Some Reflections on the Meaning of Anticorruption “Success”

Last month, we had a spirited debate in the anticorruption blogosphere about the conceptualization of corruption, academic approaches to the study of the topic, and the relationship between research and practice. (The debate was prompted by provocative piece by Bo Rothstein, to which I replied; my critical reaction prompted a sur-reply from Professor Rothstein, which was followed by further contributions from Robert Barrington, Paul Heywood, and Michael Johnston.) I’ve been thinking a bit more about one small aspect of that stimulating exchange: How do we, or should we, think about evaluating the success (or lack thereof) of an anticorruption policy or other intervention? I was struck by the very different assessments that several of the participants in last month’s exchange had regarding whether the anticorruption reform movement had been “successful,” and this got me thinking that although part of the divergence of opinion might be due to different interpretations of the evidence, part of what’s going on might be different understandings of what “success” does or should mean in this context.

That observation, in turn, connected to another issue that’s been gnawing at me for a while, that I’ve been having trouble putting into words—but I’m going to take a stab at it in this post. My sense is that when it comes to defining and measuring “success” in the context of anticorruption reform (and probably many other contexts too), there’s a fundamental tension between two conflicting impulses: Continue reading

Guest Post: Succeeding or Failing… at What?

Today’s guest post is from Michael Johnston, Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Colgate University:

A bracing and long overdue debate has surfaced recently on this and other blogs, focusing primarily upon the issue of whether anticorruption efforts have failed but also raising important questions about definitions, theory, analytical methods and—not least—the norms of scholarly discourse. Entries by Bo Rothstein, Matthew Stephenson, Robert Barrington, and Paul Heywood offer searching critiques and a number of cautionary tales that I will certainly take to heart.

The discussions raise many more questions than I can analyze in this short discussion, but as for the issue that launched the exchange—whether many or most anticorruption efforts have failed—my answer is to raise another question: How would we know? To that I add a critical follow-up: If we were to see significant success, what might it look like? The first question, I suggest, has no single clear-cut answer, and never will. As for the second: In my view success would not revolve around levels of corruption, but about the prevalence of justice. Continue reading

Guest Post: Contesting the Narrative of Anticorruption Failure

Today’s guest post is from Robert Barrington, currently a professor of practice at the University of Sussex’s Centre for the Study of Corruption, who previously served as the executive director of Transparency International UK, where he worked for over a decade.

I have read with great interest the recent exchange of views between Professor Bo Rothstein and Professor Matthew Stephenson on the academic study of corruption and anticorruption. As an anticorruption practitioner who now works within an academic research center, I was particularly struck by how their exchange (Professor Rothstein’s initial post, Professor Stephenson’s critique, and Professor Rothstein’s reply) surfaced some extremely important issues for anticorruption scholarship, its purposes, and its relationship to anticorruption practice.

I find it hard to agree with Professor Rothstein’s analysis, but this is before even looking at his points of difference with Professor Stephenson. My main beef with Professor Rothstein’s analysis is with his starting assumption of widespread failure. Like so many prominent scholars who study corruption, he proceeds from the premise that pretty much all of the anticorruption reform activity over the last generation has failed. He asserts that “[d]espite huge efforts from international development organizations, we have seen precious little success combating corruption,” that anticorruption reform efforts have been a “huge policy failure,” and sets out to explain “[w]hy …  so many anti-corruption programs [have] not delivered[.]” Professor Rothstein then offers three main answers, which Professor Stephenson criticizes.

In taking this downbeat view, Professor Rothstein is not alone. The scholarship of failure on this subject lists among its adherents many of the most prominent academic voices in the field. Professor Alina Mungiu-Pippidi has framed as a central question in corruption scholarship, “[W]hy do so many anticorruption reform initiatives fail?” Professor Michael Johnston asserts that “the results of anticorruption reform initiatives, with very few exceptions, have been unimpressive, or even downright counter-productive.” Professor Paul Heywood, notable for the nuance he generally brings to anticorruption analysis, asserts that there has been a “broad failure of anticorruption policies” in developing and developed countries alike. And many scholars proceed to reason backwards from that starting point of failure: If anticorruption reform efforts have been an across-the-board failure, it must be because anticorruption practitioners are doing things in the wrong way, which is because they are proceeding from an entirely wrongheaded set of premises. The principal problems identified by these scholars, perhaps not coincidentally, are those where academics might have a comparative advantage over practitioners: use of the wrong definition of corruption, use of the wrong social science framework to understand corruption, and (as Professor Rothstein puts it) locating corruption in the “wrong social spaces.”

