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Accountability is a concept in ethics and governance with several meanings. It is often used synonymously with such concepts as responsibility,[1] answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and other terms associated with the expectation of account-giving. As an aspect of governance, it has been central to discussions related to problems in the public sector, nonprofit and private (corporate) worlds. In leadership roles, accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, products, decisions, and policies including the administration, governance, and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position and encompassing the obligation to report, explain and be answerable for resulting consequences.

As a term related to governance, accountability has been difficult to define.[2][3] It is frequently described as an account-giving relationship between individuals, e.g. "A is accountable to B when A is obliged to inform B about A’s (past or future) actions and decisions, to justify them, and to suffer punishment in the case of eventual misconduct".[4]

Contents

History/Etymology

"Accountability" stems from late Latin accomptare (to account), a prefixed form of computare (to calculate), which in turn derived from putare (to reckon).[5] While the word itself does not appear in English until its use in 13th century Norman England,[6][7] the concept of account-giving has ancient roots in record keeping activities related to governance and money-lending systems that first developed in Ancient Israel,[8] Babylon,[9] Egypt,[10] Greece,[11] and later, Rome.[12]

Types of accountability

Bruce Stone, O.P. Dwivedi, and Joseph G. Jabbra list 8 types of accountability, namely: moral, administrative, political, managerial, market, legal/judicial, constituency relation, and professional.[13]

Political accountability

Political accountability is the accountability of the government, civil servants and politicians to the public and to legislative bodies such as congress or parliament.

In a few cases, recall elections can be used to revoke the office of an elected official. Generally, however, voters do not have any direct way of holding elected representatives to account during the term for which they have been elected. Additionally, some officials and legislators may be appointed rather than elected. Constitution, or statute, can empower a legislative body to hold their own members, the government, and government bodies to account. This can be through holding an internal or independent inquiry. Inquiries are usually held in response to an allegation of misconduct or corruption. The powers, procedures and sanctions vary from country to country. The legislature may have the power to impeach the individual, remove them, or suspend them from office for a period of time. The accused person might also decide to resign before trial. Impeachment in the United States has been used both for elected representatives and other civil offices, such as district court judges.

In parliamentary systems, the government relies on the support or parliament, which gives parliament power to hold the government to account. For example, some parliaments can pass a vote of no confidence in the government.

Ethical accountability

Ethical accountability is the practice of improving overall personal and organizational performance by developing and promoting responsible tools and professional expertise, and by advocating an effective enabling environment for people and organizations to embrace a culture of sustainable development. Ethical accountability may include the individual, as well as small and large businesses, not-for-profit organizations, research institutions and academics, and government. One scholarly paper has posited that "it is unethical to plan an action for social change without excavating the knowledge and wisdom of the people who are responsible for implementing the plans of action and the people whose lives will be affected." [14]

Administrative accountability

Internal rules and norms as well as some independent commission are mechanisms to hold civil servant within the administration of government accountable. Within department or ministry, firstly, behavior is bounded by rules and regulations; secondly, civil servants are subordinates in a hierarchy and accountable to superiors. Nonetheless, there are independent “watchdog” units to scrutinize and hold departments accountable; legitimacy of these commissions is built upon their independence, as it avoids any conflicts of interest. Apart from internal checks, some “watchdog” units accept complaints from citizens, bridging government and society to hold civil servants accountable to citizens, but not merely governmental departments.

Market accountability

Under voices for decentralization and privatization of the government, services provided are nowadays more “customer-driven” and should aim to provide convenience and various choices to citizens; with this perspective, there are comparisons and competition between public and private services and this, ideally, improves quality of service. As mentioned by Bruce Stone, the standard of assessment for accountability is therefore “responsiveness of service providers to a body of ‘sovereign’ customers and produce quality service. Outsourcing service is one means to adopt market accountability. Government can choose among a shortlist of companies for outsourced service; within the contracting period, government can hold the company by rewriting contracts or by choosing another company.

Constituency relations

Within this perspective, a particular agency or the government is accountable if voices from agencies, groups or institutions, which is outside the public sector and representing citizens’ interests in a particular constituency or field, are heard. Moreover, the government is obliged to empower members of agencies with political rights to run for elections and be elected; or, appoint them into the public sector as a way to hold the government representative and ensure voices from all constituencies are included in policy-making process.

