Accountability and Reputation
Workshop directors: Madalina Busuioc Thomas Schillemans
This workshop will bring together an international team of scholars to discuss the relationship between accountability and reputation in the public sector. Accountability has gained a vast amount of scholarly, as well as public attention over the last years (Yang 2012; Dubnick 2014). The recent attention for behavioral aspects of accountability has furthered our understanding of the importance of accountability mechanisms (Schillemans 2016): how can accountability instruments influence political and managerial behavior? At the same time, scholars have begun to theorise the importance of organizational reputation in accountability relations (Busuioc and Lodge 2016; Busuioc and Lodge 2017). In this workshop, we will discuss the relation between accountability and reputation in further depth. An important contribution of the current workshop is the discussion of empirical evaluations of the relationship between accountability and reputation.
A workshop on the relationship between accountability and reputation is relevant and timely for several reasons. To begin with, the concept of accountability is slowly emerging as the Überconcept of the 21st century in the political and administrative sciences (Flinders 2014). In a context of complex administrative reforms on the one hand, and increasing political and societal turbulence on the other hand, accountability becomes increasingly important. The political and administrative status quo in the western world is currently challenged by new political parties, new modes of politics and cynical and critical (groups of) citizens. In this context, accountability becomes ever more prominent, both in challenging the existing political order as well as in policing the existing order (Olsen 2015). Recent studies invariably show that various forms and mechanisms of accountability are on the increase in many political systems (Dubnick 2014; Wille 2016). However, there is little research available as of yet which helps to understand and explain the effects of accountability (Schillemans 2016). In this context of contestation, reputation becomes an important driver for the behavior of political and bureaucratic agents (Busuioc & Lodge 2016) in various jurisdictions.
Mechanisms of accountability are among the most important means for governments to guard, control, and improve the quality of public service performance. These mechanisms are the institutionalized form of the relationship in which a public organization reports on its performance to a competent political actor who is able to judge and sanction the organization (Bovens 2007). The mechanisms serve to reduce information asymmetries, limit discretionary powers of non-majoritarian actors, and to give an incentive for better public service performance (McCubbins, Noll, and Weingast 1987). In order to arrive at desirable (= accountable) outcomes, governments have devised various institutional accountability mechanisms aiming to nudge, push or force actors in government toward accountable behavior. Critics contend that these mechanisms can lead to undesired outcomes, such as gaming or buck-passing (Bevan and Hood 2006). At the same time, empirical evidence shows that many public organizations also do more than they are strictly required to do, and that informal accountability mechanisms play a large role in the public sector (Koop 2014; Romzek et al. 2014). Moreover, public service providers provide performance information to their stakeholders and engage in initiatives to enhance their accountability to the public (Schillemans 2008; Schillemans and Busuioc 2015). Understanding both these positive and negative effects of public accountability mechanisms requires a deeper understanding of the effects of accountability mechanisms on the behavior of individual actors: the felt or experienced accountability (Lerner and Tetlock 1999; Hall, Frink, and Buckley 2015; Schillemans 2016).
The causal link between accountability mechanisms on the one hand and outcomes on the other entails some intermediary steps. At the heart of the causal link is the individual’s perception, within his or her institutional environment, of accountability. Individual behavior is predicated on perceptions of accountability, which may, or may not, be predicated on institutional accountability mechanisms and processes themselves. Agents take most decisions on the basis of what they find appropriate (Olsen 2013) and they may anticipate formal accountability in their actual decision making. In other words, felt (or experienced) accountability is key in our understanding the causal link between institutional accountability arrangements and behavioral outcomes. Among potential behavioral outcomes are compliance, better performance, and ethical behavior, but also strategic and undesired behavior such as ignoring rules, gaming, or window dressing (Schillemans 2016). Simultaneously, an organizational perspective would intimate that accountability relationships are shaped in significant ways (in terms of both desired and undesired effects) by reputational considerations (Busuioc and Lodge 2016; 2017). Reputational considerations act as filters of external expectations and help explain variations in degrees of interest in, and intensity of, accountability processes (Busuioc and Lodge 2016; 2017). Having a reputation of being an effective and competent organization becomes a political asset, or even ‘markers of authority and power’ (Carpenter 2010, 727). As such, organizational reputations are important sources that feed back into the accountability relation between organizations and political principals.
There is a strong link between felt accountability and reputation management. Reputation management is the management of the impression in front of stakeholder audiences (Goffman 1959). The goal of reputation management is to appear successful, and thus to achieve a good reputation. Reputation management, therefore, has implications for accountability: it implies that accountability is about the establishment of a good reputation with various stakeholder audiences, including political principals (Busuioc and Lodge 2016, 250–51). As a consequence, among the effects of accountability are not only a reduction of information asymmetries and a limitation of discretionary power. Instead, accountability mechanisms also lead to concerns about organizational reputation for public managers and, hence, influence their behavior (Busuioc and Lodge 2017).
This workshop will devote special attention to the empirical examination of the links between mechanisms of accountability, felt accountability, reputation management, and other behavioral outcomes. While some knowledge is available about the behavioral consequences of felt accountability in lab settings (Lerner and Tetlock 1999; Hall, Frink, and Buckley 2015), empirical evaluations of these links in a political environment are still scarce. We, therefore, encourage the empirical evaluation of theories on felt accountability and reputation in both qualitative and quantitative research designs. Understanding the relation between accountability and reputation will contribute to political science theory and will have important implications for political and administrative practice.
The workshop will bring together participants at different stages of their careers working in different areas of the political sciences and neighboring disciplines on research on accountability and reputation. The workshop directors have already approached researchers working in this area who have indicated their willingness to participate. In addition, participants from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research funded Calibrating Public Accountability (CPA) program and European Research Council (ERC)- funded project Reputation Matters in the Regulatory State [RICA]. Participants from beyond these groups will also participate; a selection of papers will rely on merit and fit with the current plan as described in this workshop proposal. This workshop is related to existing research networks of scholars analyzing accountability in public administration and political science.
Dr. Thomas Schillemans, Associate Professor of Public Administration, Utrecht University School of Governance.
Research interests: research focuses on the linkages between public organizations, and their societal and political constituencies through 1) accountability processes and mechanisms, 2) the news media and public opinion, and 3) administrative procedures, departmental control, and bureaucratic politics.
Key publications include:
The Oxford handbook of Public Accountability (2014; with M. Bovens and R.E. Goodin)
Predicting Public Sector Accountability (2015, with M. Busuioc, in JPART), and
Special issue on Media and Governance (2016, with J. Pierre, in Policy & Politics).
Dr. Madalina Busuioc, Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of Exeter, United Kingdom.
Research interests: accountability, bureaucratic reputation, regulation, agencification, delegation.
Key publications include:
Busuioc, Madalina (2013) European Agencies: Law and Practices of Accountability. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013
Busuioc, Madalina, and Martin Lodge. 2016. “The Reputational Basis of Public Accountability.” Governance 29 (2): 247–63. doi:10.1111/gove.12161.
Busuioc, Madalina and Martin Lodge. 2017. “Reputation and Accountability Relationships: Managing Accountability Expectations through Reputation.” Public Administration Review 77 (1): 91–100. doi:10.1111/puar.12612.
Schillemans, Thomas, and Madalina Busuioc. 2015. “Predicting Public Sector Accountability: From Agency Drift to Forum Drift.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 25 (1): 191–215