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date: 28 February 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Public accountability research has been dominated by studies of accountability deficits. In a sample of over 200 accountability-papers taken from a variety of disciplines, nearly two-thirds focused on various types of deficits—situations in which power-holders are decoupled from adequate accountability mechanisms. The cumulative evidence from two decades of accountability, however, suggests that this problem of absent or deficient accountability may not be as grave as one would expect, given the strong emphasis on it in the literature and in public discourse. The empirical evidence, however, also reveals that the increased focus on accountability has produced considerable collateral damage in terms of excessive costs, red tape, and negative effects on other important public values, such as effectiveness, efficiency, trust, and learning. This suggests that questions about types of accountability and the conditions and contexts in which they are effective should feature more prominently on the agenda of public accountability research. This chapter provides an agenda, a first cut, for research on meaningful accountability.

Keywords: Public accountability, Accountability deficits, Accountability overloads, Accountability research, Organizational pathologies, Organizational learning

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