Public/private overlap

With the increase over the last several decades in public service provision by private entities, especially in Britain and the United States, some have called for increased political accountability mechanisms to be applied to otherwise non-political entities. Legal scholar Anne Davies, for instance, argues that the line between public institutions and private entities like corporations is becoming blurred in certain areas of public service provision in the United Kingdom and that this can compromise political accountability in those areas. She and others argue that some administrative law reforms are necessary to address this accountability gap.[15]

With respect to the public/private overlap in the United States, public concern over the contracting out of government (including military) services and the resulting accountability gap has been highlighted recently following the shooting incident involving the Blackwater security firm in Iraq.[16]

Contemporary evolution

Accountability involves either the expectation or assumption of account-giving behavior. The study of account giving as a sociological act was recently articulated in a 1968 article on "Accounts" by Marvin Scott and Stanford Lyman[17] and Stephen Soroka[citation needed], although it can be traced as well to J. L. Austin's 1956 essay "A Plea for Excuses,"[18] in which he used excuse-making as an example of speech acts.

Communications scholars have extended this work through the examination of strategic uses of excuses, justifications, rationalizations, apologies and other forms of account giving behavior by individuals and corporations, and Philip Tetlock and his colleagues have applied experimental design techniques to explore how individuals behave under various scenarios and situations that demand accountability.

Recently, accountability has become an important topic in the discussion about the legitimacy of international institutions.[19] Because there is no global democratically elected body to which organizations must account, global organizations from all sectors bodies are often criticized as having large accountability gaps. The Charter 99 for Global Democracy [20], spearheaded by the One World Trust, first proposed that cross-sector principles of accountability be researched and observed by institutions that affect people, independent of their legal status. One paradigmatic problem arising in the global context is that of institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund who are founded and supported by wealthy nations and provide aid, in the form of grants and loans, to developing nations. Should those institutions be accountable to their founders and investors or to the persons and nations they help? In the debate over global justice and its distributional consequences, Cosmopolitans tend to advocate greater accountability to the disregarded interests of traditionally marginalized populations and developing nations. On the other hand, those in the Nationalism and Society of States traditions deny the tenets of moral universalism and argue that beneficiaries of global development initiatives have no substantive entitlement to call international institutions to account. The One World Trust Global Accountability Report, published in a first full cycle 2006 to 2008 [21], is one attempt to measure the capability of global organizations to be accountable to their stakeholders.

Accountability is becoming an increasingly important issue for the non-profit world. Several NGOs signed the "accountability charter" in 2005. In the Humanitarian field, initiatives such as the HAPI (Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International) appeared. Individual NGOs have set their own accountability systems (for example, the ALPS, Accountability, Learning and Planning System of ActionAid)

Accountability in education

Sudbury schools choose to recognize that students are personally responsible for their acts, in opposition to virtually all schools today that deny it. The denial is threefold: schools do not permit students to choose their course of action fully; they do not permit students to embark on the course, once chosen; and they do not permit students to suffer the consequences of the course, once taken. Freedom of choice, freedom of action, freedom to bear the results of action—these are the three great freedoms that constitute personal responsibility. Sudbury schools claim that "Ethics" is a course taught by life experience. They adduce that the absolutely essential ingredient for acquiring values—and for moral action is personal responsibility, that schools will become involved in the teaching of morals when they become communities of people who fully respect each others' right to make choices, and that the only way the schools can become meaningful purveyors of ethical values is if they provide students and adults with real-life experiences that are bearers of moral import. Students are given complete responsibility for their own education and the school is run by a direct democracy in which students and staff are equals.[22][23][24][25][26]

Symbolism

Scholar Viktor Frankl, neurologist and psychiatrist, founder of logotherapy and one of the key figures in existential therapy, in his book Man's Search for Meaning recommended "that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast (that has become a symbol of Liberty and Freedom) should be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast." His thought was that "Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness."[27][28]

