Guest Post: Promoting Ambient Accountability with Architecture and Design

GAB is delighted to welcome back Dieter Zinnbauer, Programme Manager at Transparency International, who contributes the following guest post:

Corrupt transactions do not merely “take place” – they take place in a place, a specific place at a specific time: at customs authorities and land registrars, at hospital wards, police road-stops, school headmaster offices, or the offices of social benefits agencies. The fact that most form of corruption occur in physical locations may seem both obvious and unimportant, but in fact there may be some promising ways to modify the physical settings for government-citizen interactions that would make various kinds of corruption less likely to occur (or easier to detect and remedy). This possibility builds on the observation that many corrupt transactions are fragile forms of social exchange, often involving power asymmetries, established social roles, norms, and expectations. These social dynamics are critical to enabling the parties to engage in an illegal transaction that could get both of them into a lot of trouble. These complex social dynamics and expectations are affected by the physical environment; modifications to that environment can therefore disrupt or alter the social dynamics of a specific situation—creating feelings of empowerment for potential targets of extortion and feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for those who would propose corrupt exchanges.

We should therefore think about ways to use architecture and design to empower citizens to become more aware of their rights and entitlements, to better understand and assess the services they receive, and to register complaints and seek remedies more effectively. I call this concept “ambient accountability.” I have developed this idea more fully in two recent papers (here and here), but here are some concrete examples of how this sort of intervention might work in other contexts: Continue reading