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The Purpose of the Citizens' Circle for Accountability

The Circle is a resource for those seeking a better understanding of accountability and of how to hold fairly to account in the public and private sectors and internationally. It is also a forum -- a clearinghouse for strategies for holding to account. The objectives of the Circle, incorporated under Part II of the Canada Corporations Act include

  • increasing public awareness and understanding of accountability obligations in society
  • promotion of exchange of information about accountability and research in the subject
  • identification of contemporary issues in accountability and publishing work in accountability

As citizens, we can increase our power to improve fairness in society if we require those in authority to answer for their responsibilities -- to report fully and fairly on the discharge of those responsibilities. Those in authority in the public and private sectors, and therefore accountable to the public, include elected and appointed officials, governing bodies, executives of government departments and agencies and of the large corporations, members of courts and tribunals, and the professions. Because their decisions affect us in important ways, it is fair that they tell us what they intend to bring about, and give us their reasoning. But the answering obligation has to be legislated to make it mean something.

Validated reporting by authorities of the results of their performance is important, because it gives us information we would not otherwise have, and it suggests what trust to place in their ability and motivation in the future. If great harm has been done, after-the-fact reporting is too late. The most important part of public answering from authorities is reporting before the fact: their intentions (what they intend to bring about), their reasoning for their intentions, and their own performance standards that they intend to meet. Depending on their track record for honest and useful answering, we will need to validate the fairness and completeness of what they say. Then, better informed, we can act sensibly to commend, alter or halt authorities' intentions. Citizens in all jurisdictions need adequate public answering. It was put neatly by George Washington in 1796, who said, "I am sure the mass of Citizens in these United States mean well, and I firmly believe they will always act well, whenever they can obtain a right understanding of matters...."

The idea of adequate public answering is not new but citizens seem not to have realized, perhaps from undue deference to authorities, that in a democacy the obligation of authorities to answer for their responsibilities fully and fairly is not just axiomatic, it is an imperative if citizens are to have a "right understanding of matters." The problem has been two-fold. First, there have been no useful frameworks offered to structure the form and content of the public answering we need for authorities' intentions. Secondly, citizens concerned about intentions but lacking power over authorities have become used to simply fighting authorities or giving up, rather than exacting the validated public answering from them that would create a self-regulating effect on their conduct. Leaving the issue of authorities' answering to election time won't produce the conduct we need from them.

The objective of the Circle is to help significantly to improve fairness in the decision-making of those in authority who affect citizens in important ways.