Saturday, January 9, 2016

Accountability for Action

All the other elements that would enable any given human association to develop in line with synetopia rely on people being assigned responsibilities to sustain them, and there being a process to hold them accountable for their subsequent actions.

Many organisations fail because not all their members fully understand what they are expected to do; are equipped and motivated to carry out their duties; or are conscientious enough not to breach their obligations. Free riders may think they can leave it to others to do what needs to be done and they just sit back and reap the benefits when these come through. Exploiters may try to deceive and manipulate others to do what serves their own interests at the expense of others in the organisation.

To prevent the above from happening, a robust accountability system is essential to check that members fulfil the responsibilities they have agreed to take on, and intervene appropriately when they are not. No organisation can function well with some members agreeing to rules to bind others, but discarding them whenever it suits them personally.

To be effective, an accountability system must be clear what type of penalty it will administer for different kind of violation; what reward it may offer for certain contributions beyond the routine; thorough in its detection and investigation process; and consistent in its implementation.

All members must know at the outset the basic guarantees of membership, the duties that come with them, what can be earned as extra, and what may be lost if particular orders or rules are not complied with. The instructions and regulations should be simplified to aid understanding and avoid costly new layers of legal or quasi-judicial interpreters emerging to slow down, and often confuse, the accountability process.

Transparency and proportionality are critical ingredients as organisations can be corrupted by exploitative influence that diverts accountability attention from the most serious violations committed by those with the greatest power, to relatively minor infringement attributable to those with little influence. In businesses, this can be seen with board members embezzling huge funds while demanding priority be given to stopping a few workers suspected of clocking in late by a few minutes. At a societal level, there is the familiar problem with some in government preferring to cut resources from investigating wealthy tax evaders, and divert them to tracking the much smaller amounts defrauded by benefit claimants.

Finally, the guardian of probity must themselves be guarded against too. And experience would suggest that rather than having one all-powerful team or agency that no one else can hold to account, it is far more reliable to have a plurality of teams/agencies that can provide checks and balance to each other. Furthermore, independent panels of professional auditors/judges and non-expert workers/citizens should also be given a role in reviewing the work of those who routinely hold others to account. Without third party oversight, there is a serious risk that over time those with the power to hold others to account will become unaccountable to everyone else in the organisation or the country.

Checklist of Appraisal Questions:
Are there transparent electoral or selection process to replace those with positions of authority?
How easy is it to detect unjustifiable actions and call for investigation and objective judgement?
Are there reliable mechanisms for all to trigger to summon potential wrongdoers to account for their actions?
Are members supported in being vigilant in challenging decisions that appear to be illegitimate?
Do some stay in positions of power regardless of the severity and frequency of concerns raised?
Are some suspected of placing their own personal interests and/or those who bribe them above the collective interests of the group?

[For a complete list of essays covering the 9 ‘SYNETOPIA’ elements, look up ‘Guide to Synetopia’]