Reconstituting Accountability: Comparing How Voluntary Accountability Practices Work At Different Levels of Governance

Stream: Panel 30 - Public Policy & Social Justice: Public Sector Autonomy and Accountability 
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 11.30 am – 1.00 pm


Scholars of accountability in Public Administration have recently identified ‘voluntary accountability’ (VA) as an important practice of accountability that presents a theoretical problem for traditional principal-agent explanations of why accountability happens. Why would public actors create forms of accountability they are not required to by law, when it requires significant resources and can lead to undesirable consequences? Existing literature has argued VA occurs because of a ‘logic of appropriateness’ or a ‘logic of consequences'. These explanations resonate at a broad level, but they can be criticized for being too all-encompassing, neglecting why VA is important and distinctive in contemporary states, and collapsing accountability so that it means any activity through which an agency attempts to legitimate itself. To respond to these criticisms we adopt a most-different comparative case study research design to identify commonalities in VA across three agencies at multiple levels of governance – sub national state, regional-cross jurisdictional, and transnational. We then interrogate one particular form of VA common to all three agencies: the maintenance of a website, to understand how it acts as a form of VA. Using an innovative method of unobtrusive website data mining we supplement existing ‘macro’ explanations of VA in terms of their driving ‘logics’ with meso- and micro- explanations of how they are driven by dynamics of mediatization and reputation management. This not only adds value to existing explanations of VA, but makes a stronger case for why VA ought to be central to the study of accountability in contemporary Public Administration.


Paul Fawcett (Presenter), Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra

Amanda Smullen, Crawford School, ANU

Matt Wood, Crick Centre, University of Sheffield