Reconstituting accountability: cultural practices of voluntary accountability and regulatory governance at different jurisdictional levels

Photo of a spiders web in a greenhouse with condensation on it.

Event details


Date & time

Tuesday 29 November 2016


Seminar Room 1.04, Coombs Extension Building (8), Fellows Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


Paul Fawcett, Amanda Smullen, Matt Wood



Scholars have recently identified ‘voluntary accountability’ as an important practice of accountability that presents a theoretical problem for traditional principal-agent explanations of why accountability happens. Why would public actors create forms of accountability they are not required to by law, when it requires significant resources and can lead to undesirable consequences?

This nascent research agenda has produced significant findings but potentially leads to ‘conceptual stretching’ that extends accountability to cover almost any organisational practice.

We contribute to the literature by conceptualizing practices of accountability using grid-group cultural theory. Using an innovative method of unobtrusive website data mining we use a ‘most-different’ case study design to map the accountability practices of three delegated agencies in Europe (the European Medicines Authority), New South Wales (the Environmental Protection Authority) and Australasia (Food Standards Australia New Zealand).

This produces important insights into which ‘cultural practices’ of accountability are most prevalent in very different public organisations, and how those prevalent practices have emerged over time.

About the Speakers

Paul Fawcett is an Associate Professor of Governance at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra. He has a background in political science and public policy with research interests in governance, public policymaking and political participation. He has published in journals such as Administration & Society, Government and Opposition, Policy & Politics and The Australian Journal of Political Science.

Amanda Smullen is Senior Lecturer, Policy and Governance at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU. Her background is in political science and comparative and transnational public administration. She has published in journals such as Public Administration, Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research & Practice and Australian Journal of Political Science.

Matt Wood is an ESRC Future Research Leaders Fellow, Lecturer in Politics at the Department of Politics and Deputy Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics (Crick Centre), University of Sheffield. Matt’s research interests centre mainly upon understanding the problem of ‘anti-politics’ as a societal trend of disaffection, disengagement, and anger with liberal democratic politics in western states. He has articles current, or forthcoming, in Policy & Politics, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, Politics, Deviant Behavior and Critical Policy Studies.

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