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Improving public urban services through increased accountability

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journal contribution
posted on 2008-11-03, 14:59 authored by Sue Cavill, M. Sohail (Khan)
This article is concerned with the potential of accountability to improve the performance of public urban services. A number of assumptions are made in the literature relating to accountability; these concern the necessity of multiple strategies of accountability, information symmetries, sanctions, trust, homogeneous service users, community-level answerability, incentives, self-regarding behaviour, and for users’ voice to be heard in service delivery. It is the purpose of this paper to reconsider these theoretical propositions for the functioning of accountability in light of practical experience from UK, South Africa, Bangladesh and South Korea. Each of these case studies was selected to illustrate a different form of accountability. The forms of accountability investigated in this research are professional, political, user and managerial accountabilities. An assessment is made of whether accountability is demonstrated in these case studies in the way predicted by the literature. The empirical data demonstrates that factors like multiple strategies and information/resource symmetries are critical to accountability but that there is only partial evidence to support the need for sanctions, trust, incentives, self-interest, and user voice for effective service delivery. The research indicates the need for greater emphasis on the operation and maintenance of urban services and direct accountability to service users. However the assumption that service users are homogenous is disputed. This article concludes with a review of the practical implications of strengthening accountability as a means to improve the performance of urban services.



  • Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering

Research Unit

  • Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC)


CAVILL, S. and SOHAIL, M., 2005. Improving public urban services through increased accountability. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, 131(4), pp.263-273 [DOI:10.1061/(ASCE)1052-3928(2005)131:4(263)]



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This article is published in the Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice [© ASCE] and the definitive version is available at: http://cedb.asce.org




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