Don’t Count Us Out: How an Overreliance on Accountability Could Undermine the Public’s Confidence in Schools, Business, Government, and More

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This report from Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation presents startling evidence that the public and leaders hold vastly different ideas about what it even means to be accountable. While many leaders believe that transparency and data help build public trust, this small-scale pilot study suggests that many typical Americans are deeply skeptical about the accuracy and importance of quantitative measures. Moreover, most believe that ethics and responsiveness matter as much as or more than rules and benchmarks. Many also argue that accountability is not the job of leaders alone; it is the public’s responsibility as well, and that our institutions will not work well until leaders, individual employees, consumers, and voters all behave more responsibly and with more concern about what their actions and decisions mean for others.

As the report points out, while accountability strategies may be effective management tools, “they fall short in addressing the public’s most potent concerns. At best, they strike much of the public as complicated and perhaps marginally informative. At worst, they risk pushing the public and leaders even further apart.” What can leaders do to address this possibly corrosive accountability gap and avoid harmful crosstalk? These findings have a real and pressing significance to both the public and leaders, including philanthropists, educators, government officials, and health professionals.

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