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ Dykstra, Clarence A. (February 1939). "The Quest for Responsibility". American Political Science Review 33 (1): 1-25. 
  2. ^ Mulgan, Richard (2000). "'Accountability': An Ever-Expanding Concept?". Public Administration 78 (3): 555-573. 
  3. ^ Sinclair, Amanda (1995). "The Chameleon of Accountability: Forms and Discourses". Accounting, Organizations and Society 20 (2/3): 219-237. 
  4. ^ Schedler, Andreas (1999). "Conceptualizing Accountability". in Andreas Schedler, Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner. The Self-Restraining State: Power and Accountability in New Democracies. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers. pp. 13–28. ISBN 1-55587-773-7. 
  5. ^ Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Ed.
  6. ^ Dubnick, Melvin (1998). "Clarifying Accountability: An Ethical Theory Framework". in Charles Sampford, Noel Preston and C. A. Bois. Public Sector Ethics: Finding And Implementing Values. Leichhardt, NSW, Australia: The Federation Press/Routledge. pp. 68-8l. 
  7. ^ Seidman, Gary I (Winter 2005). "The Origins of Accountability: Everything I Know About the Sovereign's Immunity, I Learned from King Henry III". St. Louis University Law Journal 49 (2): 393-480. 
  8. ^ Walzer, Michael (1994). "The Legal Codes of Ancient Israel". in Ian Shapiro. the Rule of Law. NY: New York University Press. pp. 101-119. 
  9. ^ Urch, Edwin J. (July 1929). "The Law Code of Hammurabi". Americna Bar Association Journal 15 (7): 437-441. 
  10. ^ Ezzamel, Mahmoud (December 1997). "Accounting, Control and Accountability: Preliminary Evidence from Ancient Egypt". Critical Perspectives on Accounting 8 (6): 563-601. 
  11. ^ Roberts, Jennnifer T. (1982). Accountability in Athenian Government. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. 
  12. ^ Plescia, Joseph (January 2001). "Judicial Accountability and Immunity in Roman Law". American Journal Of Legal History 45 (1): 51-70. 
  13. ^ Jabbra, J. G. and Dwivedi, 0. P. (eds.), Public Service Accountability: A Comparative Perspective, Kumarian Press, Hartford, CT, 1989, ISBN 0783775814
  14. ^ Communication praxis for ethical accountability Y. Laouris, R. Laouri, and Aleco Christakis; Cyprus Neuroscience & Technology Institute, Cyprus; July 2008
  15. ^ "oxford law - the faculty and its members : anne davies". Competition-law.ox.ac.uk. http://www.competition-law.ox.ac.uk/members/profile.phtml?lecturer_code=daviesa. Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
  16. ^ "Blackwater poisons the well". Commentisfree.guardian.co.uk. 2007-09-28. http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/ed_harriman/2007/09/blackwater_poisons_the_well.html. Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
  17. ^ Scott, Marvin B.; Lyman, Stanford M. (February 1968). "Accounts". American Sociological Review 33 (1): 46–62. doi:10.2307/2092239. 
  18. ^ Austin, J.L. 1956-7. A plea for excuses. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. Reprinted in J. O. Urmson & G. J. Warnock, eds., 1979, J. L. Austin: Philosophical Papers, 3rd edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 175-204.
  19. ^ Grant, Ruth W.; Keohane, Robert O. (2005). "Accountability and Abuses of Power in World Politics". American Political Science Review 99 (1): 29–43. doi:10.1017/S0003055405051476. 
  20. ^ http://www.oneworldtrust.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=14&Itemid=55
  21. ^ http://www.oneworldtrust.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=73&Itemid=60
  22. ^ Greenberg, D. (1992), Education in America - A View from Sudbury Valley, "'Ethics' is a Course Taught By Life Experience." Retrieved, 24 October 2009.
  23. ^ Greenberg, D. (1987) The Sudbury Valley School Experience "Back to Basics - Moral basics." Retrieved, 24 October 2009.
  24. ^ Feldman, J. (2001) "The Moral Behavior of Children and Adolescents at a Democratic School." Pdf. This study examined moral discourse, reflection, and development in a school community with a process similar to that described by Lawrence Kohlberg. Data were drawn from an extensive set of field notes made in an ethnographic study at Sudbury Valley School (an ungraded, democratically structured school in Framingham, MA), where students, ranging in age from 4 to 19, are free to choose their own activities and companions. Vignettes were analyzed using grounded theory approach to qualitative analysis, and themes were developed from an analysis of observations of meetings. Each theme describes a participation level that students assume in the process and that provide opportunities for them to develop and deepen understanding of the balance of personal rights and responsibilities within a community. The study adds to the understanding of education and child development by describing a school that differs significantly in its practice from the wider educational community and by validating Kohlberg's thesis about developing moral reasoning. Retrieved, 24 October 2009.
  25. ^ The Sudbury Valley School (1970), "Law and Order: Foundations of Discipline" The Crisis in American Education — An Analysis and a Proposal.(p. 49-55). Retrieved, 24 October 2009.
  26. ^ Greenberg, D. (1992) "Democracy Must be Experienced to be Learned !" Education in America — A View from Sudbury Valley. Retrieved, 24 October 2009.
  27. ^ Frankl, Viktor Emil (1956) Man's Search for Meaning, p. 209-210.
  28. ^ Warnock, C. (2005) "Statue of Responsibility," DAILY HERALD. Retrieved 24 October 2009.

