Friday, 30 November 2007

Accountability literature


After a dreary trawl through the EBSCO database, I reluctantly read a somewhat irrelevant paper this morning, until I noticed it mentioned Bovens' model of public accountability that
"does not rely on (unbroken) chains of delegation and (largely) single principals."
The journal, European Law Journal ( Volume 13 Issue 4) was a very recent one (July 2007) and it is a special issue prepared in the context of the Connex network on democratic governance. The introduction indicates that the authors
"had all been working on aspects of accountability and its links with other 'good governance' values, notably transparency and democracy."
Scholars from throughout Europe had presented papers at workshops coordinated by Curtin. It has led me to other names and papers: Dubnick, Mulgan, Sinclair, Day & Klein, Power and others whose names I don't yet know. Perhaps I will manage to get ten papers together to review for my next supervision.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Review of accountability

I'm to review the literature on accountability. I read literature on this for my MRes and attempted to make sense of the construct of accountability, writing and rewriting for months. If I'm to review the literature I suppose I go back to what I had first time round, and reread it. And add to it.

I've been search EBSCO for 'accountability' with other words:
  • public accountability
  • public accountability AND logic
  • logic of accountability
  • accountabilities AND logics
  • public accountability AND review
  • public accountability AND review AND literature- no recent review of the literature on accountability
  • Accountability review NOT accounting
  • participatory accountability - results seem to be about poverty & third world
  • participatory theory AND accountability
  • accountability AND risk-taking
  • ethical accountability - the results seem to relate to adverts
Then I followed up some systems writing by Flood [1] and looked for
  • public accountability AND structure - best is Pugh et al from years ago
  • public accountability AND processes
  • public accountability AND meaning - hits seem a bit old
  • public accountability AND power AND knowledge - no hits here
  • public accountability AND power

[1] Flood, Robert, L., Rethinking the Fifth Discipline: Learning Within the Unknowable (Paperback)at

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Web words

I wrote some words for my page at the OUBS web site, but it doesn't display properly. What I gave the course secretary to upload has come out as one long unreadable paragraph.

Research so far

I am interested in:
  1. how public sector authorities accounted for the use of consultants

  2. how client-consultant relationships affected public accountability.
The media frequently accuse the public sector of profligate expenditure on private consultants. As a preliminary study for the Masters in Research Methods I examined public accountability for the management of external consultants looking for justification of use. The study applied agency theory to client roles and relationships to identify problems of different perceptions of accountability between multiple decision makers and stakeholders.

A social constructionist perspective was taken that led to a qualitative analysis of a single case study of the use of external consultants in a council service review project.

Emerging issues of public accountability included transparency of processes. Different perceptions of accountability revealed unconscious enactment and possible gaps. Findings confirmed the literature on accountability and began to extend research on some types of client-consultant relationships, suggesting public accountabilities in which managers of consultants account proactively and users account reactively. Further research might investigate the institutional pressures that influence client-consultant relationships and accountability.

Research to do

Different constructions of public accountability may come with different relationships; relationships may even prevent accountability. Some issues seem to be accounted for, but others are not. What influences the choice of what issues are publicly accounted for?

A culture may allow some ways of setting up and legitimising some accountability relationships but not others. The institutional context and culture shapes the micro-level of interaction between groups and organisations creating systems of meaning in a context of accountability. Accountability may be a function of institutional logic, or of organisational culture. So, for the moment I am exploring the literature on accountability more in order to refine the research topic and questions.

For my latest progress see my blog at:

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

DTW Rigour and reviewing

How are you going to demonstrate rigour in your research?
In the doctoral training workshop, our small group suggested (after a discussion about the meaning and spelling of 'rigorous'):
  • an obedience to rules
  • following instructions rigoursly
  • consistency
  • validity
  • reliability
The class suggestions were:
Before data collection: Address own bias, Be consistent with the research question, Be objective, Justify the methodology, Have awareness of the literature in the field

After data collection Triangulate, Be repeatable, Repeat experiments to make sure Use methods consistently, Compare with other’s work, Analyse from a different perspective, Know limitations, Find other explanations

Always Following the training rules, Be convincing, Demonstrate external validation

The answer taken from Research Skills for Policy and Development [1]:

  1. To show that you have enough evidence to justify your conclusions
  2. That evidence has been obtained properly and that contrary evidence has been sought, but either not found or found to be relatively unconvincing.

See slides that they'll post on the web site later.

Ways of doing research

Maybe have a section in the PhD dissertation about the way of researching, e.g.:

  • observing,
  • two-way interactions e.g. semi-structured interviews
  • participation.

