Political Research Exchange

Apologies, Accountability and Organizational Reputation

Public Policy
Field Experiments
Survey Research
Muiris MacCarthaigh
Queen's University Belfast
Muiris MacCarthaigh
Queen's University Belfast

As the call for this Joint Session identifies, accountability has emerged as an Überconcept within the study of public governance in recent decades, and has increasingly come to define popular characterizations and criticisms of contemporary democracy and the social contract. Accountability studies are typically concerned with the relative absence of accountability and the role of blame avoidance in government (Hood 2010). By contrast, this paper will explore the issue of 'blame acceptance' as a means of preserving organizational reputation. In so doing, it seeks to develop recent work by Busuioc and Lodge (2016, 2017) in exploring the role played by internal and external audiences, and reputational considerations, in determining how accountability is manifested.

The research for this project arises from an Economic and Social Research Council-funded project [ES/N010825/1] concerning ‘Apologies, Abuses and Dealing with the Past’, in which we explore the use of apologies by state and non-state actors as a means of offering accountability, legitimacy and reputational preservation. The quantitate and qualitative data gathered to date (a national survey, focus groups, interviews and literature review) examines apologies from both recipient and provider perspectives, and connects them to concepts including accountability, legitimacy, acknowledgement, leadership, timing and performance. Drawing on this data and linking them to key concepts from organisational theory, the paper examines why and how blame acceptance is used by public organisations to achieve different goals including the restoration of trust and minimising reputational and other risks.

As we now live in an ‘age of apologies’ (Gibney 2008), in which governments and public sector organisations routinely seek to atone for past wrongs using the medium of public apology, this research opens up new insights into blame acceptance and how organizational reputations can be preserved and enhanced through this particular accountability mechanism.
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