Accountable Governance

Cases of public sector accountability

Accountability by museums: aligning supply and demand

Sjors Overman

Alignment of information supply and demand is crucial for an effective accountability relationship, but alignment is difficult in a situation with ambiguous or contested goals. This study analyzes the alignment between local governments and museums. The study uses a mixed-methods approach, including survey data, formal documents, and qualitative interviews with museum directors to analyse the accountability alignment. Demand and supply are not always well-aligned, leading to accountability mismatches. The implications of accountability mismatches for museums and other public organizations are discussed.

Accountability by public service providers: governance-based inspections

Meike Bokhorst, Marieke van Genugten, Mirjan Oude Vrielink, Thomas Schillemans, Stefanie Beyens, Olga Verschuren

In Dutch semi-public sectors of education, healthcare, and housing there is a tendency towards governance based inspection. The attention of inspectorates shifts from inspection on minimum quality standards to inspection on governance based quality improvement. This special issue explore this new trend in regulation and assesses strengths and weaknesses of the unfolding new approach. The special issue concludes that governance-based inspection can complement but not replace other ways of inspection.

This special issue is in Dutch.

Accountability by Dutch agencies: drawn between the state and the street

Lars Brummel, Sjors Overman, Thomas Schillemans

Agencies do the business of government: they build roads, maintain national forests, administer benefits and inspect production processes. As such, they operate between the state and the street. Managers of agencies are accountable both upwards to central government as well as sideways to societal stakeholders. On the basis of survey data, this paper analyses how and to what extent managers of Dutch agencies feel accountable to societal stakeholders and how this can be explained. The paper shows how CEOs of agencies attach more value to social accountability than their counterparts in other countries. Additionally, social accountability is also related to perceptions of media pressure.

This paper is written in Dutch.

Accountability by transnational organizations in Europe: an unknown world

Thomas Schillemans & Gijs Kremers

Mostly unknown to the general public, a fragmented landscape of transnational organizations has been developing in Europe. These organizations work across borders, but not entirely in the EU, and they generally have some basis in European law or policies. There are at least 370 transnational organizations in Europe. Transnational organizations challenge basic notions of accountability: it is often very difficult to understand what the organization is doing, to whom it is accountable or even where it is located. This is not to say that accountability is necessarily a problem but much more research and insight is definitely required. This article aims to put the almost 400 transnational organizations as a fragmented set of partially European organizations on the agenda.

Accountability by Australian agencies between principal-agent and stewardship models

Sandra van Thiel, Amanda Smullen 

After the large-scale creation of arm’s length agencies by governments around the globe, these governments now face the dilemma of how to manage, steer or control these arm’s length agencies. Different instruments have been developed, based on either of two theoretical models: principal-agent theory or stewardship theory. Using the perspective of arm’s length bodies at federal level in Australia, we will describe how they perceive the instruments that have been implemented by their portfolio departments to manage and control them. Results show that arm’s length agencies are more inclined to take a stewardship position, while a mixture of instruments from the principal-agent and stewardship model is applied. This could lead to problematic relationships.

Accountability of Swiss agencies: happily unaccountable?

Martino Maggetti and Yannis Papadopoulos

This paper opens up the black box of agencies’ accountability relationships and zooms in on their top managers and the perceptions of accountability thereof. We empirically explore in two steps (using quantitative and qualitative data) agencies’ felt accountability to the parent department in Switzerland, which presents a puzzling case of relatively low accountability. Our findings point to the differences between regulatory and non-regulatory agencies and show that the former’s perception of being weakly accountable largely stems from the passive attitude of the parent ministry as official accountability forum. Agency managers interpret this attitude as a manifestation of respect for the agencies’ independence, but also as a consequence of the forum’s lack of time and expertise.

Comparing accountability styles in Europe: Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and UK 

Thomas Schillemans, Sjors Overman, Matthew Flinders, Per Laegreid, Martino Maggetti, Yannis Papadopoulos, Matt Wood

This paper develops and applies the concept of accountability styles for analyzing and comparing accountability practices in four European countries. It does so by analyzing practices of accountability of public sector agencies in four European democracies with different state traditions: the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the UK. These countries vary with regards to state strength (interventionist propensity) and administrative concentration (high or low centralization). The paper shows that the national political-administrative context crucially shapes practices of accountability and accountability regimes of agencies. The Norwegian accountability style is characterized as ‘centralized and convenient’. The UK-style is equally centralized yet not so convenient as it incurs high accountability-process costs on agencies. Switzerland is marked by limited hierarchical accountability. And the Dutch accountability style is comparatively ‘broad and informal’.

Social media and social accountability

Lars Brummel

Public agencies have to deal with accountability demands from various societal stakeholders. We analyze to what extent these different venues of social accountability affect the perceived relevance of societal stakeholders to agency-CEOs—their so-called “stakeholder orientation.” By combining quantitative and qualitative data, this study shows that agency-CEOs’ stakeholder orientation is strongly associated with actual social media attention. In contrast, the relationship between formal stakeholder arrangements and stakeholder orientation is weak. Overall, the findings suggest that social media attention is the most important catalyst for stakeholder orientation.

Accountability to stakeholder bodies

Lars Brummel

This article analyses how managers and officials within public agencies perceive the accountability function of stakeholder bodies. 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.