I’ve been listening to lots of podcasts about ADHD this week. There’s been this ongoing reference to “coaching and accountability” groups. It got me thinking about what accountability means, because it can mean different things.

In the world of policy wonks (of which I’m a citizen) accountability is a pretty loaded word. Educational philosopher Gert Biesta distinguishes between accountability in “democratic” or “bureaucratic” senses. The first emphasizes a kind of a voluntary social contract. That means that we buy into the idea that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We’re “accountable” in the sense that we accept that our actions matter for other peoples’ lives. The bureaucratic variety, on the other hand is punitive and watchful. In the contexts of the public sector (health, education, government) it means producing data to prove that you aren’t fucking up.[1]. So whereas the democratic variety of accountability is something that engage in voluntarily, the “bureaucratic” variety is based on a profound sense of social mistrust. Biesta talks about this in the contexts of teachers and how each understanding of “accountability” changes the way they act. This gist is that the “democratic” kind inspires growth and learning. The “bureaucratic” kind inspires teachers (and others) to find ways to keep people off their asses — to avoid getting in trouble.[2]

So I was thinking about all of this in the context of this business of self-help groups as forms of accountability. And I like it. Unlike the kind of accountability that you owe to your boss, or your teachers, or any other authority figure who says “perform or else,” accountability in the contexts of self-help groups comes out of an intentional creation of trust for the purposes of growth and learning.

In the context of these adult ADHD support groups (and countless other support groups), accountability speaks, I think, of our deep need to hook into communities that can remind us that our quests to “do better” are meaningful beyond our own self-interests. Autonomy, self-motivation, and self-discipline are celebrated in our culture. So why submit oneself the “accountability” in a group? I’d suggest it is because the “self” in self-development is limited in its capacity to offer the motivation we need to make efforts to change. These efforts achieve new dimensions of meaning when our “doing better” makes things better for people we care about.

[1] For the record, Biesta does not quite explain it this way. And adds much more to the topic than I am dealing with here. He’s awesome. Biesta, G. (2015). What is education for? On Good education, teacher judgement, and educational professionalism. European Journal of Education, 50(1), 75–87.

[2] Again, Biesta is decidedly more eloquent…


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