See rules for rigourous research in Glassich, Huber & Maeroff, 1997 [2]

Some questions that a reviewer might be required to ask of a paper:

  1. whether there's evidence to support the claims
  2. whether the claims are relevant and topical
  3. accuracy of the numbers or quotations
  4. ethics of publication
  5. credible references
  6. relevance of the topic (journal/field/fashion)
  7. originality might be desirable but not required
  8. limitations
  9. clarity of ideas
  10. findings justified
  11. structure
  12. abstract

[1] Research Skills for Policy and Development: How to Find Out Fast (Published in association with The Open University) by Alan Thomas and Giles Mohan (Paperback - 16 May 2007) at
[2] Scholarship Assessed: Evaluation of the Professoriate (Special Report) by Charles E. Glassick, Mary Taylor Huber, and Gene I. Maeroff (Paperback - 15 Aug 1997)

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Supervision - literature review

All three of us managed to meet for about half an hour yesterday for the first time since I started on the PG programme.

Agenda included:
  • PhD skills audit
  • my scribbles
  • ethics committee feedback on MRes, a summary and an issue that arose

PhD skills audit

My scribbles

These scribbles connected my ideas from reading on organisations and accountability. They linked the intangible recommendations of consultants to the invisibility of recommendations that were not taken up and the undiscussability of decisions to implement recommendations or not. These ideas built on readings from Mullins, Thornton and Argyris with reference to concepts of institutional logic and power.

Criticism is undiscussable, or consultants come up with recommendations that are ignored. I have stuff about how aspects of a consultancy and issues that arise are undiscussable so how does accountability work there, so single & double loop processes are being challenged. there are issue in my research about defining the context.
  • What does it mean to use consultants and
  • What might accountability mean in those contexts?
  • What happens if we've hired consultants to change the way we think? which is what institutional logic & double loop learning is about, throwing up in the air the criteria used. There might be conflicting logics in play.
  • what is legitimate, what's discussable?
There are ways of setting up and legitimising some accountability relationships and not others. You can have a culture that allows some and not others. The institutional context & culture shapes the micro-level of interaction between groups and organisations. The mental models take place within an institutional context. Supervisors suggest that where there are challenges to Argyris' double loop learning, then issues of context matter. There are systems of meaning in a context of accountability at a micro level with mental models. They recommend that I explore accountability more, e.g. what happens when organisational templates change? You import an institution to make an organisation out of. The organisation is the enactment of the model. you What does it look like when you have different institutional loyalties in play? what's the process of transition like? Thornton looked at something like this- a tradition called institutional theory.
Follow up Hinings & Royston Greenwood, 1998, Mayo & Rowan, DiMaggio & Powell, Michael Lounsbury.

Concepts in the accountability literature that I had read:
  • institutional logic
  • performance measurement - is an institutional kind of logic, imposed by audit & inspection regimes
  • participation - pressure on councils to consult, part of the institutional environment

Literature review

This is to be on:
  1. accountability
  2. new institutionalism
My task before Christmas is to write something about accountability giving a sense of where the literature on accountability now is and then to move on to anything promising about institutionalism. Also I'm going to look at one or two theses.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Phd skills audit

A couple of the directors of research studies (Geoff & Marion) delivered us a session on skills that we should have by the end of the three years of PhD studies. The list of skills gives seven (A to G) headings to these on the Joint Research Councils' web site. The one that matters to me is:

Research Skills and Techniques

This includes research problems, thinking, methods, reviewing, documenting and reporting, which are not skills that I have much experience of, whereas the other areas I have practised to some extent.

There is also a page for the supervisors on assessment where students can check what they'll be assessed on (in theory). However, after supervision yesterday, I have the impression that my supervisors are not aware of this web site nor or their formal role in skills audit. Supervisor #1 and I discussed some of the headings from a print out of the list of seven headings, and I think we'll have a fairly informal approach. That suits me fine.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

DTW literature review

See web site at and chapter 7 of Doing Postgraduate Research

Why do a literature review?
  • to know what's been said
  • to find gaps
  • to clarify the research question
  • to 'locate' research in context
  • to find who is doing what
  • to facility your learning about the process about how people do research.
Compare Potter's slide on the purpose of a literature review, which includes using the literature review to choose a research method or approach.
We discussed Woodley's 1980's review for the literature on the success rate of mature students. (I hope his more recent work indicates that mature students are successful.) He writes a story of the emergence of information on the topic, not a list of the papers that he's read.

Sources of information that we thought of include:
  • journals
  • books
  • grey literature: organisational reports, blogs
  • technical reports
  • web
  • people
See Doing Post Graduate Research Chapter 7.3

Friday, 16 November 2007

Supervision preparation

I have a supervision next week so need to put together what I got from the last supervisions (met supervisors separately) and indicate where I'm up to.

