Guest Post: The Problem With Anticorruption Diagnostic Tools Is Not (Primarily) Too Much Standardization

José-Miguel Bello y Villarino, an official with the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and doctoral candidate at the University of Sydney, contributes today’s guest post:

There is a wide debate about how to produce and use data to assess and compare countries’ performance, particularly in domains that are, by nature, global such as human rights. In the corruption domain there are some well-known international indexes that purport to express a country’s perceived corruption level in a single number, such as the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) published annually by Transparency International (TI). Other diagnostic tools have been developed to assess individual countries’ anticorruption frameworks and policies against some global standard or benchmark. Among the latter, TI produces the National Integrity System (NIS) Country Assessments.

These assessments do not try to determine how much corruption there is in a country, but rather “how well a country tackles the problem.” NIS assessments do not aim to give each country a final “score” that can be compared to the scores of other countries. The assessments’ declared objective is to look into the effectiveness of each country’s anticorruption institutions by focusing on a standard set of “pillars” (things like democratic institutions, the judiciary , the media, and civil society). Consequently, NIS assessments are not meant to provide definitive conclusions, but rather observations within a common framework to supply a starting point for analysis, and to identify risks and possible areas for improvement. Their conclusions are designed to help stakeholders work to develop more concrete and country-specific responses.

The NIS Country Assessments, and similar tools (TI has identifies roughly 500 diagnostic tools used in the anticorruption area), have come in for a fair share of criticism. Much of this criticism centers upon their allegedly formalistic, formulaic, standardized approach to assessing anticorruption institutions. Some of those criticisms have appeared on this blog. A few months ago Richard Messick posted a commentary on a piece by Paul Heywood and Elizabeth Johnson that challenged the relevance and value of NIS reports for developing democracies (using Cambodia as an illustrative example), principally due to insufficient appreciation of cultural distinctiveness and an overemphasis on compliance-based approaches. Last month, Alan Doig’s post continued this conversation. Mr. Doig defended the value of the NIS Country Assessments as they were originally conceived, but argued that TI’s current approach to NIS assessments has become overly formalistic, which limits the utility of NIS country studies as an effective starting point for analysis or platform for progression. Though coming from a different perspective, Mr. Doig’s criticism is very similar to the core argument of Professors Heywood and Johnson. In essence, they share a skepticism that one can usefully apply broad global standards or categories to individual countries, given each country’s unique, particular, idiosyncratic circumstances.

Respectfully, I think these criticisms go too far. Taking individual country circumstances into consideration of course has value. However, standardization of assessment methodologies, the somewhat “formulaic” approach, can have benefits that may outweigh the costs. Continue reading

Guest Post: How to Fix TI’s National Integrity System Country Assessments

GAB welcomes back Alan Doig, Visiting Professor at Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, who contributes the following guest post:

Transparency International (TI) has developed a number of tools to assess corruption in different countries. The best-known is probably the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which purports to reduce each country’s level of (perceived) corruption to a number, to facilitate international comparisons. But TI has also developed another tool, the “National Integrity System” (NIS) assessment, which evaluates an individual country’s governance system with respect to both internal corruption risks and its capacity to fight corruption in the society more broadly; the NIS evaluations typically focus on a number of governance “pillars,” such as the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, audit agencies, anticorruption agencies, media, civil society, etc. (TI maintains a number of more recent NIS assessments on its website.)

Recently, the NIS evaluations have been subjected to withering critiques. For example, last year on this blog Rick Messick summarized a critical article by Professors Paul Heywood and Elizabeth Johnson, which argued, on basis of the NIS for Cambodia, that the NIS reviews relied on a “narrowly conceived institutional approach,” displayed “insufficient appreciation of cultural distinctiveness,” failed to properly conceptualize the notion of “integrity,” and over-emphasized “compliance-based approaches to combating corruption at the expense of the positive promotion of integrity.” Alas, this critique largely misses the mark, and in fact goes a long way (as does Mr. Messick’s blog post) to perpetuating myths and incorrect assumptions about the NIS approach. It’s true that something has gone badly awry with TI’s NIS assessments—on that point, I agree with Heywood, Johnson, and Messick. But though these authors tell us what is wrong with the NIS, they never bother to ask themselves why; more importantly, they make the mistake of confusing errors in execution (on the basis of a single country!) with inherent problems with the concept itself. Continue reading

Guest Post: Development Aid–A Blind Spot for EU Anticorruption Efforts

GAB is pleased to welcome back Jesper Johnsøn, Senior Advisor at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, who, along with his colleagues Nils Taxell and Thor Olav Iversen, contributes the following guest post:

A new study from the European Parliament entitled Cost of Corruption in Developing Countries – How Effectively is Aid Being Spent? shows that, despite an impressive track record of ambitious anticorruption reforms in countries working toward European Union membership, the EU’s overall anticorruption strategy marginalizes efforts to address corruption through development aid. The EU could spend aid more effectively, the report concludes, if it prioritized corruption control in developing countries. The analysis in the report suggests several measures that the EU should adopt to reduce corruption in its development aid programs:

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