Executive accountability for shared outcomes – Canadian Government Executive

NEWS

SEARCH

AccountabilityManagement
May 7, 2012

Executive accountability for shared outcomes

CGE Vol.13 No.1 January 2007

“How can I be held accountable for outcomes that I can’t control?” is one of the more vexing questions public sector executives are asking about accountability. With increased networking and partnering, shared services and joint projects, how can we be accountable for the so-called intermediate and ultimate outcomes in a program logic model?

This should not be a difficult question if one has an understanding of the differences between “accountability,” “responsibility,” and “answerability,” three linked yet different concepts.

For what I consider to be the best articulation of “accountability,” I look to an excellent Office of the Auditor General–TBS discussion paper titled “Modernizing Accountability Practices in the Public Sector”, dated January 6, 1998. In fact, I feel that this document should be required reading for every executive, manager and program delivery person in the three levels of government in Canada.

This paper contains the following definition: “Accountability is a relationship based on the obligation to demonstrate and take responsibility for performance in light of agreed expectations.” The paper goes on to define five principles of effective accountability:
1.     Clear roles and responsibilities
2.     Clear performance expectations
3.     Balanced expectations and capacities
4.     Credible reporting, and
5.     Reasonable review and adjustment.

Responsibility, on the other hand, is the obligation to take action, or undertake certain actions, in accordance with the specific authority, or authorities, conveyed by law, regulation, delegation, agreement (e.g., a performance management agreement), or accountability framework (e.g., a Results-based Management and Accountability Framework).

These definitions are in contrast to a related one, “answerability,” which can be thought of as another type of obligation, the duty to inform and explain. This type of obligation – to provide an account of information and rationale for given actions – entails neither the responsibility to take action nor the personal consequences associated with “accountability.”

So how does all of this practically apply to the working lives of executives, managers and program staff in departments, ministries, and agencies in government?

Among other things, this means that a deputy, executive, manager or program subject matter expert might be called before a Parliamentary Committee, or some other political or non-political body at another level of government, to be “answerable” for the activities and outputs being carried out by a particular program that is designed to contribute towards defined immediate, intermediate and ultimate outcomes. It also means that the same person, when called before the same committee or body, might touch on areas for which his or her program or organization has been assigned “responsibility” or might be asked to comment on how he or she has exercised his or her “accountability” obligations (the five principles) in relation to a particular public policy or program area.

This being understood, it places greater emphasis on the need for executives, managers and program delivery staff to understand how the five principles of accountability need to be exercised in order that shared outcomes can be contributed to in the most effective and efficient way, in an increasingly complex public policy and program delivery environment.

The results chain or logic model structure is an important starting point for framing the discussion with parties to an accountability relationship. It enables the parties (the “who”) to have a rich discussion about the cause and effect relationships between the inputs (the “how”) and activities/outputs (the “what”) that will be required to contribute towards the outcomes identified (the “why we are doing this”).

The first principle of accountability – clear roles and responsibilities – is, in my experience, one of the key areas of vulnerability in most accountability relationships. If the roles and responsibilities of the parties have not been clearly defined, there are huge risks of confusion in terms of implementation of various elements of the so-called program logic. If things have not worked well, we often find out too late that there was confusion in terms of roles and responsibilities and how various parties understood their contribution to various shared outcomes.

The second principle of accountability – clear performance expectations – is very closely linked to the first principle. There must be absolute clarity in terms of what the shared (usually intermediate and ultimate) outcomes are and in relation to what each party is expected to contribute to these, including the inputs, activities, outputs and immediate outcomes. This dialogue extends to determining what performance indicators and targets will be shared and which will be distinct, and who will be responsible for what in terms of data collection and reporting.

Principles one and two speak to the need to have a results logic in place to support the accountability relationship, in which all elements are sufficiently elaborated, so that the performance story in relation to the government program in question can be described, “operationalized” and explained.

The third principle – balanced expectations and capacities – points to the need for clarity in terms of the links, and balance, between authorities, skills, and resources and expected results among all parties to the accountability relationship. This requires a continual dialogue and refresh in relation to the performance story around the accountability relationship (see principles four and five below), important elements that are often given short shrift, in my experience.

The fourth principle – credible reporting – emphasizes the need for the parties to the accountability relationship to report – in other words, provide an accounting – in a credible and timely manner on what results have been accomplished in light of the agreed expectations, and to attempt to attribute those results in some manner to the authority, resources and actions taken. It is important to understand that this reporting will be to bodies to which the parties are either answerable, responsible or accountable, such as the Parliament of Canada, as well as to the “other” parties to the accountability relationship.

The fifth principle – reasonable review and adjustment – implies that there is a mechanism in place to “close the loop” in which there is a consideration of what has been accomplished in light of the agreed expectations and the circumstances that existed, and that achievements as well as opportunities for improvement have been recognized. Where expectations have not been met, it is expected that the parties to the accountability arrangement will agree on lessons learned, the corrective actions that might be required to improve performance, and on possible adjustments that might be needed to the accountability relationship, policy and program management and program delivery arrangements, including roles and responsibilities.

