Accountable Governance

Behavioral studies of public sector accountability

Accountability and the Quality of Regulatory Judgment Processes

Thomas Schillemans

The quality of judgment by regulatory professionals is key to good regulatory governance yet also a potential problem. Psychological studies have shown that individuals easily make judgment errors and that feeling accountable—expecting to have to explain and justify oneself—improves one’s judgments. This paper explores to what extent felt accountability improves regulatory judgment processes in more realistic settings than the traditional laboratory study. It does so in an experimental design inspired by a classic study. Samples of professional regulators and students were given a judgment task with conflicting and incomplete information under varying conditions of accountability and in a context of ambiguity. Results confirm that accountability may improve professional regulators’ judgment processes in terms of decision time, accurate recall of information and absence of recency bias.

Accountable to whom? Management of multiple accountability through setting priorities

Marija Aleksovska, Thomas Schillemans & Stephan Grimmelikhuijsen

Decision-makers in public administration have to respond to accountability claims from multiple legitimate masters. In many cases they have to prioritize one legitimate accountability demand above others. This paper analyzes whose accountability demands are most likely to be prioritized. It does so by conducting a conjoint experiment with public sector decision-makers in the UK and the Netherlands. The study shows that anticipated consequences have the strongest effect on prioritization decisions, although there are several other effects as well.

Felt accountability of agency CEOs in seven countries: institutional antecedents

Thomas Schillemans, Sjors Overman, Paul Fawcett, Matthew Flinders, Magnus Fredriksson, Per Laegreid, Martino Maggetti, Yannis Papadopoulos, Kristin Rubecksen, Lise H. Rykkja, Heidi H. Salomonsen, Amanda Smullen, Matt Wood

In most advanced democracies, a large part of the governments’ work is performed by (semi-)autonomous agencies. Central governments use a diverse set of institutional mechanisms with which they steer and control these agencies. How the CEOs of these agencies perceives the accountability relationships to central government – the felt accountability to central government – is a crucial cog linking the agency to the department. This paper explores the institutional antecedents of the felt accountability of agency CEOs in seven countries. The paper shows that managers who report more frequently to central government, and find it more likely that policies will be rewarded or sanctioned, also feel more accountable to central government and find their accountability relationship to be both legitimate and substantively relevant.

Accountable for what? The effect of accountability standard specification on decision-making behavior in the public sector

Marija Aleksovska

This study investigates how civil servants’ decision-making behavior is affected by what they are held accountable for. We look into the effects of specification of the accountability standard, and analyze the behavioral changes that might arise by holding civil servants accountable for the implementation of specific rules, as opposed to more loosely defined standards. We perform our investigation using an online vignette and a classroom experiment. The results from the investigation do not offer clear support for our expectations, although we find tentative support that accountability for general standards has positive effects on decision processes in terms of effort.

Conflictual accountability: behavioral responses

Thomas Schillemans, Sjors Overman, Paul Fawcett, Matthew Flinders, Magnus Fredriksson, Per Laegreid, Martino Maggetti, Yannis Papadopoulos, Kristin Rubecksen, Lise H. Rykkja, Heidi H. Salomonsen, Amanda Smullen, Koen Verhoest, Matt Wood

In contemporary public governance, leaders of public organizations are faced with multiple, and oftentimes conflictual, accountability claims. Drawing upon a survey of CEO’s of agencies in seven countries we explore whether and how conflictual accountability regimes relate to strategic behaviors by agency-CEO’s and their political principals. The presence of conflictual accountability is experienced as a major challenge and is associated with important behavioral responses by those CEO’s. This article demonstrates empirically how conflictual accountability is related to (i) controlling behaviors by principals, (ii) constituency-building behaviors by agencies and (iii) a general pattern of intensified contacts and information-processing by both parties.

Dissecting Multiple Accountability: The primacy of conflicting demands

Marija Aleksovsa & Thomas Schillemans

The necessity for public sector actors to manage multiple accountabilities in their work has been linked to a number of problems and failures, yet we lack an understanding of how multiple accountabilities affect the decision-making behavior of civil servants. Here we argue that the main issue is not only the existence of multiple forums as such but the presence of conflicting demands between multiple forums or within a single forum. Drawing on socio-psychological research, we develop hypotheses regarding two types of behavioral strategies (high-effort and low-effort) to cope with accountability pressures. We test this using a realistic vignette experiment on a sample of 270 Dutch regulators. Results show that both the multiplicity of forums and the conflict of demands affect the likelihood that regulators seek help and procrastinate. The main issue is the conflicting demands which have a stronger effect on behavior than forum multiplicity.

Effective accountability reports: identifying the words that count

Thomas Schillemans & Marija Aleksovska

This paper analyzes the impact of linguistic properties of accountability reports on how they are received. C’est le ton qui fait la musique, it is said in French. Apart from the actual substantive message, it also matters how it is framed for how it will received. The words matter; but which words matter? This paper explores the linguistic properties of hundreds of performance accountability reports and relates those to the formal response to those reports. This is done with the use of the LIWC-program that is used to analyze social, cognitive, and affective processes. It turns out that more emotionally laden reports, written in a more authoritative tone and with simpler words, are related to more favourable formal responses.

The paper is written in Dutch.

The effect of social accountability on citizens’ legitimacy perceptions

Lars Brummel & Lisanne de Blok

This study investigates the effects of social and political accountability arrangements on citizens’ legitimacy perceptions. Accountability arrangements are often suggested to improve the perceived legitimacy of governmental organizations. Based upon a pre-registered vignette experiment with a representative sample of N = 1574 citizens from the Netherlands, we show that social accountability (accountability to citizens) increases legitimacy perceptions, but that political accountability (accountability to politicians) does not affect legitimacy perceptions. These patterns are highly similar for both decision winners and losers, with accountability slightly more important for losers. This has important implications for our understanding of the impact of accountability for perceived legitimacy.