Earlier sections of this web site have laid out the need for adequate
public answering and the guiding principles and reasonable public
reporting standards. This page is to help citizens concerned about
specific responsibilities of authorities exact the public answering
from the authorities needed to identify their intentions and to
help produce a "right understanding of matters."
1. Identify what you think are the most important responsibilities
in the issues you are concerned about, and who in common sense
has those responsibilities (people's legal responsibilities will
not be the whole picture). This can be done by a citizens sitting
around someone's kitchen table, or more rigorously by a public
Identifying and delineating responsibilities can often sort
out what at first may seem complex or intractable issues, because
this step structures the responsibilities and how they relate
to each other. Responsibilities have to be identified before we
can hold to account.
2. Identify both the basic performance standards and public
answering standards that you think citizens are entitled to see
met by those with the key responsibilities. (An example would
be people in authority adequately informing themselves for their
decision-making, and reporting whether they have done so. An example
of a useful reporting structure is the equity
Steps 1 and 2 should produce expectations for those in authority
that are reasonable.
3. Then ask the governing bodies of the authorities (i.e., the
"directing minds," not their subordinate CEOs and other
employees) to state whether they think the responsibilities and
standards you have laid out in steps 1 and 2 are fair.
Ask them as well to state publicly their own view of:
- what they intend to produce as outcomes, for whom, and their
reasoning (i.e., achievement or end results, not just activity)
- their achievement performance standards for themselves and
for those whom they have a duty to supervise. These standards
include both fairness (whose needs are to be honoured) and efficiency
(how best to carry out a fairness intention)
and to publicly state, later:
- the performance standards they think they have met
- what they think their actions have specifically brought about
in the public interest
- the learning they gained from their own and subordinates'
actions and how they applied that learning
4. Validate the fairness and completeness of the authority's
most important responses as best you can, calling on knowledgeable
people to help you with this step
5. At first, citizens' groups and activist organizations who
ask for adequate answering from authorities are likely to be rebuffed.
But if refusal to answer persists, you can shift to a reserve
strategy. As a group or organization, you can
a) carry out "citizen audit" of an authority's apparent
intentions and performance and report the audit results to the
public. (see Citizen Audit)
b) invite the authority's directing minds to publicly respond
to the audit report.
The public can then compare the governing body's answering (or
its continued refusal) with the publicized citizen audit report,
decide their trust in the authority for the future and decide
what action to take.
Those citizens who don't wish to work with an organization to
hold to account can individually write to governing bodies with
questions such as those above, and can write as well to their elected
representatives who have oversight duties in the issue.
A letter to an elected representative can hold fairly to account
Non-response, or fog as an answer, would prompt further letters
until the elected representative makes clear what he or she intends
to do or not do, and why. Total refusal to answer should lead to
hooking up with a public interest organization related to the issue
-- or even forming one -- to exact the needed answering.