Quality, Standards and Accountability: An Uneasy Alliance

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Notions of quality, standards and accountability are ever-present in many societies around the world and, arguably, we would be hard pressed to journey through life without appeals of one kind or another to these ideas. Our everyday interactions with people and things reflect the fact that standards of various kinds abound, from the relatively uncontroversial engineering properties of materials we rely on every time we drive across a bridge or use our cell phones (density, hardness, tensile strength, shear, electrical conductance etc.) to the more contentious understandings of what constitutes quality of life or quality of care. We depend, often without much thought until a crisis of some sort arises, on standards for food safety, automobiles, children’s toys, water quality, housing construction, and the like. Similarly, we make appeals to quality norms when recognising that some accomplishments or performances are better than others (exemplary behaviour, low standard of living, high ethical character), and some things are better constructed or more durable than others and thus provide greater value for money. Organisations operate with various notions of quality as core to their business whether in the widely appealing idea of quality as fitness-for-use (meeting customer expectations), conformance to specifications or requirements, or providing assurance of access to and effectiveness of services (Reeves & Bednar 1994). Accountability for finances, for fairness, and for performance (Behn 2001) are all longstanding concerns of public agencies charged with spending tax dollars wisely in contributing to the welfare of society. We think it important as citizens in democracies to hold corporations, governments and individuals accountable for human rights abuses and adherence to the rule of law.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-224
Number of pages8
JournalEducation Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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