2020 Conference: Beyond Blame: Accountability Now?

The 2020 conference took place online on Tuesday 1st December, run in association with the Susanna Wesley Foundation.


The background to the conference was the awareness that there is understandable scepticism that the social and political structures that affect everyday life can be held to account. It is not difficult to find poor performance that hasn’t been challenged, systemic problems that are repeatedly investigated without real change and public policy that lets down those most in need.

The day conference looked head on at the challenges of accountability whilst opening up our own work to the same questions. Three people in positions of being held to account and holding others to account were asked to open up about the challenges they face:

Christine Allen
Director of CAFOD
Vic Rayner
Executive Director of the National Care Forum
Marvin Rees
Mayor of Bristol

Alongside this Dr Helen Cameron (Practical theologian and Research Associate, Centre for Baptist Studies, Regent’s Park College, Oxford) summarised some of the current academic thinking about accountability and related it to themes in Christian theology.

We were asked to consider: What are the things for which I am accountable and who can hold me to account?

Accountability challenges can be found existing in supply chains, complex committee structures, flexibility of earnings, delegating to others, structures playing off against each other. Different interests are at stake that are not often balanced well with each other.

Christine Allen drew out the implications of subsidiarity in its aim to hold power at the lowest and most appropriate level. The Industrial Revolution has given us wealth, but at the cost of the planet. The choice of what to do with our resources is the real issue, thus creating a place for the preferential option for the poor as some people need to have specific care and the recognition of the injustice they face.

Vic Rayner asked what is the focus of accountability. Policy development has contributed to this along with an awareness that there are many stakeholders. Accountability is working out what you need to answer to. Quite often, reform can be long term and the capacity to achieve needs to be considered. Accountability is always done with others, and those with whom we have a relationship may have different values and priorities to us. However, working together creates power, but courage and fear are part of the use of this power.

Marvin Rees helped us to see how invisibility can lead to unaccountability. Where the dynamic of accountability lies needs to be discovered, and we are accountable to truth, not people. If there is no diversity, how can we get to the truth? Hope, rather than optimism, in the face of realism is what is needed.

Rev Mike Long, Notting Hill Methodist Church, London, offered a closing reflection linking the day’s presentations to his experience of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. He challenged us to think about how blame can fitting and necessary in a limited way, but only goes so far as everyone has responsibility. The identification of truth needs to happen before healing can happen. Jesus was blamed and crucified by those who abdicated responsibility, but he brought forgiveness and new life.

Key issues were drawn from this and participants were given an opportunity in small groups to reflect upon them.

This conference was for everyone involved in organisational life and leadership – both those within churches and faith organisations, as well as those within secular organisations, as are all conferences.

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