Regular GAB contributor Christopher Crawford–who has written a number of insightful posts on the potential and limitations of social media and information technology in combating corruption (see here and here)–has a new essay on The Guardian‘s website entitled, “Crowdsourcing anti-corruption: Like Yelp, but for bad governments.” Chris is too modest to promote this himself, so I’ll do it for him. Anyone interested in this topic should check out the essay by clicking on the prior link.
There is no shortage of buzz about Big Data in the anticorruption world. It’s everywhere — from public efforts like Transparency International’s public procurement analysis to cutting-edge private-sector FCPA compliance programs implemented by Ernst & Young. TI has blogged about Big Data and corruption, with titles like “Can Big Data Solve the World’s Problems, Including Corruption?” and “The Potential of Fighting Corruption Through Data Mining.” Ernst & Young’s conclusion is more definite: “Anti-Corruption Compliance Now Requires Big Data Analytics.”
In previous posts, contributors to this blog have written about how the anticorruption community was excited about social media-style apps (“crowdsourcing”) in anticorruption efforts. Apps like iPaidABribe allow citizens to report their encounters with corrupt officials, generating a fertile data set for anticorruption activists. Big Data is a related effort: activists can mine huge amounts of data for patterns that reveal corrupt activity, making it a powerful tool for transparency. However, as the name suggests, Big Data requires massive amounts of data in order to be useful.The anticorruption community should throw its weight behind proposals to open up data sets for Big Data analysis. As with crowdsourced anticorruption efforts, the excitement surrounding Big Data could quickly turn into disappointment unless this tool can be integrated into the broader anticorruption effort. Continue reading
Crowd-based reporting tools have garnered tremendous attention for their role in anticorruption efforts all around the world. Deservedly so: these platforms harness rapidly increasing internet and mobile access in the developed world to tackle the age-old problem of corruption. Perhaps the best known of this new wave of crowdsourced reporting tools, iPaidABribe (which started in India and has been successfully recreated in other parts of the world), allows any citizen with a smartphone or other access to the internet to report bribery incidents nearly-instantaneously. Citizens can report the amount of a bribe, the recipient of the bribe, the institution that took or demanded the bribe, and so on — all anonymously. Visitors can read the reports as well as view a sort of “heat map” that aggregates the reports to demonstrate where bribery is most prevalent. The very act of broadcasting one’s own experiences with corrupt officials, and the commensurate naming-and-shaming effect this has when many such reports are aggregated, is proving to be extremely powerful.
To be sure, not all attempts to use modern internet and mobile technology to crowdsource anticorruption reporting have been as successful. Some (perhaps most) platforms never really get off the ground. Observers on this blog and elsewhere have pointed out that this may be due to a mismatch between local social conditions and the platform itself. These challenges are real, but I want to focus for now on platforms that have managed to gather and report significant data on corruption. Even in these cases, some commentators have pointed out, the full potential of crowd-based corruption reporting platforms has yet to be realized. The data they are gathering is still relatively “raw” and unprocessed by entities that could really use it — such as government anticorruption agencies. Thus it is important to highlight how these platforms can improve, and how they can avoid having their efforts thwarted by unwanted side-effects. As platform developers move past their early obstacles and start achieving real success in their primary goal — getting people to use their reporting system — the need now is to direct the platforms and their potential partners in such a way as to enhance their effectiveness and to avoid the possibility that their data will be misused. Continue reading
Producing and selling falsified medicines—fake drugs deliberately labeled as real and sold to consumers—has been described by the Institute of Medicine as “the perfect crime.” The industry tops $200 billion annually and in Africa alone is responsible for 100,000 deaths each year. The WHO identifies corruption as one of the biggest challenges to keeping these drugs off the market, but the number of access points all along the supply chain—at the point of manufacturer, in customs offices, at distribution centers or individual pharmacies—make reining in corruption a gargantuan task. Governments may squeeze one area—say stricter regulation of customs offices—only to find distribution centers being turned into drug swap shops.
We may, however, be witnessing a shift in how governments approach these issues, moving from confronting corruption head on—which has met with mixed results—to simply circumventing it. The Nigerian experience is noteworthy. Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC) has teamed up with Sproxil, a product verification company, to allow consumers to individually verify the authenticity of their drugs. NAFDAC is effectively crowdsourcing its falsified medicines anti-corruption efforts, and with some very positive results. Continue reading