What is accountability?

I have been doing quite a lot of thinking lately on accountability. I work at a little company called Chorus, where we have big dreams of building a digital product that teams of people can use to can keep each other accountable to healthy goals. Everyday I walk into the office and ask "What is accountability?" and "What does an accountability experience need to do in order to be successful in people's real lives?" and "What does accountability look like in the context of a digital product?"

Here's what I think healthy accountability is NOT - Accountability is NOT strict adherence to a program or plan. It is not checking off a box, or changing who we are, or how we eat, or where we workout to win approvals or rewards. Accountability is not meeting other people's expectations of us. Accountability should never result in shame, or guilt, or fear, or insecurity, or feelings of obligation, or force us to adhere to things that don't make us light up inside.

Healthy accountability revolves around two things:

  1. Being intentional about a particular set of actions AND
  2. Being in relationships with people who care about you

If I were to use these two things in a sentence it might sound something like this:

"Accountability is consistent and intentional interaction with a group of people who want each other to succeed." 

I'm still working on the exact phrasing, but at Chorus, accountability is a meaningful relationship between people. Developing meaningful relationships, rather than programs, workouts, or nutrition plans, have become the guiding principle of all of our product work. They are at the heart of our designs and burrow to the core of our technical code. If we're in a hurry and want to remind each other what we believe, we just look each other in the eyes and say, "Together not alone" (It's way better than what other fitness products claim, which you can imagine is something horrible like "Burpees not biceps") 

But accountability defined in context of relationship, is complex. Building a product focused around health and accountability requires much more than a 3-word mantra. So I ask myself, "What does an experience around accountability look like?" No. Not the pixels and animations and interfaces, but more like, "What does an accountability experience require?" What does it need to do to be successful in real people's lives? ? How should it make people feel?" When we can name what experience requires and how we want people to feel using it, then it becomes easier to start to define specific features and implications for a digital product. In order to come up with a collection of "requirements" I simply look back at our original definition and deconstruct it a bit.

What do we mean by consistent? Intentional? What actions are meaningful? What do we think will be important about the group of people? What qualities do the groups have? Are they more like groups? Or more like teams? How do they become successful? Always at this definition stage, zero of my questions revolve around metrics or technical implementations, or UI treatments. Defining the experience before settling on implementation is important. 

I made a list of what we hope a healthy accountability experience will feel like. It goes something like this:

Accountability starts with doing something on purpose.

It's ongoing,

It's actionable,

And it's fundamentally relational.

Accountability doesn't make us feel bad about messing up —

It means someone cares,

And is paying attention,

And is there to support us

Even when things get hard.

Accountability is a conversation

About what inspires us and

About what challenges us.

Accountability means having a goal,

And showing up,

And asking for help,

And helping others succeed


Accountability is personal

And communal

Which is why it can also be transformative.


Accountability is really hard work,

And we think accountability shouldn't have to be so hard.

Everything we're building or plan to build in the near future points directly to something on this list. In that way, it's the most inclusive list of product requirements I have. And that feels great.