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Accountable Governance

The project

Unique selling point: behaviorally informed studies of accountability in public administration.

Main research question: what are the effects of accountability on behaviors and decisions in public administration and when is accountability more helpful (or less annoying)?

Main focus: the formal and felt accountability of decision-makers in public sector organizations with some autonomy, such as executive agencies, audit institutions, regulatory agencies, museums, the police, public service providers in health care, education and social housing, and transnational organizations.

Main research innovation: the combination of theories and methods from public administration and behavioral sciences.

Main practical aspiration: we hope our research can help policy-makers and professionals in the public sector to improve the institutions and mechanisms of accountability in order to make them more effective. To this end we collaborate with many individuals and public sector organizations.

Main argument: accountability mechanisms need to be calibrated – made-to-fit – to the context of organizations, its specific purposes but also to the individual’s felt accountability.


Accountability is a key process in modern governance. It is one of the main mechanisms that governments use to stimulate the performance of the multitude of organizations delivering public services. Yet it is also one of the major sources of frustration for individuals in public administration and there are many known cases where accountability mechanisms have been found to be unproductive, or even counter-productive.

In order to study the effects of accountability in the public sector – and with the aim of contributing to its effectiveness – a group of researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, together with many international colleagues and a host of partners in governments and other public organizations, embarked on a major research project. In this project, methods, theories, and insights from behavioral science and public administration are combined.