On accountability A Working Library

Mandy Brown offers a passage from Sidney Dekker’s Just Culture:

Retributive justice asks what a person must do to compensate for his or her action and its consequences: the account is something the person has to settle. Restorative justice achieves accountability by listening to multiple accounts and looking ahead at what must be done to repair the trust and relationships that were harmed. This makes it important for others to understand why it made sense for the person to do what they did. Their account is something to tell.

Mandy then notes:

Much of the difficulty can be ascribed to the ever-present instinct towards retribution, which seeks easy conclusions at the expense of understanding. But while accountability in the retributive context promises that someone will be punished, only restorative accountability offers the hope of preventing future harm. That ought to make it an easy tradeoff; that it still isn’t in most organizations shows how deep the commitment to retribution runs in our cultures. It also lights up where we have work to do.

I’ve been mulling accountability for some time—a popular subject in public administration studies. I yearn for a version of accountability culture that would allow senior public servants—accounting officers—to appear at committee or otherwise to expand upon and explore their decisions. Relevant here would be the Canadian and British guidance for accounting officers, but it’s also about the broader nature of committees: though often collegial, they function in an adversarial system (Parliament). I’m not sure how well an adversarial system can move beyond retribution in favour of restoration—but it’s a compelling idea.

6:14 pm on August 15, 2022