Development of new means of accountability has been one of New Zealand's most conspicuous and important contributions to public management. The accountability relationship of purchasers and providers has stimulated the invention of new forms of contracting for and assessing performance. This relationship can be labelled, with only slight exaggeration, as accountability by specification. No other country has accomplished what New Zealand has in building accountability into the framework of government. None of the problems discussed in this chapter would arise were it not for New Zealand's strong determination that as agents and producers, managers must be fully accountable for their performance.
In this report, as in the literature of public management, accountability and responsibility are sometimes used interchangeably. But the words lead down very different managerial paths. Responsibility is a personal quality that comes from one's professional ethic, a commitment to do one's best, a sense of public service. Accountability is an impersonal quality, dependent more on contractual duties and informational flows. Ideally, a manager should act responsibly, even when accountability does not come into play. As much as one might wish for an amalgam of the two worlds, the relentless pursuit of accountability can exact a price in the shrinkage of a sense of responsibility. Responsibility itself is not sufficient assurance of effective performance; if it were, there might have been no need to overhaul public management. Yet something may be lost when responsibility is reduced to a set of contract-like documents and auditable statements. In the new world of New Zealand management, it is urgent to uphold the old-fashioned tenets of managerial responsibility, while strengthening the modern instruments of managerial accountability.