Accountability is the obligation to demonstrate and take responsibility for performance in light of commitments and expected outcomes. It may also include the acceptance of personal consequences or sanctions for problems that could have been avoided or were not corrected in a timely fashion.
According to some theorists of accountability in the public service, accountability is a concept related to, but distinct from, both responsibility and answerability.
With this definition as a starting point, five primary principles are required to implement accountability:
- Expectations are predefined and understood. It is unreasonable to expect someone to be accountable for success if the conditions or expectations of success are not defined or understood prior to starting an endeavour. That would be on par with starting a game without defining the rules or how the game is won or lost.
- Decisions are made in a reasonable way. Anyone can make a decision, but unless decision making is done rationally and is informed by evidence, it is equivalent to throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. Accountability relies on the ability to explain why decisions were made.
- Feedback and criticism is embraced. It’s difficult to imagine a process that is so perfect that it does not warrant critique, or a change that is not met with some level of resistance. Accountability requires that managers view criticism as a different perspective of their performance that creates an opportunity to improve. This doesn’t mean that all criticism or feedback is acted upon, but it should be considered. Further, the decision to use or not use criticism should be defensible.
- Responsibility is accepted. As stated in the definition, accountability is the obligation to take responsibility. This is not limited to meeting performance expectations, but also for the process in achieving outcomes. Those accountable should understand policies, best practices, laws and regulations, as well as mandates and ensure that their processes are compliant.
- Continuous improvement is institutionalized. A learning organization is the cornerstone to high performance and effective performance management. Organizations must continuously adapt to environmental changes to ensure processes are efficient and effective. Doing the same thing because “it’s always been done that way” is a guaranteed way to introduce inefficiencies into the process. Technological changes as well as changes in community needs always outdate processes. Organizations must continuously review their processes to eliminate wastefulness and ensure that what is being done is needed.
The relationship between accountability and authority is crucial to the operation of government and the respective roles of elected and appointed officials. Some of the complexities in this relationship for Westminster governments were examined by James R. Mitchell in his 2006 paper, Authority and Accountability – Reflections on the Gomery Report (reference below, pdf right).
Drawn from Business & Technology Resource Group (BTRGroup.com), Establishing Accountability Framework: 5 Principles to Follow, at http://www.btrgroup.com/establishing-accountability-framework-5-principles-to-follow/, accessed 25 January 2016.
James R. Mitchell (2006), Authority and Accountability –
Reflections on the Gomery Report, Notes for Remarks to Agency Heads, available on the Atlas at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Authority-and-Accountability-James-Mitchell-2006.pdf.
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Page created by: Dave Marshall, last modified by Ian Clark on 16 September 2020.
Image: From Art of Management Inc. at http://amican.com/accountability-dont-cringe/, accessed 25 January 2016.