This paper provides a critical reflection on the heavily normative nature of current accountability debates. In particular, three streams of normative discourse on nonprofit accountability are identified: improving board governance; improving performance-based reporting; and, demonstrating progress towards mission. A focus on these normative logics, while important, can mask the realities of social structure and the relations of power that underlie them. The paper thus proposes a more empirical approach to framing accountability problems thick description and interpretation that might enable us better to understand how social regimes of accountability actually operate and in which the instruments of accountability are at least as likely to reproduce relationships of inequality as they are to overturn them.
This publication is Hauser Center Working Paper No. 33.2. Hauser Working Paper Series Nos. 33.1-33.9 were prepared as background papers for the Nonprofit Governance and Accountability Symposium October 3-4, 2006.