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Concepts and Terms

Coherent and cohesive action requires a common understanding of basic terms.

For every important responsibility there is accountability. Public accountability is the obligation to answer publicly, fully and fairly, for the discharge of responsibilities that affect the public in important ways. Responsibility is the obligation to act, which is obviously related to accountability, but it is conceptually different from accountability, the obligation to answer. While the answering obligation attaches to all significant responsibilities, the key is getting the answering. The answering is for intentions as well as results. When responsibilities affect the public in important ways, the decision-makers' answering must be public. And it is the governing bodies of organizations, not employee CEOs and managers, who have the obligation to account to the public.

Holding to account is the process of exacting adequate answering, at the time it is needed. Answering will probably have to be forced until authorities get used to the idea of answering adequately. Adequate answering means fair and complete reporting on the discharge of responsibilities, where "fair and complete" means meeting agreed reasonable standards of answering, such as those embodied in Equity Statements.

Holding to account also includes validating the answering whenever this is prudent under the precautionary principle. Validation of the answering means independent assessment (audit) of its fairness and completeness by people who can competently assess it.

But holding fairly to account means, as well, using fairly and sensibly answering that is given in good faith .