Accountability theory

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Acronym

Acronyms are not commonly used for accountability theory.

Alternate name(s)

Felt Accountability Theory, Accountability Model

Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)

Accountability is “is a process in which a person has a potential obligation to explain his/her actions to another party who has the right to pass judgment on those actions and to administer potential positive or negative consequences in response to them” (Vance, Lowry and Eggett 2015, p. 347).

Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

Identifiability, expectation of evaluation, awareness of monitoring, social presence

Originating area

Organization science; Management

Level of analysis

Individual; organizational

Concise description of theory

As explained by Vance, Lowry and Eggett (2015), accountability theory explains how the perceived need to justify one’s behaviors to another party causes one to consider and feel accountable for the process by which decisions and judgments have been reached. In turn, this perceived need to account for a decision-making process and outcome increases the likelihood that one will think deeply and systematically about one’s procedural behaviors. This theory was originally developed by Tetlock, Lerner, and colleagues and has been effectively applied in organizational research.

Importantly, as explained carefully by Vance, Lowry, and Eggett (2013), a useful way to understand accountability is to distinguish between its two most prevalent uses: (1) as a virtue and (2) as a mechanism. As a virtue, accountability is seen as a quality in which a person displays a willingness to accept responsibility, a desirable trait in public officials, government agencies, or firms; hence, in this use, accountability is a positive feature of an entity. As a mechanism, accountability is seen as a process in which a person has a potential obligation to explain his or her actions to another party who has the right to pass judgment on the actions as well as to subject the person to potential consequences for his or her actions. Accountability theory focuses on the process of accountability.

Accountability theory proposes several mechanisms that increase accountability perceptions. For example, “even the simplest accountability manipulation necessarily implicates several empirically distinguishable submanipulations” (Lerner and Tetlock 1999, p. 255), including the presence of another person, identifiability, and expectation of evaluation. Recent research has shown that IT design artifacts of systems can manipulate the four core components of accountability theory and thus improve employees’ felt accountability toward organizational system security without disruptive interventions or traininging (Vance et al. 2013; 2015): (1) identifiability, (2) expectation of evaluation, (3) awareness of monitoring, and (4) social presence.

Identifiability is a person’s “knowledge that his outputs could be linked to him” and thus reveal his/her true identity (Williams, Harkins and Latane 1981, p. 309)

Expectation of evaluation is the belief that one’s “performance will be assessed by another [party] according to some normative ground rules and with some implied consequences” (Lerner and Tetlock 1999, p. 255).

Awareness of monitoring is a user’s state of active cognition that his/her system-related work is monitored (Vance, Lowry, and Eggett 2015).

Social presence is the awareness of other users in the system (Vance, Lowry, and Eggett 2015).

Diagram/schematic of theory

Accountability figure1.jpg

Figure 1. Overview of Accountability Theory Adapted to Preventing Access Policy Violations by Vance, Lowry, and Eggett (2015, p. 348).

Originating author(s)

P. E. Tetlock developed the initial concepts and mechanisms on accountability through several key papers.

J.S. Lerner later worked with P.E. Tetlock in (Lerner and Tetlock 1999) to develop what is largely referred to as accountability theory.

Anthony Vance and Paul Benjamin Lowry later re-contexualized accountability for use with deterring security access policy violations with organizational employees by designing system features that promote accountability in end-users.

Seminal articles

Lerner, J. S., and Tetlock, P. E. 1999. “Accounting for the Effects of Accountability,” Psychological Bulletin (125:2), pp. 255-275

Tetlock, P. E. 1983a. “Accountability and Complexity of Thought,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (45:1), pp. 74-83.

Tetlock, P. E. 1983b. “Accountability and the Perseverance of First Impressions,” Social Psychology Quarterly (46:4), pp. 285-292.

Other key references outside of IS

Tetlock, P. E. 1985. “Accountability: A Social Check on the Fundamental Attribution Error,” Social Psychology Quarterly (48:3), pp. 227-236.

Tetlock, P. E. 1992. “The Impact of Accountability on Judgment and Choice: Toward a Social Contingency Model,” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (25:1992), pp. 331-376.

Tetlock, P. E. 1999. “Accountability Theory: Mixing Properties of Human Agents with Properties of Social Systems,” in Shared Cognition in Organizations: The Management of Knowledge,

L. Thompson, J. M. Levine, and D. M. Messick (eds.), Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 117-138.

Tetlock, P. E., and Boettger, R. 1989. “Accountability: A Social Magnifier of the Dilution Effect,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (57:3), pp. 388-398.

