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Public accountability : understanding through the accounts of others

This work reconsiders the meanings attached to the concept of public accountability. While formally central to the constitution in the UK, its meaning is a contested one. After reviewing the literature, the work situates the concept of accountability in two case studies, each a discretionary service provided to vulnerable individuals. In this context, the research critically reviews the way in which the concept of accountability operates in practice, and particularly whether it meets the expressed neeeds of individuals and groups to whom the services are accountable. The central arguments emerging from this work challenge the established meanings of the concept of accountability, ones associated with control, redress, responsibility and with blame. The formal accounts presented of each case study differed markedly from those presented by managers, frontline service providers, welfare rights advisers and user advocates. As such, these formal accounts were misleading, bearing little relationship to the experienceo of users. Rather, the work suggests the need for a more reflexive, socialising model in which accountability is a means to understanding the nature of public services through the stories, the accounts, others tell of those services. The actions of public servants are better understood in the light of the experience of applicants or users. In this sense it is more concerned with dialogue than it is with mechanisms of control. As such, this alternative conceptualisation of accountability presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Opening up a dialogue that genuinely includes the voices of vulnerable and excluded groups and that moves beyond the current language of blame and responsibility to embrace understanding requires a degree of political maturity and a cultural shift in the public sector. Yet, through such dialogue, there is the potential to better understand public services and, in consequence, raise standards. The work advocates the need to include the accounts of citizens in our understanding of public services and of the concept of accountability.
Date January 2001
CreatorsRowe, Michael Richard
PublisherNottingham Trent University
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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