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Steps in Holding to Account

Earlier sections of this web site have laid out the need for adequate public answering and the guiding principles and reasonable public reporting standards. This page is to help citizens concerned about specific responsibilities of authorities exact the public answering from the authorities needed to identify their intentions and to help produce a "right understanding of matters."

The basic steps are:

1. Identify what you think are the most important responsibilities in the issues you are concerned about, and who in common sense has those responsibilities (people's legal responsibilities will not be the whole picture). This can be done by a citizens sitting around someone's kitchen table, or more rigorously by a public interest organization.

Identifying and delineating responsibilities can often sort out what at first may seem complex or intractable issues, because this step structures the responsibilities and how they relate to each other. Responsibilities have to be identified before we can hold to account.

2. Identify both the basic performance standards and public answering standards that you think citizens are entitled to see met by those with the key responsibilities. (An example would be people in authority adequately informing themselves for their decision-making, and reporting whether they have done so. An example of a useful reporting structure is the equity statement)

Steps 1 and 2 should produce expectations for those in authority that are reasonable.

3. Then ask the governing bodies of the authorities (i.e., the "directing minds," not their subordinate CEOs and other employees) to state whether they think the responsibilities and standards you have laid out in steps 1 and 2 are fair.

Ask them as well to state publicly their own view of:

  • what they intend to produce as outcomes, for whom, and their reasoning (i.e., achievement or end results, not just activity)
  • their achievement performance standards for themselves and for those whom they have a duty to supervise. These standards include both fairness (whose needs are to be honoured) and efficiency (how best to carry out a fairness intention)

and to publicly state, later:

  • the performance standards they think they have met
  • what they think their actions have specifically brought about in the public interest
  • the learning they gained from their own and subordinates' actions and how they applied that learning

4. Validate the fairness and completeness of the authority's most important responses as best you can, calling on knowledgeable people to help you with this step

5. At first, citizens' groups and activist organizations who ask for adequate answering from authorities are likely to be rebuffed. But if refusal to answer persists, you can shift to a reserve strategy. As a group or organization, you can

a) carry out "citizen audit" of an authority's apparent intentions and performance and report the audit results to the public. (see Citizen Audit)

b) invite the authority's directing minds to publicly respond to the audit report.

The public can then compare the governing body's answering (or its continued refusal) with the publicized citizen audit report, decide their trust in the authority for the future and decide what action to take.


Those citizens who don't wish to work with an organization to hold to account can individually write to governing bodies with questions such as those above, and can write as well to their elected representatives who have oversight duties in the issue.

A letter to an elected representative can hold fairly to account by asking:

  • How have you informed yourself about Proposal X, and what do you see as your own responsibilities in the issue?
  • What will you do to have citizens reasonably understand, before decisions are taken, who in the short and longer term would benefit from Proposal X, how, and why they should, and who would bear what costs and risks, and why they should?
  • How do you plan to account to your constituents for your responsibilities with respect to Proposal X?

Non-response, or fog as an answer, would prompt further letters until the elected representative makes clear what he or she intends to do or not do, and why. Total refusal to answer should lead to hooking up with a public interest organization related to the issue -- or even forming one -- to exact the needed answering.