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Article

Sanneke Kuipers and Annika Brändström

The post-crisis accountability process is a purification ritual that serves to channel public emotions and enables re-equilibration after a severe disturbance of the sociopolitical order. Crisis accountability literature can be reviewed in terms of forums, actors, and consequences. This setup allows a systematic discussion of how crises impact: the accountability process in influencing its setting (the forum); the strategies of accountees and their opponents (actors); and the resulting outcomes in terms of reputation damage, sanctions, and restoration (consequences). There is a clear distinction between formal and informal accountability forums, with the media being almost exclusively informal, and judicial forums, accident investigators, and political inquiries having formal authority over accountability assessments. Yet, through the presence of formal authorities in media reporting, and because media frames influence the work of formal authorities, the different forums intensively interact in accountability processes. Looking at accountability strategies reveals that the number of actors involved in blame games is likely rising because of increasingly networked crisis responses, and the role of actors has become more important and personal in the crisis aftermath and accountability process. The consequences and success of individual actors in influencing the accountability outcomes is shaped by both institutional settings and individual skills and strategies. A current political power position that exceeds prior mistakes is an effective shield, and denial is the least effective though most commonly used strategy. Accountability processes remain a balancing act between rebuttal and repair. Yet after major crisis, renewal is possible, and post-crisis accountability can play a crucial role therein.

Article

A growing body of the scholarship within security studies looks at the influence that crisis has on decision making. Critical areas of focus provide insight into the political leader as a key decision maker, groups as decision-making bodies, and the impact of organizational culture and bureaucratic politics. With crises becoming more complex, the security of states can be impacted in a variety of ways. Under extreme stress, a leader can succumb to flawed decision making as a result of information-processing errors and cognitive biases which skew the way that information is assessed. These decisions can lead to policies and responses to security situations that may impact one or more political entities. When a looming threat is no longer imminent, attention turns inward and investigations into threat preparedness and decision-making processes are carried out. While the stress from the threat itself subsides, leaders can still feel the effects of extreme stress as inquiries into decision making can lead to questions of accountability and blame placement. A look at crisis decision making also requires a foundational understanding for how someone’s leadership style will impact the way that information is sought and how advisory member guidance will be utilized. As leaders surround themselves with supporting advisory groups, it is important to consider the overall impact that advisory groups play during times of crisis, as well as the functionality of advisory group decision making. Broadening this out to the organizational level, when assessing the impact that crisis has on decision making, it is essential to also consider how organizational dynamics and culture might come to be impacted by crises as well.

Article

Policy crises often lead to “framing contests,” in which officeholders, opponents, media, and the public at large aim to interpret the crisis in question, explain its cause, attribute responsibility, and agree on ways to address harm caused. More often than not, these contests turn into blame games for the incumbent officeholder. Formal and informal institutional factors can shape blame avoidance options of officeholders, and influence the outcomes of these crisis-induced blame games in terms of blame escalation, policy responses, and political sanctions. First, formal institutions shape officeholders’ incentives for arguing that they are not responsible for the crisis or should not be punished for its occurrence. Studies in the field of welfare state retrenchment and ministerial resignations have analyzed the blame avoidance options of governments and the survival rates of officeholders in various institutional settings. These studies have provided evidence that institutional complexity and policy-making authority help explaining pathways of blame management. In single-party governments, the accountability chain is more clear and prime ministers have a stronger electoral incentive to sack failing and unpopular ministers. However, a more restrictive interpretation of formal ministerial responsibility for administrative or implementation failures, along with the delegation of policy execution to agencies at arm’s length, can work as a protective shield in blame games for the officeholders and reinforce policy inertia. Consociational systems with multiparty coalitions often show an opposite effect. Second, institutionalized norms, also known as “the way we do things around here,” affect blame avoidance behavior available to officeholders. Studies which have taken “cultural-institutional” approaches to accountability studies have shown that informal accountability actors, fora, and norms about appropriate behavior shape blame processes. Actors in consociational systems with multiparty coalitions often consider consensus-oriented and nonconfrontational behavior, such as attempts to appease the opposition with policy reparations, as more appropriate responses to blame than those in systems with more elite polarization. In addition, officeholders are increasingly held to account by actors who solely have an informal role in blame games, such as the media and interest groups. Therefore, the extent of mediatization and increased polarization plays a major role in how different political contexts “process” blame. Third, other relevant noninstitutional factors for blame avoidance behavior are important, such as the nature and timing of the crisis and involvement of other actors in the blame game. Issue salience and proximity affect the potential for blame escalations and the options for blame management by both office holders and their opponents. Prior reputation of incumbent politicians helps them to draw on leadership capital to deflect blame. If the timing of a blame game coincides with upcoming elections, blame is more likely to escalate and lead to political sanctions. To further understanding of the role of institutional factors in crisis-induced blames games, future research should focus on blame games where institutions themselves are questioned, contested, or in-flux.

Article

Raanan Sulitzeanu-Kenan

Public inquiries are ad hoc institutions, formally external to the executive branch, established by governments or a minister for the task of investigating crises, policy failures, or disasters. Inquiries play an important role in the aftermath of crisis by serving as instruments of accountability and policy learning. Yet the very existence and function of public inquiries are shaped by post crisis politics, in which public and politically independent inquiries create risks to potentially implicated players, who seek to avoid and mitigate potential blame. The blame-avoidance literature indeed provides a useful theoretical framework for the study of public inquiries. Empirical studies suggest that blame-attribution patterns are predictive of the political decision of whether to appoint an inquiry into a crisis. Studies of the effects of inquiries on public opinion show that, at the investigation stage, the institutional attributes of inquiries foster their legitimacy as a procedure for policy learning and accountability. However, after an inquiry reports its findings, members of the public can evaluate the report, rendering institutional attributes negligible in evaluating the inquiry. As for the effects of inquiries on the public agenda, existing evidence provides no support for a quantitative effect of inquiry appointment on the level of media coverage of a crisis. An integrated analysis of these findings offers an up-to-date theory of the political role of post crisis inquiries and points to some current gaps in our understanding of them.