Analysing and Assessing Public Accountability. A Conceptual Framework
It has been argued that the European Union suffers from serious accountability deficits. But how can we establish the existence of accountability deficits? This paper tries to get to grips with the appealing but elusive concept of accountability by asking three types of questions, thus providing three types of building blocks for such an empirical study. First a conceptual one: what exactly is meant by accountability? Accountability is often used in a very broad sense, as a synonym for a variety of evaluative, but essentially contestable concepts, such as responsiveness, responsibility and effectiveness. In this paper the concept of accountability is taken in a much more narrow sense: a relationship between an actor and a forum, in which the actor has an obligation to explain and to justify his or her conduct, the forum can pose questions and pass judgment, and the actor may face consequences. The second question is an analytical one: what types of accountability are involved? On the basis of the narrow definition of accountability, a series of dimensions of accountability will be discerned, that can be used in the description of the various accountability relations and arrangements that can be found in the different domains of governance. The third question is an altogether different, evaluative question: how should we assess these accountability relations, arrangements and regimes? The paper provides three perspectives for the assessment of accountability relations: a democratic, a constitutional, and a cybernetic perspective. Each of these three perspectives may render different types of accountability deficits.
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