In my six years as Executive Director of Global Integrity, we have not spent much time explicitly reflecting on our name. I’d always assumed that we inherited it, having spun off from the Center for Public Integrity in 2005, and felt that perhaps it referred to our early focus on measuring the “implementation gap” between policies on paper and policies in practice. As a result, when people have asked about our name and what it means, I’ve tended to deflect the question. But in recent months, I’ve begun to see the value of integrity, and of our name, in new ways.
For much of the governance, transparency and anti-corruption community, integrity – although often poorly defined – is about individuals and organizations behaving in trustworthy ways; being honest, practising what they preach, and meeting agreed norms and standards. These meanings of integrity are important, but just as our focus has broadened beyond measuring the implementation gap, to supporting locally-led, learning-centered and adaptive approaches to addressing complex and systemic governance-related challenges, so might our thinking on integrity.
Integrity might more usefully be thought of in terms of the strength and quality of a system’s integration; the nature and inclusiveness of the relationships and processes that connect the various actors and make the whole system more than the sum of its parts. The behavior of individuals and organizations matters hugely – individuals shape systems, as systems shape individuals – but it is these relationships and processes that drive a system’s dynamics, building or undermining its capacity for innovation, learning and adaptation, and thereby shaping the system’s ability to generate solutions to complex challenges. (See here for a closely related argument which puts trust center-stage).
In addition to the organizational and professional reflections that the full version of this piece sets out in greater detail, my thinking has been given a boost by the reading, reflection, and coaching I’ve been doing about how I might in my personal life best strengthen the dynamic webs of relationships that make life, including my life, what it is (see also listening with love – an ethic of love, in bell hooks’ terms – by Kyende Kinoti at Feedback Labs). For me, personally, this reflection has been very energizing. For Global Integrity, this strand of thinking is informing the evolution of our approach to supporting partners’ efforts to address complex governance-related challenges, helping us to build on our strategy and its focus on listening, learning and adaptation.
Informed by these various reflections, our latest thinking starts with the reality that we are a small player in a complex system of actors and our belief that we can contribute best by enhancing the integrity (relationships & processes) of those systems and thereby their ability to address complex social challenges. We do this indirectly, by providing practical support and accompaniment for civil society and government partners as they tackle issues relating to corruption and the use of public resources.
By doing this, we aim to develop our, and our partners’ capacity to operate in the learning-centered and adaptive ways which enable organizations to shape and strengthen the integrity and effectiveness of the systems they are part of. Last but not least, in all that we do, we aim to be led by our partners, adding value where they, and we, think we can; helping to shift and share, rather than consolidate, our power.
As we move forward into a new year, it feels good to be finding a fit between the name we have on paper and what we do in practice. It also feels good for me, to be in a place where my personal ponderings and my organizational reflections are themselves increasingly integrated. With system integrity and the relationships through which it is built as our guiding star, we look forward to making a stronger contribution to our partners’ efforts to address governance-related challenges, by nurturing the emergence of systems that are full of integrity and better able to meet people’s needs.