Authors: Jane Mansbridge

Accountability has recently become synonymous with punishment, or sanctions, thus marginalizing the traditional definition of accountability as giving an account and justifying one’s actions to those to whom one is responsible. Sanction-based accountability is appropriate in contexts of justified distrust. Trust-based accountability, which relies heavily on giving an account, is most appropriate in contexts of justified trust. Sanction-based accountability can undermine trust-based accountability. Dynamic accountability, appropriate for conditions of complexity and change, involves both sanctions and trust, allowing principals and agents to work together, along with the agents’ peers and external stakeholders, toward recursively revisable responses. A contingency theory of accountability stresses crafting the mix of forms of accountability to fit the requirements and capacities of the context.