The Limits of Accounting-Based Accountability in Education (and Far Beyond): Why More Accounting Will Rarely Solve Accountability Problems

Accountability is rightly at the center of the conversation regarding how to improve governance systems, particularly health and education systems. But efforts to address accountability deficits often focus primarily on improving what can be counted and verified—what we term “accounting-based accountability.” We argue that introducing greater accounting-based accountability will only very rarely be the appropriate solution for addressing accountability problems. We illustrate this by exploring the role of Accountability ICT in (not) improving education system performance. Strengthening “real” accountability is not the same as improving data systems for observation and verification, and often attempts at the latter undermine the former. The development discourse’s frequent semantic misunderstanding of the term “accountability” has pernicious real-world consequences with real effects on system reform efforts and ultimately global welfare.

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