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.
Identifying and explaining change in the structure of central state bureaucracies and the determinants of survival of individual public organizations are two closely related areas of research in public administration. We aim to bridge the gap between these two main strands of studies of organizational change by presenting a novel approach to collecting event history data for public organizations. We have developed this framework as part of the Structure and Organisation of Governments Project, which aims to map entire central state bureaucracies in three Western European countries. Our approach is flexible enough to describe macro-trends in public sector organization populations and to explain these trends by analysing the event histories of the organizations they comprise. In addition to presenting our framework and how we applied it to create this data set, we also present some initial cross-national comparisons of the distribution of the event types recorded, highlighting initial findings and promising avenues for further research. Points for practitioners We present here a novel approach for representing the structural changes that organizations and sub-departments experience over time that can apply to any hierarchical organization (public or private). Applying the approach illuminates the historical development of organizations and their parts, and allows cross-national comparisons of events and trends across organizations. Our comparison of ministerial organizations in France, Germany and the Netherlands from 1980 to 2013 shows that trends in the size of bureaucracies mask considerable structural changes within.