Operationalization of accountability mechanisms
Accountability variables were operationalized according to the two main dimensions of accountability: upwards and downwards.
Upward accountability is measured by a set of procedures intended to identify how the agency is accountable to its principal, which is supposed to have authority to oversee the agency's activities. Thus, three forms of control are categorized: first, the obligation to provide information to the principal (one-sided); second, the obligation to obtain approval for the annual report (two-sided); and third, the presence of multiple forms of control (two-sided), which may also include requirements to provide information and the presentation of annual reports, among others.
We identify three different institutions that might be involved in holding the agency accountable: the sector ministry, the executive collectively (or individually as in the case of the president) and the parliament. Furthermore, we consider that agencies are often accountable to several principals, which in turn depends on the complexity of the structure of control of the agency. It might be the case that the specific configuration of the political system in each country has a significant effect on the definition of to whom the agency is accountable. Thus, for example, the parliament will play a more fundamental role in presidential regimes than in parliamentarian ones. Still, this demands further empirical confirmation.
Downward accountability is measured through the identification of different interaction mechanisms. On the one hand, we consider a number of transparency mechanisms based on publishing online information about the agency's activities, namely, annual reports, agency resolutions and agency board minutes. These mechanisms are one-sided and rely on making agency information easily available to the public. On the other hand, we refer to the establishment of formal mechanisms of interaction with agency audiences: open consultations, public hearings, advisory council and consumers' offices. All these mechanisms (we also include a residual category to collect similar mechanisms, not listed) are two-sided as they allow the circulation of information and assessments in two directions: from the agency to the audiences, but also from the audiences to the agency.
Building on the Accountability Cube framework (Brandsma and Schillemans 2013), we suggest that these mechanisms offer platforms to articulate discussions with citizens and organizations affected by the regulatory activities of the agencies. Obviously, these mechanisms show differences in terms of the depth of the information provided and the intensity of the discussions or deliberations. Thus, while some of these mechanisms allow the agency to provide a great deal of information and to maintain less intense deliberations (for example, consumer offices), others permit the agency to receive information while also promoting limited deliberation (open consultations). In between, public hearings and advisory councils, which often evidence rather limited outreach, allow the circulation of information in two directions and promote more intense deliberations than the former.