Role-Level Accountability Contract

Summary: A role-level accountability contract is a document that describes the specific roles and responsibilities of individuals or organizations involved in the various stages of the AI system lifecycle.

Type of pattern: Governance pattern

Type of objective: Trustworthiness

Target users: Management teams

Impacted stakeholders: Employees, AI users, AI impacted subjects, AI consumers

Lifecycle stages: All stages

Relevant AI ethics principles: Human, societal and environmental wellbeing, human-centered values, fairness, privacy protection and security, reliability and safety, transparency and explainability, contestability, accountability

Mapping to AI regulations/standards: EU AI Act, ISO/IEC 42001:2023 Standard.

Context: To ensure that AI systems are developed and used responsibly, organizations need to have an appropriate approach to enabling accountability throughout the entire lifecycle of AI systems.

Problem: How can we identify the individuals who should be held accountable when an AI system misbehaves?

Solution: Role-level accountability is a concept that each individual involved at any stage of the AI system lifecycle is accountable for the outcome of the AI system at their particular role.51 To establish role-level accountability, organizations must develop clear policies and rules that outline the roles and responsibilities of individuals within the organization and to make these policies and rules accessible to development teams. Formal contracts can be used to help define the boundaries of responsibilities and to hold individuals accountable for their actions. For example, contracts can be signed between organizations and employees, or between system users, data contributors, and the project team. Diverse types of ethical quality constraints can be enforced as contracts, such as service contracts, model contracts, and data contracts.


  • Increased awareness: Developers primarily focus on the technique aspects of AI systems, and may not be familiar with the ethical principles. Role-level accountability contracts make the developers keeps RAI in mind at every step.
  • Improved productivity: Role-level accountability contracts help to eliminate the time and effort that employees spend on distracting activities (such as tasks unrelated to their core responsibilities) by providing clear expectations for their roles and responsibilities


  • Complexity: Role-level accountability contracts can be complex because they may involve various parties and require detailed definitions of roles and responsibilities.
  • Reduced flexibility: Role-level accountability contracts may result in decreased flexibility and adaptability of employees because they may feel confined to their specific roles and find it challenging to contribute beyond their prescribed responsibilities.

Related patterns:

  • Code for RAI: Code of ethics may contain ethical policies for different roles within an organization.
  • RAI training: Organizations can provide training to help employees understand their accountability and responsibility when developing or operating an AI system.

Known uses:


[1]   Zhu, L., et al., AI and Ethics–Operationalising Responsible AI. arXiv preprint arXiv:2105.08867, 2021.