References

  • Hunt, G. ‘The Principle of Complementarity: Freedom of Information, Public Accountability & Whistleblowing’, chap 5 in R A Chapman & M Hunt (eds) Open Government in a Theoretical and Practical Context. Ashgate, Aldershot, 2006.
  • Hunt, G. (ed) Whistleblowing in the Social Services: Public Accountability & Professional Practice, Arnold (Hodder), 1998.

Further reading

  • Sterling Harwood, "Accountability," in John K. Roth, ed., Ethics: Ready Reference (Salem Press, 1994), reprinted in Sterling Harwood, ed., Business as Ethical and Business as Usual (Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1996).

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Accountability is the characteristic of answering for one's actions.

Sourced

  • Political freedom is neither easy nor automatic, neither pleasant nor secure. It is the responsibility of the individual for the decisions of society as if they were his own decisions--as in moral truth and accountability they are.
  • Moral conduct includes every thing in which men are active and for which they are accountable. They are active in their desires, their affections, their designs, their intentions, and in every thing they say and do of choice; and for all these things they are accountable to God.
    • Nathaniel Emmons, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 1.
  • When illusions are over, when the distractions of sense, the vagaries of fancy, and the tumults of passion have dissolved even before the body is cold, which once they so thronged and agitated, the soul merges into intellect, intellect into conscience, conscience into the unbroken, awful solitude of its own personal accountability; and though the inhabitants of the universe were within the spirit's ken, this personal accountability is as strictly alone and unshared, as if no being were throughout immensity but the spirit and its God.
    • Henry Giles, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 2.
  • Addiction may be something to which some of us are predisposed, like diabetes, rather than a voluntary behavior — but it’s also reversible. A "disease model" of alcoholism and other addictions in no way diminishes our personal accountability once we know the facts. It simply suggests how hard recovery will be, and how much help we need.

External links

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Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

Accountability
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Information about this edition
In the 1913 collection of his work, The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar.


                      ACCOUNTABILITY

Folks ain't got no right to censuah othah folks about dey habits;
Him dat giv' de squir'ls de bushtails made de bobtails fu' de rabbits.
Him dat built de gread big mountains hollered out de little valleys,
Him dat made de streets an' driveways wasn't shamed to make de alleys.

We is all constructed diff'ent, d'ain't no two of us de same;
We cain't he'p ouah likes an' dislikes, ef we'se bad we ain't to blame.
Ef we'se good, we need n't show off, case you bet it ain't ouah doin'
We gits into su'ttain channels dat we jes' cain't he'p pu'suin'.

But we all fits into places dat no othah ones could fill,
An' we does the things we has to, big er little, good er ill.
John cain't tek de place o' Henry, Su an' Sally ain't alike;
Bass ain't nuthin' like a suckah, chub ain't nuthin' like a pike.

When you come to think about it, how it's all planned out it's splendid.
Nuthin's done er evah happens, 'dout hit's somefin' dat's intended;
Don't keer whut you does, you has to, an' hit sholy beats de dickens,--
Viney, go put on de kittle, I got one o' mastah's chickens.

PD-icon.svg This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.







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