In summary, accountability, responsibility and answerability are important terms that must be clearly understood and differ

About this author

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Accountability
 
In this episode, hear from Carl Hammersburg, Manager, Government and Healthcare...
 
A new study from the Conference Board of Canada gives our...
 
In the world that we are living in today, free and...
 
The delivery method developed by Sir Michael Barber, chief adviser to...
 
Rules and accountability are helpful in developing and standardizing processes but...
 
Canadian doctors were told that climate change impacts human health and...
 
Even as talks between the government and federal workers affected problems...
 
The largest effort in 20 years to seek public input on...
 
Ottawa has overhauled the process by which justices are picked for...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
In this episode, editor-in-chief, Patrice Dutil talks about the need for...
 
Upon receiving numerous complaints regarding add-on fees that turn making economy...
 
Are you absolutely clear what the government wants to achieve? Are...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Written By Jason McNaught The Public Service Alliance of Canada was...
 
Independence has long been regarded as a cornerstone of the auditing...
 
Canada is a diverse nation, in language, culture, geography, and, ultimately,...
 
Public sector organizations are under increasing pressure to identify all risks...
 
The government of Canada has implemented several measures over the past...
 
Whether at the territorial, provincial or federal government level, internal audit...
 
An organization’s reputation can take years to build but it can...
 
On October 30, Ontario began second reading of the Public Sector...
 
In the well-known children’s story, an Emperor falls victim to the...
 
The Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman is a small operation...
 
I think the ombudsman needs to be independent, because without independence...
 
Today’s business environment changes rapidly to adjust to evolving conditions and...
 
The best internal auditors actually are really good managers first. I...
 
The recent controversy about the actions of some staff members in...
 
Most professionals don’t need more than a sentence at a cocktail...
 
Recent research by the Institute of Internal Auditors Canada aims to...
 
When is it that a politician becomes part of the governing...
 
It’s been a busy couple of weeks on the information, privacy...
 
In 1996, a new budget watchdog, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, was...
 
The Ontario government is moving forward with the creation of a...
 
The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada (PSIC)...
 
After the Auditor General’s (AG) report was released on April 30,...
 
In the U.K. system, Permanent Secretaries are what we call Deputy...
 
We are living in a period of rapid change and limited...
 
US public sector employees don’t trust their management to do the...
 
The news of Mark Carney’s nomination as the new Governor of...
 
Following Singapore’s independence in 1965, the controversial leadership of Lee Kuan...
 
Over the past few years, the preparation and delivery of the...
 
In healthcare, cost-cutting can result in cutting what is valued most...
 
For over 20 years Colin Bennett has been exploring issues of...
 
Even before controversy shook the organization to its foundation, Ornge was...
 
It will be the largest international multi-sport event ever held on...
 
We’ve all seen the headlines – BC Ferries, Ornge, la Caisse...
 
It can happen, and it’s noteworthy when it does. Government, business...
 
Kevin Page’s mandate as the first Parliamentary Budget Officer comes to...
 
Governments are challenged to meaningfully mitigate the effects of the financial...
 
Canada is facing a huge financial challenge brought on by massive...
 
For the past one hundred years, democratic states have been moving...
 
It’s so much easier and less painful to learn from the...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.7 September 2007 "If the Public Service, as a...
 
When pondering leadership, we immediately think of exercising our influence downward...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.1 January 2007 "How can I be held accountable...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.2 February 2007 Canada’s Performance 2006 is the sixth...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.1 January 2008 The furor over the $300,000 that...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.2 February 2008 Let’s say you’re a senior manager,...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.1 January 2007 Perhaps it’s a legacy of the...
 
The Independent Blue Ribbon Panel on Grants and Contributions called for...
 
Au Canada, le secteur bénévole et à but non lucratif vit...
 
As the global economy struggles to regain some forward momentum, Canadian...
 
This will be a defining budget for Stephen Harper. It will...
 
It is difficult to determine when the debate about the need...
 
For the next few years, the federal government’s overarching agenda will...
 
Much of the current conversation about the federal government’s economic agenda...
 
Bill Greenlaw is the elected president of the Institute for Public...
 
Have you ever asked yourself the question: ‘How would I evaluate...
 
Last fall, Alberta’s Employment and Immigration department posted online the workplace...
 
In 2006 the world was feeling the aftershocks of a number...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.4 April 2007 Robert Parkins, editorial director, met recently...
 
In the past two decades, the nature of the state has...
 
Please to view this Content. (Not a member? Join Today! )...
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
In this episode, hear from Carl Hammersburg, Manager, Government and Healthcare...

Member Login

Forgot Password?

Join Us

Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.