How to Reduce Corruption: Reflections, including from the Paris Integrity Forum

Anti-corruption word cloud on global map overlay
Johannes Tonn
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How do we – organizations and individuals working to strengthen transparency, accountability, and participation – more effectively fight corruption? For many of us, this is perhaps the perennial question.

In recent decades, we’ve seen that there are many different ways of doing ‘something’ about corruption, with anti-corruption practitioners and social movements trying a diverse set of approaches and mechanisms. Yet many of these efforts haven’t been especially effective (DFID 2015). And there are few organizations that systematically inquire into what works in the fight against corruption – where, how, and why – so that they can reflect, learn, and course correct.

At Global Integrity, we try to be the exception to this rule, finding the time and space to reflect on whether our efforts are successful. For example, in the past several years we have:

And right now, we’re running the Global Integrity Anti-Corruption and Evidence (GI-ACE) programme. Our objective is to support our research partners in undertaking actionable research that will help practitioners learn to design and implement more effective anti-corruption policies. To generate evidence that is actually useful for practitioners, however, we recognize that GI-ACE must adhere to the following general principles:

  • Speaking to the challenges with which practitioners are grappling. This means understanding and framing our research around the technical questions practitioners ponder (data, tools, analytics), the ecosystem challenges they must navigate (working politically, building coalitions, sustaining buy-in), and the implications of raising and answering these questions in specific contexts.
  • Meeting practitioners where they are. This means that we’re helping to build solid relationships between researchers and practitioners so that honest conversations can be had about how and why some of our collective, global anti-corruption efforts have proven much trickier than anticipated (Heywood 2018). It also means that, rather than simply lamenting limited progress, we must find entry points that help us to engage in constructive discussion and reflection about how we can — together — achieve greater success.

At the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Integrity Forum in Paris this past March, we put these principles into action. Together with Mihaly Fazekas – part of the GI-ACE-funded Curbing Corruption in Procurement project led by Liz David-Barrett – we organized a workshop with participants including OECD and World Bank procurement experts; practitioners from organizations as diverse as CIPE, OCP, B-Team, OGP, Reboot, NRGI, PTF, OSF, Palladium, BMZ, KfW, GIZ, EU; prosecutorial entities; and audit institutions. In the workshop, we explored participants’ anti-corruption challenges.

Two broad themes stood out:

  1. Despite progress on norms and data interoperability, practitioners continue to have questions about how to best detect risks in procurement processes, including about what analytical tools to use and how to evaluate (and enhance) the quality of data.
  2. Practitioners also have questions about how to unpack the concept of political will so that they can more effectively foster it and ensure that resources are available to support follow-up once risk is detected.

We also helped to organize the Forum’s closing panel, in which Paul Heywood and Heather Marquette spoke about whether and how it might be time to “reboot” the way those of us working on corruption think about and frame our strategies and approaches. Moderated by Laura Alonso, head of Argentina’s anti-corruption agency, this insightful discussion reflected on what has gone right (and wrong) over the past 25 years, and dove into emerging thinking on how the field might more effectively achieve success in anti-corruption work.

Several insights with regard to anti-corruption work emerged from our participation in the Integrity Forum and from recent reflections on our work at Global Integrity more generally:

  • Focus on problems, and what solving them looks like. Defining the goal we want to achieve – for example, “saving money in procurement processes” or “reducing absenteeism in health clinics” – helps us keep our eyes on the prize, and remain clear about why we’ve set out to tackle corruption. This kind of approach is far more helpful than simply maintaining that corruption must be eradicated at all costs – a normative argument that is both unrealistic and unhelpful in setting our efforts up for success.
  • Be clear about what we mean by “corruption.” Rather than using the term indiscriminately, let’s be very specific about the forms of corruption – and the sectors in which those forms are present – we intend to address
  • Think about the entire system(s) in which corruption occurs. Unpacking patterns of power and incentives, and specifying the norms that define how actors interact with each other, can help us understand, and work out how to shape, political will and what viable interventions might look like.
  • We haven’t yet figured out how to frame the anti-corruption narrative – and that’s okay! As a field, let’s admit that, and work together to figure out how to more realistically and constructively talk about corruption and the ways in which we can tackle it and achieve results. Encouragingly, the Open Society Foundations Economic Justice Program recently put out a tender that focuses on just this issue – we hope to be able to work on that project!

In the coming weeks and months, we’d love to build on the conversations we had at the Forum and to speak with you about the specific corruption problems you’re trying to tackle so that we can better understand where practitioners are at, and how we can help support the generation of research that will be useful. Want to chat and/or learn more about GI-ACE or any of the specific research projects we’re supporting? Please email Johannes Tonn, Tweet us @globalintegrity, or leave a comment on this post.

Johannes Tonn
Johannes Tonn
Director, Integrity & Anti-corruption

One comment on “How to Reduce Corruption: Reflections, including from the Paris Integrity Forum”

  • Mohd Nizam Mohd Ali says:

    Great reflections and tips. I wish to be part of a mutual collaborative works across region. Dr Nizam Ali (nizam@integriti.my).

    Reply

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