Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
October 18, 2010

Stoker and Rawlins Continuum of Accountability

Dr. Kevin Stoker, APR of Texas Tech University and Dr. Brad Rawlins of Brigham Young University presented their work developing a continuum of accountability during the Public Relations Research Showcase Presentations round-robin session at the 2010 PRSA International Conference.

They propose 3 types of accountability, from lowest to highest:

  1. Direct Accountability
  2. Social Accountability
  3. Ideal Accountability

In direct accountability the organization and its stakeholders are accountable to one another, though it is more often looked at in terms of how well the organization serves its stakeholders. An example of direct accountability occur when the organization responds directly to a customer complaint. Today we see high levels of this occurring through technology, such as Southwest Airlines Twitter account where the airline responds to complaints tweeted by delayed or otherwise inconvenience customers.

Social accountability involves moral maturity. It is a higher level of “doing good” and more widely applied. Corporate social responsibility programs would fall under this category.

The highest level of accountability is ideal accountability. In this area, one does good even when no one else is watching. You do things because they are right, and you stand up for certain principles regardless of the harm or injury that may come to you. For a company this might be a costly voluntary recall before product ever hits the streets, among other examples.

In their presentation, the researchers noted that Toyota felt as a company that it had slipped from ideal accountability to direct accountability.

Take a moment to watch Dr. Rawlins discuss the continuum.

The presentation was titled “Communicating Accountability: The Role and Moral Obligations of Public Relations in Justifying Organizational Actions and Decisions.

By Dr. Kaye Sweetser, APR+M, associate professor, H.W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is a practitioner, a scholar and had the great pleasure of advising the national champions in the 2010 PRSSA Bateman Case Study Competition. Dr. Sweetser is a member of the APR+M Council. Connect with Kaye on LinkedIn and on Twitter @kaye.

For more coverage on the PRSA 2010 International Conference: Powering PRogress, visit PRSA Intelligence, follow #prsa_ic and the Conference blog.

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