Re: Responsibility vs accountability LO2806

Thu, 14 Sep 1995 12:35:11 GMT-0930

Replying to LO2793 --

Dear Learning-org-ers

I am a newcomer to this list - and find it more interesting on some
issues than two other lists (differnt foci) I am party to.

Jean-Marie Bonthous raised the following issues I'd like to come in

>There is much talk about shared accountability being a sign of true teams.
>Can someone shed clarity on the distinction between accountability and
>responsibility? Are they one and the same? or do they do they have
>different connotations and denotations?.

Cross-cultural differences?
>Dictionaries such as the American Heritage Dictionary are vague on this
>distinction. In addition, I was born in France, where only the word
>responsibility exists (and it is the same in Spain, Italy, etc...).

My Background
In order to comment on these issues and hopefully contribute to the
discussions, i t might help to know where I am coming from.

I am currently President of the AustralAsian Evaluation Society (AES). I
have an interest in Organisational Performance Evaluation as an
Organizational Learning Tool. With 6 years as a middle-order public
sector manager in Australia, and ten years as a management consultant and
academic researcher in organisational change and evaluation, I am
continually frustrated at the lack of long-term commitment to ongoing
monitoring and evaluation of various changes introduced by governments and
agencies. So I wonder whether there can be an answer to the title of the
book by Frans Leeuw & Ray Rist titled: "Can Governments Learn?"

Comments on Accountability vs Responsibility
In my experience in the public sector (which deals with this issue
all the time) there is significant confusion over this distinction.
I teach my Masters students that it may be useful to refer to these
as two sides of the same coin. Public office (e.g., Company
Director) is a position with certain discretions to act on-behalf
of others' interests which brings certain responsibilities to those
interests to perform according to agreed expectations of outcomes.
Accountability is the reporting part of the responsibility. These
two concepts have a relationship embodied in the old aphorism that:
'justice must not only be done - but BE SEEN TO BE DONE'.
In other words there is a responsibility to do the right thing, and
being accountable means proving that one has done so to the interested parties.
This is obviously an area of importance for performance evaluation
and management ethics.

Does this help?

Dr Colin Sharp
Assoc. Prof. Management,
Flinders Institute of Public Policy & Management
Flinders University
GPO Box 2100 Adelaide, SA, 5001 Australia
Ph: -61-8-201-2629; Fax: -61-8-201-2273