Accountable autonomy is an institutional design of administrative and democratic organization that tries to get the most out of civic participation and deliberation. The term was coined by political scientist Archon Fung. Accountable autonomy addresses the defects of decentralization and localism, such as group-think, inequality, and parochialism, through hybrid arrangements that allocate political power, function and responsibility between central authorities and local bodies. The terms accountable and autonomy might seem at odds with each other. Autonomy means both independence from central power, as the capacity to accomplish own ends. The second sense is what Fung stresses upon: ‘a conception of centralized action that counter-intuitively bolsters local capability without improperly and destructively encroaching upon it.’
The design of accountable autonomy exists in prescriptions for the effectivity of civic participation:
- Increasing discretion of street-level officials with respect to formal rules and centralized oversight, while making their actions transparent and open to critique for civilians;
- Generating innovations through engaging the local knowledge of civilians and diffusing insights through benchmarking of best practices;
- Having cross-functional coordination, not a rigid division of labor;
- Enhancing neighbourhood trust through tests of collaboration.
Fung argues that accountable autonomy increases fairness, because it offers ways for the least advantaged to act constructively against unfairness and it offers opportunities for civilians to deliberate about prioritization of problems and strategies to solve them.
- Fung, Archon (2006). Empowered participation: Reinventing Urban Democracy. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-12608-9.