My topic seems to indicate that I’m investigating two areas:
  1. Organisations
  2. Accountability

The organisations are public organisations and use external management consultants. Accountability may be public but if it exists, it is expressed within and by a public organisation. Starting points then are visibility and power to account. My supervisors have consequently made recommendations relevant to these areas:

  1. Find a review of the literature on accountability
  2. Search for literature on organisational development interventions and the intangibility of management consultancy work.

Initial literature:

  • Public Policy and Administration vol 21 no 3 Autumn 2006 special issue on public accountability in a new institutional environment
  • Lukes, (1974 & 2005) Power: a radical view

These texts are leading me to consider

  • institutional logic,
  • the power of the invisible,
  • the effect of intangibility and
  • the resulting undiscussability.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Job interview

I had a quite intensive interview to tutor a business course. They started even before I sat down by asking if we'd met before then where. Discussion didn't give me good vibes since one of the interviewers was someone who'd interviewed me before and didn't give me the job - in fact she was quite scathing in her debriefing. That was a useful experience because it made me realise that there might be something in the culture that doesn't match your own values, and in fact you don't want the job because of that clash.

Preparation had included:
  • an electronic in-tray
  • an electronic assignment to mark
  • a 10 minute tutorial to prepare
Questions included:
  • how do you deal with the range of students
  • how do you involve the student who doesn't want to participate
  • what tutoring was I already doing
  • a question on a business topic
Trouble is, I feel so tense in those situations that I can't remember when I come out what they had asked about.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Argyris musings

Chris Argyris [1] wrote on un-discussability in the early 80s.
Something can’t be discussed and even its un-discussability is un-discussable.And this may be what is happening in the choice of what aspect of consultants’ work is publicly accounted for. Argyris was looking at the organisation so the un-discussability is at an organisation level.I also need to look at what happens in an organisation or an institution such as a government or public institution and the institutional culture that governs or influences what is discussable.

He mentions that organisations need double loop learning. Isn't this like the Johari window where there are things that you / others know/don't know about you?

[1] Argyris, Chris, 1980, Making the Undiscussable and Its Undiscussability Discussable, Public Administration Review,Public Administration Review, 205-213, vol 40, 3, 1980,, (Argyris, 1980)

Friday, 9 November 2007


nothing to write, nothing to say, I'm nearing the end of a dismal day,


Thursday, 8 November 2007

Institutional logics

Public policy and administration Vol 21 #3 autumn 2006

This small journal on public administration had a special issue following a conference on public accountability.

David Mullins writes on the non-profit housing sector. He identifies institutional logics (Friedman & Alford, 1991; Scott 2001; Thornton, 2002) as a relevant concept.

Institutional logics may be
· A shared belief system (Scott, 2001)
· ‘A set of material practices and symbolic constructions’ that provide a means of connecting beliefs and rules (Friedman & Alford, 1991)
· Competing logics with different consequences for attributes of organisations
Whereas Thornton proposed two competing logics as the logic of professions and the logic of markets, Mullins looks at the logic of local accountability and the logic of scale and efficiency in action. The relevant one for my interests is, I think the logic of local accountability, but I might find different logics in the context of a public organisation that uses external consultants.

Mullins uses the concept as a framework for understanding how housing associations manage the multiple accountabilities, which “place conflicting demands, and adaptation to these demands is mediated through beliefs and values.”

Mullins other logic is the logic of scale and efficiency. The two logics co-exist, which he suggests implies a process of transition from one to another. He quotes Thornton’s work as suggesting “that the existence of two logics within a field is a symptom of a change process”.

Follow up
  • Thornton PH (2002)”the rise of the corporation in a craft industry: conflict & conformation in institutional logics academy of management journal vol. 45 no 1 pp81-101
  • DiMaggio & Powell, 1983
  • Scott WR 2001

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Intangible, invisible, undiscussable

The recommendations of consultants are intangibles expressed verbally, but also made tangible through writing and thus may be visually visible, through reports and presentation slides for example.

However, the uptake of such recommendations may be less visible and therefore less discussable. For example, a recommendation whose implementation impacts the public requires or may elicit public consultation and accountability for the effectiveness and value of the consultancy project. However, a recommendation whose impact is internal to the organisation is less visible, and therefore may not be discussed in a public forum. Such an example might be recommendations for internal management restructuring or deployment of vehicles.

Also someone decides which of these recommendations are open to discussion; someone has the decision making power. Yet there are undiscussable issues, which, by definition, are not available as examples.

All these issues lead to my current research interest, the intangibility of consultancy work in the public sector.

