Don???t Count Us Out: How an Overreliance on Accountability Could Undermine the Public???s Confidence in Schools, Business, Government, and More

So many institutions—from Congress and Wall
Street to public schools and HMOs—have lost the nation’s confidence: “Citizens
don’t consider many institutions…to be either responsive or effective,” write
the authors of this Public Agenda/Kettering Foundation report. This, despite
much effort on the part of organizational leaders to provide transparent data
to the public. Why? According to the report, it’s because the public and those
leaders don’t agree on the fundamental nature of “accountability.” While elites
tend to see accountability as transparently holding organizations to objective,
quantifiable standards, the public views it, more opaquely, as a moral issue. Pervasive
irresponsibility causes a lack of accountability, regardless of measurable
results. This disconnect, the report argues, cripples policy. To remedy it, leaders
need to listen to and empathize with the public’s concerns, rather than
unilaterally choose technical solutions, the authors argue. To buttress this
point, the report authors draw from examples in education, housing, and health
care. (On the education front, they showcase school closures as a prime time
for enhanced communication.) Still, though they tout communication’s virtues,
the authors remind that it is not the same as consensus: Leaders must hear all
opinions. But the ultimate decision-making power must rest in their hands. The
public is accountable for remembering that.

Jean Johnson, Jonathan
Rochkind, and Samantha DuPont, Don’t Count
Us Out: How an Overreliance on Accountability Could Undermine the Public’s
Confidence in Schools, Business, Government, and More
. (New York, NY: Public
Agenda; Dayton, OH: Kettering Foundation, October 2011).

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