Marking milestones in understanding the presence of corruption and the role of integrity among South African and Zambian urban planning professionals

Christian Alexander
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One year further into its GI ACE-supported research concerning the role of integrity and corruption within the planning profession in Zambia and South Africa, the African Centre for Cities’ “Cities of Integrity” (COI) research team has hit new milestones and made progress in achieving its research objectives. Since publishing its first working paper, covered in this blog here, the COI team has much to report, including commencement of an innovative “Qualitative Action Experiment”—captured in a new working paper—and participation in the upcoming Southern Africa City Studies Conference at the end of this month.

As discussed here last year, the COI team’s first working paper posited the positive role that fostering professional identity and integrity could play in confronting corruption in the key arena of urban development. Building on this foundation, the team has since engaged in a series of multi-faceted research activities to better understand how Zambian and South African planners identify themselves professionally, what role integrity plays in planning work, personal views and experiences regarding corruption, and the relationships between identity, integrity, and corruption.

In addition to implementing more traditional research techniques, including interviews and surveys, the COI team also conducted a Qualitative Action Experiment (QAE) with a reference group of Zambian planners. QAEs are an explorative, heuristic form of sociological research that emphasize co-discovery with research subjects regarding the structures, relationships, and connections constituting a particular issue. QAE research does not just seek to understand a subject, but also commits to finding practical ways to address challenges identified during the research. The initial phase of the COI team’s QAE took place during a two-and-a-half-day training workshop involving 35 professional planners facilitated by the COI project team in Lusaka, Zambia in October 2019. The workshop included a range of interactive activities such as short presentations, group work, interactive scenarios, a role play, reflection sessions, and anonymous surveys. Further follow-on components of the QAE, including surveys, interviews, and an additional workshop for the same participants, is scheduled for the next nine months.

While the Zambian QAE will continue through the early part of next year, the COI team’s initial experience with implementing the QAE is the topic of its second working paper released last month (available here and discussed more here). Authored by co-investigator Gilbert Siame (University of Zambia) and project researchers Laura Nkula-Wenz (University of Cape Town) and Dieter Zinnbauer (Copenhagen Business School), the paper shows that the QAE approach occupies a middle ground between reflective observation and engaged activism, making it particularly well suited for building integrity while studying corruption. The COI team looks forward to reporting substantive findings regarding the QAE after it gathers additional research data through a follow-up process, but early data indicates intriguing insights both with respect to baseline understandings of corruption and changes in perceptions.

The COI team also looks forward to participating in this year’s Southern Africa City Studies Conference, hosted online from 31 August to 04 September by the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. COI team member Stephen Berrisford will moderate a high-profile roundtable with leading experts on corruption and municipal government to discuss the role of fostering integrity in urban development processes as a tool for combating corruption. This event will also open to non-conference participants and streamed live on the African Centre for Cities’ YouTube channelYou can rsvp for the event here:

Read more about Global Integrity’s work on integrity and anti-corruption.

Christian Alexander
Christian Alexander

A lawyer, planner, researcher, writer, and sustainability advocate interested in building and maintaining sustainable, equitable, thriving communities, Christian Alexander is engaged on the Cities of Integrity project seeking to address the issue of corruption in planning through enhanced professional ethics strategies in Zambia and South Africa.

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