How do we practice adaptive learning and locally led development in our work? The recently concluded Building Bridges for Stronger Systems project (funded by Open Society Foundations – OSF) is an insightful example of putting these Global Integrity values into action.
Our partners – Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition (GACC), Transparency International Bosnia & Herzegovina (TI-BIH), and Law Scanner (Pravni Skener) in Serbia – wanted to delve deeper into improving procurement systems during crisis, building on a previous OSF project focused on collaborative anti-corruption work called Busting Silos in 2018. Global Integrity was commissioned to take this forward in 2021. We then embarked on the learning journey, which ended in September 2022.
Mapping the Learning Journey
When we embarked on this learning journey, we put our partners first. We wanted to understand the challenges that they faced in their daily work and what aspects they wanted to further explore together, with us guiding the learning process. From developing the learning questions to pivoting funding for pilot activities, it was our partners who were in the drivers’ seat.
Our role centered around being an action learning partner for them by mapping out common challenges and potential solutions, convening interactive discussions with practitioners, and providing an open space for peer knowledge exchanges and reflection on the learning journey itself. The goal was to apply what the partners learned to their work in practical ways, for example by adjusting the way they conduct advocacy campaigns or how they build coalitions across sectors.
Despite the geographical distance and divergence in the scope and stage of the work – and conducting the sessions virtually in just 6 months – the partners found relevant lessons to explore and share throughout the course of this project. We outline the main questions, activities, and lessons below.
Convenings and Reflections
We convened conversations with practitioners via our robust network (focusing on frontline actors) and developed tailored tools (like virtual whiteboards) to facilitate reflections on challenges and brainstorm solutions – and learn from each other. This enabled collaboration across regions and sectors in ways that were not originally possible for all partners during the Busting Silos phase.
During each reflection, we paused to ask our partners what we can adapt to better serve their needs. We also pivoted the course of the project and channeled funding for pilot activities so that partners could test their learnings and iterate their advocacy work for more transparent and efficient procurement systems that are less susceptible to corruption.
Learning in Action
We explored these learning questions during 4 sessions (co-created with partners):
- How do you identify incentives / benefits for the private sector to get them on board with improving the procurement process, particularly procurements during crisis periods? What are the private sector’s underlying interests?
- How do you figure out what commitments you can get from different levels of government to improve procurement in times of crisis?
- How do you build pressure on institutions to act on procurement violations and pay attention to citizens’ needs, particularly when navigating a crisis?
- How do we get institutions (health & others involved in procurement) to talk to each other and share information around procurement?
We convened 8 speakers from 4 global regions (with focus on Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa):
- Kaye Sklar (Open Contracting Partnership – USA) Cristian Sosa (Asociación de Emprendedores de Paraguay) for the session on private sector incentives.
- Constantin Cearanovski (Inițiativa Pozitivă – Moldova) and Timothy Kiprono (Open Governance Institute – Kenya) for the session on commitments from different levels of government.
- Iyanu Bolarinwa (BudgIT – Nigeria) and Jorge Florez (Global Integrity – USA/Colombia) for the session on building pressure on institutions, as well as how to use procurement data more effectively.
- Zoia Zamihovksa (Open Contracting Partnership – Ukraine) and Mihai Turcanu (IDIS Viitorul – Moldova) for the session on getting institutions to talk to each other
3 key lessons from this journey
3 key lessons from this journey
- Valuing the power of challenging assumptions: All three organizations reported that some of their initial assumptions were challenged while implementing their activities. The representative from GACC said that they initially assumed that much of the inefficacy in the country’s procurement system was due to corruption and bad actors, but in reality, many of the issues arose from actors’ lack of sufficient knowledge of the procurement laws and processes. Both Law Scanner and TI-BIH reported that they learned about a lot of issues in the procurement system that they were not aware of, challenging their assumptions about the root causes of problems in the system and stakeholders’ motivations.
- Adopting a more constructive approach to reach new actors in their system: All three partners reported that health and procurement institutions, as well as other stakeholders, were much more willing to engage with them then they had previously thought. Earlier in the project, both Law Scanner and TI-BIH considered their relationships with government and public institutions somewhat adversarial and mentioned that these stakeholders saw them as enemies. Inspired by some of the stories from the learning journey, they decided to try a more constructive approach and reported that when they approached these institutions offering to help rather than coming out of the gate with criticisms, that these institutions were far more willing to engage with them and share the challenges they were facing. Overall, all three partners noted that public institutions and procurement authorities were much more willing than expected to admit to the weaknesses of their systems and work toward improving them.
- Learning how to learn through reflection: All three partners also noted the value of the regular reflection sessions and the interactive activities that followed each topical session during the learning journey. They mentioned that it kept them actively engaged in the process and allowed them to really reflect on what they heard and how it might apply to their work. In particular, one member of TI-BIH noted that they were initially skeptical of the constant reflection, but found that “learning how to learn” ended up being one of the most valuable takeaways of the learning journey.
During this learning journey, we embarked on a unique knowledge exchange experience. We learned a lot from this process and from our partners about how to facilitate effective and meaningful convening space in a global virtual world – admittedly, with some chagrin that we could not convene in person. Nonetheless, we still built bridges and strengthened systems across four continents to deepen knowledge and connections with partners, our network, and each other.