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Horizontal accountability

Horizontal accountability is concerned with improving the checks and balances between branches of government, especially the regulation and oversight of government and public bodies (see O’Donnell 1999). It includes: parliamentary checks on the power of the executive (strengthening the powers of parliamentary committees, parliamentary ombudsmen); independent central banks; legal oversight; electoral and constitutional courts; new public management reforms; target setting and performance reviews.

One highly significant kind of horizontal innovation is concerned with citizen rights, including: freedom of information; privacy laws; ombudsmen; police integrity commissions; citizen charters; human rights; legal aid; common citizen rights across national borders and the citizen rights of resident aliens.

Some governments have set up central departments for constitutional affairs and the promotion of change, and some have created independent bodies to propose, implement and evaluate democratic innovations. These of, course, bridge the distinction between top-down and bottom-up innovations, and may be classed as meta-institutions covering innovations of every kind. Private and semi-private organizations have contributed with their own ideas and innovations, especially the think tanks and new public interest organizations that research and encourage action on various aspects of government (for example, Amnesty International, Transparency International, Freedom House, International IDEA, Index on Censorship, Democratic Audit, Economist Intelligence Unit).

Some critics view government proposals for democratic innovation with scepticism or outright cynicism, claiming that they are a smokescreen to conceal lack of real change. Others doubt the effectiveness of the reforms, claiming that their merits are exaggerated, their costs too high, their benefits meagre or that they hand power to special interests groups or government agencies that are best able to exploit them for their own interests (see Smith 2005: 31; Smith 2009: 18). A third group argues that innovations within states, especially at the local and neighbourhood level, are rendered largely ineffective insofar as political power is shifting increasingly to the international level and especially to private multinational organizations (see Strange, 1996; Van Creveld 1999; Held and McGrew 1998).

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