Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Governance and Accountability - a Shift in Conceptualisation.1

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Governance and Accountability - a Shift in Conceptualisation.1

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Accountability has become a topic of concern in governance literature. The question of holding politicians and administration accountable in new governance environment, where many traditional means for controlling government no longer fully apply, has gained wide recognition. As a consequence, new types of accountability have been sought and identified. The article discusses the shifting conceptualisation of accountability in light of governance literature. It argues that this shift can be related to the structural changes that have taken place in politics and public administrations from the late 1980's to the present. Also, the argument is made that instead of trying to identify new mechanisms of accountability more attention should be paid to the transformations taking place among traditional mechanisms of accountability and their potential in the new institutional design.

INTRODUCTION

Accountability is increasingly becoming a topic of concern in governance literature. The growing interest in the issue of accountability is largely explained by the rise of new governance models which are seen to challenge the traditional mechanisms of accountability. The problem of holding politicians and administration accountable for their actions in the new governance environment has been widely acknowledged. As the interest in 'accountability' has increased, the definition of the term itself seems to have become more ambiguous. Scholars have argued that the concept is all but well defined and that the definition of the term has moved and expanded (Mulgan 2000; Sinclair 1995: 221; Dubnick 2005: 2-3, 6). If this is so, how has the conceptualisation of the term changed and why?

In this article I will discuss the shifts in the conceptualisation of 'accountability' in light of governance literature. The term 'governance' has been criticised for its inconsistent use and catch-all nature (Stoker 1998: 17-18; Pierre 2000: 3; Smouts 1998: 81; Jessop 1998: 29). It has had a dual use as a phenomenon and as an analytical framework (Pierre & Peters 2000: 24). Governance literature describes the changes in politics and administration that have been taking place through-out the Western world from the late 1980's to the present: changes in conditions, patterns and structures of governing, along with changes in nature, number and relations of actors involved (Pierre & Peters 2000: 14-23). In this respect 'governance' has been used as a referent for emerging structures and dynamics in governing that go beyond the scope of traditional 'government'.

'Governance' is also a topic for a framework which organises different research approaches in trying to analyse these changes (Pierre & Peters 2000: 14, 24-25; Stoker 1998: 18). In this sense governance has been used in reference to research as diverse as studies on New Public Management (Lane 2000; Pollit & Bouckaert 2004), policy networks (Kickert et al 1997; Rhodes 1996), new mechanisms of steering and coordination (Kooiman 1993; Mayntz 1993), internationalisation of government and public policies (Reinicke 1998; Hooge & Marks 2001; Rosenau 2000) and the changing role of the public sector and state (Pierre & Peters 2000; Weiss 1998). Governance research is also spread over several levels of analysis, which adds up to its heterogenic nature (Pierre 2000).

What can a framework and a body of literature this broad provide us with in order to make sense of the conceptualisation of 'accountability'? The Governance framework might not provide one with many definitive answers, but it contributes to the discussion by pointing out relevant trends, issues and topics of concern regarding the current developments in politics and administration (Stoker 1998: 18). It also provides us with new ways of thinking and conceptualising these processes of change. Accountability has definitely become a topic of concern throughout governance literature. …

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