Reframing Democratic Governance
Chapter 11: Accountability and the integrity of systems
In recent years the literature on accountability has burgeoned and many different dimensions of the concept have been discussed. This chapter looks at the different domains of authority as connected but distinctive systems. It focuses on their integrity as systems. It thus moves away from much recent discussion that has been in terms of accountability as applied to the compliance of individual actors with their terms of reference rather than to the integrity of the system or domain as a whole. The discussion looks first at the issues raised in going from accountability as applied to an individual actor, institution or act, to a system perspective. Standard frameworks for the analysis of individual acts or actors rely either on what is known as 'principal/agent' relationships where the body or actor being held to account is an agent to a principal (such as a democratic electorate) who holds them to account, or the relationship is analysed in terms of an actor (being held to account) and a forum (holding them to account). However, what is immediately apparent from recent experience is that mechanisms that focus on individual acts and actors may miss the bigger picture of what is happening to the integrity of the system or domain as a whole.
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