Vertical accountability traditionally links citizen and state through formal mechanisms, most obviously through local and national elections.
Horizontal accountability typically refers to internal mechanisms within government.
Civil society-driven accountability is a recent addition to the traditional vertical/horizontal dichotomy. Primarily, civil society-driven accountability mechanisms work along vertical lines – those is, citizen-state – but are not limited to formal electoral accountability (e.g. campaign commitments). They can be more specifically targeted to hold service-providers to account within specific sectors or in relation to specific policies. They can also serve to indirectly energise and improve existing horizontal accountability mechanisms.
Rude accountability is something that has attracted increasing attention in recent years, fitting within the wider literature on ‘unruly politics’. Naomi Hossain defines rude accountability as: ‘The informal mechanisms widely deployed by citizens to claim public service and sanction service failures, characterised by a lack of official rules or formal basis and a reliance on the power of social norms and rules to influence and sanction official performance’.
“Rudeness” can refer to either the delivery or the means of the demand for accountability. Hossain’s study of the use of rude accountability mechanisms in Bangladesh highlights how this is often the only avenue open to citizens within some settings. The use of rude accountability mechanisms can result in both positive and negative outcomes: while the social humiliation of service providers can prompt improved service delivery (perhaps as a means of providers’ ‘saving face’), it can also result in a backlash where service users in question are subsequently denied access to a particular service. While rude accountability is not likely to be something that civil society actors engage with directly, it is worth bearing in mind the ways in which rude accountability can exist within and impact on the effectiveness of formal or civil society-driven accountability mechanisms.
Preventative Accountability: Michelle Bonner describes preventative accountability as ‘the reframing of actions once deemed acceptable, albeit unfortunate, as unacceptable acts of wrongdoing for which public authorities will henceforth be held legally, socially and/or politically accountable’. Bonner’s work focuses in particular on the (mis)interpretation of the law by security forces such as the police and military, although his analysis can be applied more broadly to service delivery in general. This reframing process could include actions or behaviours that are de jure illegal but de facto socially accepted, or where laws and institutions leave significant room for interpretation and/or abuse by service providers.
Recommended Reading: Bonner 2009; Hossain 2009; Jayal 2008; O’Donnell 1998