Main insights and future research directions
The purpose of this book was to assess accountability in the context of regulatory governance. Within our framework, accountability defines a relationship between actors, namely between those who have a duty to explain and those who can call to account. Against this background, the research presented here provides three main insights.
First, accountability goes well beyond formal mechanisms as established in regulatory agencies' statutes, and comprises a range of informal or de facto accountability practices. In other words, though necessary, collecting and looking into primary formal accountability instruments may well constitute just a first step towards identifying limits and possibilities around the practices of accountability in regulatory governance processes.
Second, accountability comprises a wide set of activities. Being accountable, or holding an agency accountable, involves more than providing or requiring access to information. It also implies a capacity of those to whom the agency is accountable to be able to effect change to its actions and procedures. Additionally, mechanisms show variation in the extent to which they allow for either one-way or two-way dynamics in accountability relations.
Finally, the increasing blurring of the distinctions between levels of government and between the public and private realms, on the one hand, and the increasing number of actors involved in regulatory governance, including government, business and civil society, on the other, have challenged traditional accountability processes. Furthermore, they have led to the articulation of new relations and processes that require scrutiny to map and assess how accountability works in practice.
These findings offer new opportunities for dialogue and debate with the burgeoning literature on the spread of regulatory capitalism and its impact on governance and accountability, but with the broader field of public policy-oriented debates as well. While our cases here were not intended to provide a systematic test of a specific theory and related hypothesis, they have demonstrated the benefit of studying regulatory accountability on a more comparative basis. Certainly, more theoretical and empirical study is required.
A first path is to look further into formal and informal practices of accountability. While the chapters assembled in this book underline the need to ensure that research designs are sensitive to the differences between these mechanisms, they also call for bridging the gap between studies addressing de jure or de facto mechanisms to provide thus a more complete picture of how these various practices are combined in practice.
A second path would encompass analysing the learning dimension of accountability, especially in terms of available downward mechanisms. Though, as the book has shown, such mechanisms appear to be limited to the provision of information, a more qualitative account could provide insight about the extent to which, and under what conditions, these mechanisms can offer a window of opportunity for developing spaces to allow two-way interactions, and their effects on regulatory policy learning.
Third and closely related to this, future work could usefully explore How these dialogic mechanisms affect actors' preferences and roles through socialization and internalization. As regulatory capitalism deepens and challenges traditional notions of democratic accountability, a research avenue would incorporate work on accountability mechanisms over long periods to assess whether and how accountability mechanisms transform regulatory governance processes and impact the ways in which assuring transparency, participation and responsiveness are assured, creating in turn more democratic environments.
Finally, in terms of future research, in this book we have attempted to use and develop categories that can travel across policy sectors, countries and regions. We believe this is fundamental to promote academic understanding of accountability relations and expectations by drawing direct comparisons in the area of regulatory governance, but also their policy implications as the 2008-2009 financial crisis and Great Recession have made abundantly clear.