Modelling Accountability: A Thick Interactive Approach to Transparency and Participation in Voluntary Organisations




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


This thesis offers a systematic study of accountability in the voluntary sector. Existing studies of accountability tend to veer towards normative and prescriptive analyses, which fail effectively to model accountability mechanisms. They do not test the relationships between the diverse variables that can explain practices of accountability in voluntary organisations. Equally, they typically promote what I term ‘thin’ conceptualisations of accountability, either privileging the dimension of transparency or that of stakeholder engagement. Adding to such studies, this thesis develops a ‘thick’ account of accountability practices which brings together these two privileged dimensions, transparency and stakeholder engagement, in a hybrid model that breakdowns stages, levels, and mechanisms of stakeholder engagement. In so doing, it not only tests the validity of this innovative model of accountability across the voluntary sector, but also enables lessons to be drawn as to the significance of different practices of transparency and stakeholder engagement, how these dimensions interact, and the impact of variables such as organisational size, affiliation, levels and sources of income and policies and practice guidelines on accountability. Through the quantitative analysis of an original survey of voluntary organisations in England and Wales prior to austerity, the thesis draws attention to the inconsistent practices of transparency and stakeholder engagement across the sector. In so doing, it throws doubt on the narrative of organisational fixes, suggesting that there is no identifiable nor significant trend in the relationship between organisational affiliation, age, and size and practices of accountability. More importantly, the study foregrounds the complex interactions of policy and practice, shedding doubt on whether policies or the existence of a formal policy actually matters in terms of explaining practices of accountability. It reveals the complexity surrounding policy and practice when considering participation or transparency. On the one hand, the existence of a formal policy did not lead to any significant improvement in levels of stakeholder engagement and participation. But the existence of guidelines on how to action the policy did impact significantly on participation and engagement practices. On the other hand, as for transparency policies, the existence of procedures and guidelines of transparency policy impacted positively upon levels of transparency. But having simply a policy in place appeared to impact negatively on levels of transparency. And finally, policies and procedures in stakeholder participation and engagement appeared to be more effective at improving transparency than transparency policies and practices. Finally, the study raises the importance of ‘accounting for accountability’ through recourse to ‘thick’ interactive models of accountability, which combine levels of transparency and participation in one hybrid model. Combining transparency and engagement, the study demonstrates, is statistically proven to explain a higher level of accountability in the voluntary sector. The ‘thick’ hybrid model of accountability thus opens up new avenues for exploring accountability.





Research Institute