federal University of Paraíba, in 2021. Its objective was to identify the extent to which the transparency portals of Brazilian capitals and the Federal District meet the characteristics that allow accountability. From the Access to Information Law (LAI), the public transparency movement emerged in Brazil, causing public opacity to lose space for public transparency. This movement, however, by itself is not enough to consolidate citizenship and democracy, for that it is essential that the citizen can exercise public accountability. of accountability We identified that despite the advance in terms of conditions that allow them to be considered as transparent and to identify signs of accountability, the literature review was fundamental in this knowledge process. We identified that despite the advance in terms of conditions that allow them to be considered as transparent and identify signs of accountability, the literature review was fundamental in this knowledge process.
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Governments around the world, when faced with a crisis, struggle to manage various legitimate accountability expectations. Our study investigated how Chinese local governments reconcile social and hierarchical accountability in managing COVID-19. We found that local governments are generally more responsive to hierarchical than social accountability. Moreover, senior officials are highly unlikely to shirk their duties toward hierarchical accountability when a crisis is severe. Furthermore, crisis severity increases local governments' responsiveness to social accountability. Our study has encircled our understanding regarding the management of multiple accountabilities in crisis.
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This paper proposes an extension of the concept of organizational actorhood. This concept is very useful to understand contemporary higher education institutions, but it pictures these organizations as relatively passive, subject to normative pressures. The conceptualization lacks attention to dynamic agency of higher education institution. Using notions of accountability, legitimacy and identity, a reconceptualization is proposed. That reconceptualization stresses the agentic potential of higher education institutions to pro-actively test the boundaries of legitimacy and accountability and its capacity to continuously (re)negotiate its position in institutional contexts. Suggestions are offered for further research.
This article develops an explanatory framework of institutional change in intergovernmental relations. Using new institutionalism, we focus on a main explanatory factor—the players' perceptions of their own accountability and that of others. Integrating the concepts of multiple accountability and felt accountability, we develop the concept of an accountability gap, meaning differences between the perceptions of players in the central government about their responsibility to provide local services and the perceptions of players at the local level about their responsibilities. Our claim is that perceptual gaps concerning accountability in a two‐tiered or multi‐tiered system may influence their interests, strategies, and behavior and hence determine the timing and pace of specific institutional changes. We illustrate the theoretical framework by examining how Spain managed the COVID‐19 pandemic. Aguado, N. Alexander. 2018. “Mayor‐Council Form of Government and Policy Responses in Times of Economic Travail.” Politics & Policy 46(5): 714–30. French, Edward P., and Doug Goodman. 2011. “Local Government Human Resource Management Past, Present, and Future: Revisiting Hays and Kearney's Anticipated Changes a Decade Later.” Politics & Policy 39(5): 761–85.‐1346.2011.00312.x. Kwon, Sung‐Wook, and Sylvia Gonzalez‐Gorman. 2019. “Influence of Local Political Institutions on Policy Punctuation in Three Policy Areas.” Politics & Policy 47(2): 300–25. Este artículo desarrolla un marco explicativo del cambio institucional en las relaciones intergubernamentales. Utilizando el nuevo institucionalismo, nos enfocamos en un factor explicativo principal: las percepciones de los jugadores sobre su propia responsabilidad y la de los demás. Al integrar los conceptos de rendición de cuentas múltiple y rendición de cuentas sentida, desarrollamos el concepto de brecha de rendición de cuentas, lo que significa diferencias entre las percepciones de los actores del gobierno central sobre su responsabilidad de brindar servicios locales y las percepciones de los actores a nivel local sobre sus responsabilidades. Nuestra afirmación es que las brechas de percepción sobre la rendición de cuentas en un sistema de dos o múltiples niveles pueden influir en sus intereses, estrategias y comportamiento y, por lo tanto, determinar el momento y el ritmo de los cambios institucionales específicos. Ilustramos el marco teórico examinando cómo España gestionó la pandemia de COVID‐19. 本文对政府间关系中的制度变革提出了一项解释性框架。我们使用新制度主义,聚焦于一个主要的解释因素——参与者在自身问责和他人问责方面的感知。结合多重问责和感知问责的概念,我们提出了问责差距这一概念,即中央政府参与者对其提供地方服务的责任的感知,与地方政府参与者对其责任的感知之间的差异。我们论证认为,双层或多层系统中关于问责的感知差距可能会影响其利益、战略和行为,从而决定特定制度变革的时机和速度。为阐述该理论框架,我们研究了西班牙如何应对2019冠状病毒病(COVID‐19)大流行。
This Element comprehensively scrutinizes the key issue of the accountability of policy-makers in democratic governance. The electoral punishment of the incumbents, parliamentary control of the government, and sanctions in the case of administrative misconduct or negligence are the most visible manifestations of accountability in politics. However, the phenomenon is much more complex, and fully understanding such a multifaceted object requires bridging bodies of work that usually remain disjointed. This Element assesses the effectiveness of vertical accountability through elections and how interinstitutional accountability operates in checks-and-balances systems, along with the growing role of the courts. It evaluates how the accountability of the bureaucracy has been affected by managerial reforms and different governance transformations. It also scrutinizes to what extent mediatization and policy failure boost accountability, before zooming in on the feelings and reactions of those who are held accountable. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.
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Back cover text: Megaprojects and Risk provides the first detailed examination of the phenomenon of megaprojects. It is a fascinating account of how the promoters of multibillion-dollar megaprojects systematically and self-servingly misinform parliaments, the public and the media in order to get projects approved and built. It shows, in unusual depth, how the formula for approval is an unhealthy cocktail of underestimated costs, overestimated revenues, undervalued environmental impacts and overvalued economic development effects. This results in projects that are extremely risky, but where the risk is concealed from MPs, taxpayers and investors. The authors not only explore the problems but also suggest practical solutions drawing on theory and hard, scientific evidence from the several hundred projects in twenty nations that illustrate the book. Accessibly written, it will be essential reading in its field for students, scholars, planners, economists, auditors, politicians, journalists and interested citizens.
A PDF version of this book is available for free in open access via the OAPEN Library platform, . This book presents a new model of accountability which ensures that public-private partnerships don't erode public accountability. It defines concrete accountability standards for different types of partnerships.
There is a paradox surrounding the development over the past couple of decades of public management and the rearticulation of market values and norms in public governance. Liberal democratic theory is based on a separation of the political system from its environment, or, slightly differently phrased, between governors and the governed. This separation serves to protect both the governing elite and their institutions from societal encroachment and also to place rather distinct boundaries on the exercise of political power. It is believed to be in the interest of both state and society that this border is upheld. Yet we have seen an unprecedented wave of market values, norms, and ideals from the private sector successfully penetrate the state. Thus, the market — the sector that liberal democratic theory sought to protect by constraining the powers of the state — has made significant inroads to the very locus of the powers from which it was to be protected.