Harnessing Informality (Pt. 2): What could a network intervention to tackle anti-corruption look like?

Claudia Baez Camargo
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Originally Published on GI-ACE

In the first “Harnessing Informality” blog,  I explained the background stemming from the findings of our previous research, which explained how we found that informal social networks can be part of the explanation for why corruption seems to be so resilient. In our current follow-on project, we are exploring how this knowledge about the centrality of informal social networks might be used to inform the design of innovative anti-corruption approaches. Here, I describe one of the two approaches we are taking, to be followed by an upcoming entry by my co-investigator Scott Newton, who is investigating how legal instruments might be tailored to be more effective in the context of high informality.

Our hypothesis is that networks that promote anti-corruption attitudes and incentives to act with integrity are powerful instruments to counter networks that promote and normalise corruption. We draw upon work conducted by scholars in other fields, such as public health, who have pioneered and developed the concept of network interventions. There is interesting evidence to suggest that actively accounting for, and even harnessing, existing social networks can be a powerful mechanism to deliver interventions aimed at, for example, preventing the spread of disease or promoting effective diffusion of innovations. With this as background, we believe that it is worthwhile to explore what anti-corruption network interventions could look like.

We are working in two countries—Tanzania and Uganda—to develop a problem-led methodology for mapping the structure and ethnography of relevant networks and, on the basis of that, choose the type of targeted network intervention that could work to mobilise stakeholders in pursuit of anti-corruption goals.

We are particularly interested in researching two types of potential network interventions:

  1. anti-corruption collective action initiatives (CAIs) engaging private sector actors; and
  2. network interventions to address corruption in the delivery of essential public services.

Collective Action is widely recognised as a promising approach to tackle corruption by raising standards of business integrity and leveling the playing field between competitors. It involves collaboration and sustained cooperation between stakeholders in the private and public sectors, civil society, and international organisations. However, without a more systematic understanding about the internal configuration and interlinkages among non-state actors and vis-a-vis the public sector (i.e., the network dynamics), harnessing the transformative power of collective action is fraught with difficulties, even if individuals across the different sectors are willing to break the mould.

In fact, a review of the experiences of dozens of collective action practitioners shows that some of the biggest challenges in launching successful Collective Action Initiatives (CAI) involve: (a) identifying those actors whose participation in the CAI is important to enhance uptake and impact; and (b) promoting trust among CAI participants.

Against this background, we believe that conducting systematic network mapping has good potential to help in the convening of more effective CAIs in the following ways:

  • Linking up isolated clusters of private sector stakeholders and civil society groups with similar interests to join in a CAI;
  • Mobilising a network of like-minded business interests and anti-corruption champions in the government around support for a high-level reporting mechanism to curb corruption in procurement; and
  • Mobilising and linking up professional associations–such as those representing lawyers, architects, or medical doctors–which play a seminal role in setting ethical standards and interacting with the public sector, with a view to connecting anti-corruption champions and promoting the action of networks cutting across different professions.

We also believe that network mapping around corruption practices that affect the provision of public services can support the strategic identification and mobilisation of citizens and organised non-state actors to demand accountability of public authorities. Social network mapping can help ascertain which individuals may be in a good position within their networks to reach out to the largest number of network members, or identify sub-groups in the network that may be mobilised at once. Social network mapping also is useful in identifying individuals who are not connected (marginal to the relevant networks) and devising tailored outreach interventions once the reasons for their exclusion are understood. This approach to inform intervention design with insights from network mapping has considerable potential for addressing some of the most common shortcomings of social accountability initiatives, namely that they often empower those already in advantageous positions, sometimes even exacerbating power imbalances.

Claudia Baez Camargo
Claudia Baez Camargo
Head of Governance Research, Basel institute on Governance / University of Basel

Claudia Baez Camargo holds a PhD in political science from the University of Notre Dame, USA, and a graduate degree in economics from the University of Cambridge, England. She is Head of Governance Research at the Basel Institute on Governance/ University of Basel where she is responsible for the development, oversight, and management of the Basel Institute’s research activities in the areas of public and global governance. She also works with a broad range of interested stakeholders on consultancy projects aimed at developing context sensitive strategies to prevent corruption in the public sector. Baez Camargo also teaches courses on corruption and development, and health systems governance at the University of Basel, and has developed training curricula for practitioners on corruption risk assessment methods and developing evidence-based anti-corruption interventions.

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