Does this sound sensible? I think I'm going to read up on Foucault, power, institutional logics, as well as accountability and consultants. Chris Argyris wrote on the undiscussable in organisations, and organisation is a huge area to study.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Academic writing

What is academic writing?
That was the first question we had to consider at the Doctoral Training Workshop on academic literacy run by Theresa Lillis.

Answers included:
  • formal writing beyond reports
  • e.g. essays, thesis, dissertations, conference abstracts & papers,
  • very exact, saying precisely what is meant
  • argument laying out reasons for a position
  • referenced, structured, a particular genre and style
  • emotionally detached in the sense of being objective
  • coherent
  • a process
Another question was
What do I feel or think about academic writing?
Personally, I worry, don't like arguing and fear I lack opinions, but also that if I don't lack opinions that someone will attack my opinion, identifying its flaws, that my arguments won't stand up to scrutiny or that I'm using the wrong words, too many words, and being imprescise. Other students mentioned dense or long winded writing and unfamiliarity. That sounds to me like reading academic writing whereas I was thinking about writing academic writing.

Nevertheless, on five minutes free writing, I was delighted to find that I had thoughts to put to paper on an idea related to my current thinking on accountability. I know writing is hard work, but it is very satisfying when you produce something.

Here are some useful texts on the topic:
  • Potter, S., (ed) 2006, Doing postgraduate research, chapter 6 on Academic Writing
  • Swales, J., & Freak, C., 2004, Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essential Tasks and Skills,
  • Writing down the bones, Natalie Naimark-Goldberg
This last one is not necessarily about academic writing, but perhaps more creative and one that I read some years ago, but I noticed a colleague at the DTW had a copy and said she liked it, so I intend to reread it.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Lukes on power

Supervisor #1 suggested I look at Luke's work on power. He was a philosopher who wrote a conceptual analysis of power, publishing this thin little pink book[1] before Foucault was writing on the topic.

Lukes discusses three views on power, describing them as one, two and thee dimensional views. Despite being possible paradigms for behaviour study of decision making power the first two views he argues, lack sufficient depth.

The 1-dimensional view is pluralist, but can generate non-pluralist conclusions. This view involves a focus on "behaviour in the making of decisions on issues over which there is observable conflict" of interests. This seems to me to be related to agency theory so perhaps is applicable when consultants enter a public organisation. The 1D view involves conflict of interests.

The 2-dimensional view, he quotes from Bachrach & Baratz who claim power has two faces:
  1. power is totally embedded and fully reflected in concrete decisions so a person who "creates or reinforces barriers to the public airing of policy conflicts" had power

  2. 'power is exercised by confining the scope of decision-making to relatively "safe" issues'
The 2D view involves control over the agenda of politics. But Bachrach & Baratz confuse the issue by having a typology of power:
  • compliance: threat of deprivation
  • coercion: threat of sanctions
  • influence
  • authority
  • force
  • manipulation

Non-decision making may be what happens when there is no accountability for consultancy work that does not visibly impact on the public. Non-decision making that thwarts the power of others, is power and an enacting of power.

The 3-dimensional view of power critiques behavioural forces and allows for "work in which potential issues are kept out of politics" through:

  • operation of social forces
  • operation of institutional practices
  • individual decisions.
There may be latent conflict between the interests of those exercising power and the real interests of those excluded.

The 3d view summarised is:
  • critique of behavioural focus
  • focus on: decision-making & control over agenda, issues, conflict and interests
Lukes (p28) quotes Arendt that power "corresponds to the human ability to act in concert" Hence, consultants have power because the clients that they work with, as a group, give power to them. I think there's further evidence for this, perhaps from metaphors such as in Kaarst-Brown's paper.

Finally,Lukes compares the three views. The 1D view of power
"cannot reveal the less visible ways in which a pluralist system may be biased in favour of certain groups..."
He states that the "exercise of power" and "exercising power" is problematic; the words both connotate individual consciously acting, and conceal ambiguity.

The problems of the 3D view are:
  1. inaction, non-events lead to inactions which lead to further non-events
  2. unconsciousness: unaware of the motive of action or unaware of how others interpret action or unaware of the consequences of action.

Lukes (p56) states that

"the attribution of power is .. the attribution of responsibility for certain

which seems to me to relate responsibility with accountability, so the attribution of power makes accountable for the consequences of using that power.

So far that gives me to work on: power, decision, issues, conflict, interest.

[1]Lukes S. 1974. Power: a radical view. London: Macmillan.
[2]Kaarst-Brown, M. L. 1999. Five symbolic roles of the external consultant: Integrating change, power and symbolism. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 12(6): 540-561.