Public Sector Accountability Styles in Europe: Comparing accountability and control of agencies in the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the UK

Thomas Schillemans, Sjors Overman, Matthew Flinders, Per Laegreid, Martino Maggetti, I. Papadopoulos, Wood

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Abstract

This paper develops and applies the concept of accountability styles for analyzing and
comparing accountability practices in different countries. This is relevant as there is
considerable scholarship on public sector accountability but only very few comparative studies. Extant studies have shown that national styles of accountability are both marked
by convergence as well as the resilience of national differences. The concept of accountability style is adopted to describe and interpret how and why accountability
practices differ between administrative systems. It does so by analyzing practices of
accountability of public sector agencies in four European democracies with different state
traditions: the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the UK. These countries vary with
regards to state strength (interventionist propensity) and administrative concentration
(high or low centralization). The analysis focuses on the accountability of arms’ length
agencies which lends itself for comparisons across counties. The paper shows that the
national political-administrative context crucially shapes practices of accountability and
accountability regimes of agencies. The Norwegian accountability style is characterized as
‘centralized and convenient’. The UK-style is equally centralized yet not so convenient as
it incurs high accountability-process costs on agencies. Switzerland is marked by limited
hierarchical accountability. And the Dutch accountability style is comparatively ‘broad
and informal’. State strength and administrative concentration explain some of the
variance while historical legacies explain additional national variations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number09520767221098292
Pages (from-to)125-146
Number of pages22
JournalPublic Policy and Administration
Volume39
Issue number1
Early online date10 Jun 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024

Keywords

  • Accountability styles
  • accountability
  • administrative tradition
  • agencies
  • comparative public administration

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