Accountability is a fashionable word as we enter the new millennium, and is often used as an over-arching concept covering the institutions, techniques and language of performance measurement, reporting and evaluation in public organizations and private non-profit organizations. The difficulty with such generic use is that a concept that is taken to mean everything effectively means nothing. On the other hand, a general concept that is clearly defined can serve as a means of categorizing and integrating a range of related themes. This chapter attempts such a definition for the concept of accountability essentially as a framework for a set of arguments on improving the information available for decision-makers in public and private non-profit programmes and organizations.
The concept has a rich history—from Athenian democracy through biblical injunctions to the evolution of modern democratic institutions 1 but its essence has always been and remains the obligation to render an account for a responsibility that has been conferred. 2 This definition presumes the existence of at least two parties, one who allocates responsibility and one who accepts it with an undertaking to report on, and account for, the manner in which it has been discharged. Further, rendering an account, or disclosure, is a formal requirement—an obligation—through, implicitly, some specified mechanism or protocol.
This formal, hierarchical ‘core’ model of accountability has been extended, particularly with respect to social services provided by public organizations or private non-profit organizations, to recognize a broad range of constituencies with an interest in disclosure of information. Matek talks about disclosure of relevant information to
all directly and indirectly responsible parties. Directly responsible parties are those to whom control of a programme or activity has been given and who can exercise sanction authority within or over the system. Indirectly responsible parties are those persons or groups