In 1999, an investigative-journalist-turned-government-watchdog, Charles Lewis, and one of his researchers, Nathaniel Heller, sat across an antique wooden partner’s desk in Lewis’ Washington, D.C. office.
Lewis was a former 60 Minutes producer whose Center for Public Integrity had helped redefine long-form investigative journalism during the previous nine years, writing The Buying of the President, breaking the White House Lincoln Bedroom scandal, and blending quantitative databases with hard hitting reporting as no other news organization was doing. He had recently begun a nationwide project assessing transparency and conflicts of interest in each of the 50 U.S. state legislatures, inspired in part by a trip to Central Asia a few years earlier, when he was startled by the lack of information and accountability there.
Lewis asked Heller: Could the same information the Center was gathering about the quality of governance in the United States be collected and made available globally? Heller liked to build things — projects, methodologies, even organizations — and the question stuck with him.
Some 7,000 miles away in Cape Town, South Africa, political scientist Marianne Camerer, a friend of Lewis’, was researching local whistleblower protections and governance reforms. Camerer sought a systematic way to understand the successes and failures of anti-corruption efforts in Africa. When Camerer, Lewis and Heller compared notes, they realized that what they were talking about was nearly the same thing.
In this middle ground between political science and political journalism, between rigorous data gathering and on-the-ground reporting, they founded Global Integrity.
By 2001, working at the Center for Public Integrity, the team had engaged local researchers to field test a prototype of the Integrity Indicators in three diverse countries (South Africa, Italy, and Indonesia). In 2002 they secured funding for a 25-country pilot project, which was released in 2004, proving that the model could be replicated on a global scale. This pilot was Global Integrity’s first use of innovative online collaboration tools to coordinate teams of in-country journalists, academics, and social scientists, a practice the organization continues to refine today and has led to the deployment of the Indaba fieldwork platform.