Tetlock, P. E., and Boettger, R. 1994. “Accountability Amplifies the Status-Quo Effect When Change Creates Victims,” Journal of Behavioral Decision Making (7:1), pp. 1-23.

Tetlock, P. E., and Kim, J. I. 1987. “Accountability and Judgment Processes in a Personality Prediction Task,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (52:4), pp. 700-709.

Tetlock, P. E., Skitka, L., and Boettger, R. 1989. “Social and Cognitive Strategies for Coping with Accountability: Conformity, Complexity, and Bolstering,” Journal of Personality andSocial Psychology (57:4), pp. 632-640.

Leading IS Articles that Contextualized Accountability Theory to IS context

Anthony Vance, Paul Benjamin Lowry, and Dennis Eggett (2015). “A new approach to the problem of access policy violations: Increasing perceptions of accountability through the user interface,” MIS Quarterly (MISQ), vol. 39(2), pp. 345–366.

Anthony Vance, Paul Benjamin Lowry, and Dennis Eggett (2013). “Using accountability to reduce access policy violations in information systems,” Journal of Management Information Systems (JMIS), vol. 29(4), pp. 263–289 (doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2753/MIS0742-1222290410).

Vance, Lowry, and Eggett (2015; 2013) uniquely contextualized accountability theory to the context of organizational security—namely for dealing with access policy violations. Access-policy violations are a growing problem with substantial costs for organizations. Although training programs and sanctions have been suggested as a means of reducing these violations, evidence shows these persist. It is thus imperative to identify additional ways to reduce access-policy violations, especially for systems providing broad access to data. They used accountability theory to develop four user-interface (UI) design artifacts that raise users’ accountability perceptions within systems and in turn decrease access-policy violations. To test their new accountability model, they uniquely applied the scenario-based factorial survey method to various graphical manipulations of a records system containing sensitive information at a large organization with over 300 end-users who use the system daily. They showed that the UI design artifacts corresponding to four submanipulations of accountability can raise accountability and reduce access policy violation intentions. Importantly, this approach increases accountability without harsh policies (e.g., threats through sanctions) or disruption intervention (e.g., training).

IS articles that use the theory

David Eargle, Anthony Vance, and Paul Benjamin Lowry (2013). “How moral Intensity and impulsivity moderate the influence of accountability on access policy violations in information systems,” Seventh Workshop on Information Security and Privacy 2013 (WISP 2013) at the 2013 International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS 2013), Milan, Italy, December 14 (doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.13140/2.1.3754.4644).

Anthony Vance, Paul Benjamin Lowry, and Dennis Eggett (2015). “A new approach to the problem of access policy violations: Increasing perceptions of accountability through the user interface,” MIS Quarterly (MISQ), vol. 39(2), pp. 345–366.

Anthony Vance, Paul Benjamin Lowry, and Dennis Eggett (2013). “Using accountability to reduce access policy violations in information systems,” Journal of Management Information Systems (JMIS), vol. 29(4), pp. 263–289 (doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2753/MIS0742-1222290410).

Anthony Vance, Braden Molyneux, Paul Benjamin Lowry, and Dennis Eggett (2011). “A new approach to the problem of unauthorized access: Raising perceptions of accountability through user interface design features,” Proceedings of the Dewald Roode Workshop in Information Systems Security 2011, IFIP WG 8.11 / 11.13, Blacksburg, VA, September 22–23, pp. 1–38.

Anthony Vance, Gove Allen, Braden Molyneux, and Paul Benjamin Lowry (2010). “Making systems users accountable: Using accountability to deter access policy violations,” MIS Quarterly Pre-ICIS Workshop for Authors at the International Conference on System Sciences, St. Louis, MO, December 12.

Anthony Vance, Gove Allen, Braden Molyneux, and Paul Benjamin Lowry (2010). “Making systems users accountable: Using accountability to deter access policy violations,” Proceedings of the Dewald Roode Workshop on IS Security Research 2010, IFIP WG 8.11 / 11.13, Waltham, MA, October 8–9, pp. 369–391.

Links from this theory to other theories

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External links

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Original Contributor(s)

Paul Benjamin Lowry