Over the last few decades accountability has accommodated an increasing number of different political, legal and administrative goals. This article focuses on the administrative aspect of accountability and explores the potential perils of a shift from performance measurement to learning. While this is inherently positive in its intentions, we argue that it might constitute a new source of government overload. We propose four explanations for why this may be so. First, a learning approach is more likely to supplement than replace performance management. Second, more rather than less data will be needed to comply with accountability requirements, because of the first point. Third, the costs of compliance are likely to increase because learning requires more participation and dialogue. Fourth, accountability as learning may generate a ‘change for the sake of change’ mentality, creating further government overload. We conclude with some comments on limiting the undesirable consequences of such a move. Points for practitioners Public administrators need to identify and weigh the (human, political and economic) benefits and costs of accountability regimes. While output-focused performance measurement regimes increase transparency and improve value for money in many cases, there are also undesirable side-effects. Accountability regimes attuned to learning appear conducive to quality improvement, but may also become new sources of government overload. This article examines the potential problems of such a move, and considers how these possible perils might be limited by managers and practitioners. Public managers must ask themselves just how much accountability is actually necessary. More specifically, they may want to delimit the scope of the accountability regimes employed, undertake a cost–benefit evaluation of these, and consult those subjected to such regimes, in order to ensure a suitable design.
International Review of Administrative Sciences, 2012, Vol 78, Issue 4, p. 597-614
accountability; learning; new public management; overload; performance measurement