Context in Public Policy and Management
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Context in Public Policy and Management

The Missing Link?

Edited by Christopher Pollitt

‘Putting into context’ is a very common phrase – both in the social sciences and beyond. But what exactly do we mean by this, and how do we do it? In this book, leading scholars in public policy and management tackle these issues. They show how ideas of context are central to a range of theories and explanations and use an international range of case studies to exemplify context-based explanation. The book uncovers the complexity that lies behind an apparently simple notion, and offers a variety of approaches to decipher that complexity. Context is indeed a missing link, which enables us to make sense of the vital relationship between the general and the particular.
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Chapter 19: Context and accountability: factors shaping performance audit

Jeremy Lonsdale


Much political discussion in recent decades has centred on accountability in government, perceived accountability deficits and the consequences for effective government of a lack of accountability. This is a contentious subject, and one which immediately raises questions of accountable for what, when, to whom and with what effect, which are considered in detail elsewhere (Bovens, 1998; Bemelmans-Videc et al., 2007). Some attempts to increase accountability have their detractors who regard the demands and tone of many accountability regimes as oppressive and counter-productive (Behn, 2001). Nevertheless, concerns for enhanced accountability and transparency have been a driving force behind public sector management reform of the last 30 years. This can be seen in the burgeoning measurement of government performance, the development of target regimes and increased interest in more sophisticated means of reporting information (Bouckaert and Halligan, 2008). And most importantly for this chapter, it can also be seen in the expansion of audit regimes into many walks of life (Power, 1997; Lapsley and Lonsdale, 2010). Accountability for the use of public resources is usually seen as a prerequisite for good government, and is closely linked to the exercise of power and the legitimacy of policies and those pursuing them. Despotic or incompetent regimes tend not to marshal or monitor the use of their resources well, and do little or nothing to present information on how they have been used.

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