That so many distinguished scholars have advanced something like this assessment makes me wary, as a practitioner, of offering a different view. But I do see things differently. In my view, both the initial assessment (that anticorruption reform efforts have been an across-the-board failure) and the diagnosis (that this failure is due to practitioners not embracing the right definitions and theories) are incorrect; they are more than a little unfair, and potentially harmful. I want to emphasize that different take should not be considered as an attack on eminent scholars, but a genuine effort to tease out why, when presented with the same evidence, some academics see failure, while many practitioners see success. Here goes: Continue reading

New Podcast–Part 2 of Interview with Mushtaq Khan and Paul Heywood

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. This week’s episode is the second part of the two-part interview that my collaborators Nils Köbis and Christopher Starke conducted with Professor Mushtaq Khan and Professor Paul Heywood (both of whom, in addition to their academic work, serve as programme directors for the “Anti-Corruption Evidence Programme” (ACE) sponsored by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID)). In this episode, Professors Khan and Heywood discuss a range of topics, including the role of social norms in corruption/anticorruption, the kinds of research we need (and don’t need) more of, the role of new technologies (blockchain, digitization, etc.) in fighting corruption, measurement challenges, and the role of corruption in populist narratives.

You can find this episode here. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

 

New Podcast, Featuring Mushtaq Khan and Paul Heywood

In all the chaos of last week’s COVID-19 developments, I neglected to announce that a new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is was published back on March 22. In this episode, the first in a two-part series, my collaborators Nils Köbis and Christopher Starke, sit down with Professor Mushtaq Khan and Professor Paul Heywood to discuss a variety of topics, including the complexities of the relationship between corruption and development and the “Anti-Corruption Evidence Programme” (ACE), an initiative sponsored by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) to strengthen the knowledge base for anticorruption initiatives. Professors Khan and Heywood are both ACE programme directors, and they describe the philosophy and core themes of the ACE project, and some of its work so far. The conversation also discusses more generally critiques of traditional approaches to anticorruption in developing countries, and alternative approaches and perspectives.

You can find this episode here. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

New Podcast Episode, Featuring Paul Heywood

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In this week’s episode, ICRN members Nils Köbis and Anna Schwickerath interview University of Nottingham Professor Paul Heywood about a range of topics, including the ways in which corruption subverts justice, how Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index helped put corruption on the global agenda, what academic researchers in this field have been doing too much (“admiring the problem”), and what new an dbetter questions scholars should be investigating in order to figure out how to combat corruption more effectively.

You can find this episode, along with links to previous podcast episodes, at the following locations:

KickBack is a collaborative effort between GAB and the ICRN. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends! And if you have suggestions for voices you’d like to hear on the podcast, just send me a message and let me know.

An Interesting Collection of Corruption Posts at the Public Administration Review’s Blog Symposium–Worth a Look!

The Public Administration Review recently published a blog symposium on corruption, edited by Liz David-Barrett and Paul Heywood. (As some readers might recall, GAB published the announcement and call for submissions last April.) The broad-ranging symposium includes an impressive lineup of contributors and a diverse set of topics–and in keeping with blogging norms, the pieces are short and to the point, and often provocative. Worth checking out. You can find the full table of contents at the link in the first line of this post, but I’ll also copy it below so readers can jump directly to posts that look particularly interesting:

Corruption: A Bully Pulpit Symposium

Introduction

  1. Why re-think anti-corruption? An introduction to the symposium, Elizabeth Dávid-Barrett and Paul M. Heywood

A systems approach to corruption

  1. Learning to understand corruption as a systemic problem, Johannes Tonn
  2. Eradicating Corruption: You Can’t Just Pin Your Hopes on Democracy, Elisabeth Kramer
  3. Informal networks: the invisible drivers of corruption and implications for anti-corruption practice, Claudia Baez-Camargo, Saba Kassa and Cosimo Stahl
  4. What ‘hidden’ success stories tell us about anti-corruption policy and practice, Heather Marquette and Caryn Peiffer
  5. Pressure to change: a new donor approach to anti-corruption? Phil Mason

Broadening the definition of corruption

  1. Fighting corruption through strengthening financial integrity: Reflections on Pakistan’s experience, Tom Keatinge and Anton Moiseienko
  2. Add women and stir? Exploring the gendered dimension of corruption, Rrita Ismajli and Miranda Loli

Moving away from compliance-based, regulatory approaches to anti-corruption

  1. Fighting Corruption with Insights from Behavioral Science, Johann Graf Lambsdorff
  2. Focusing efforts and blurring lines: the OECD’s shift from ethics to integrity, Sofia Wickberg
  3. Rethinking corruption risk management for global health programmes: from compliance-based approaches to informed programme design, Sebastian Bauhoff, Sarah Steingrüber and Aneta Wierzynska
  4. Interpreting anti-corruption within a public ethics of accountability, Emanuela Ceva and Maria Paola Ferretti
  5. Using a social norms approach to tackle corruption in Nigeria, Abdulkareem Lawal

New roles for the private sector in tackling bribery and corruption

  1. Market for Bundles: A New Stage of Foreign Anti-Bribery Enforcement, Branislav Hock
  2. Towards a system of compensation for the victims of foreign corruption, Friederycke Haijer
  3. Public/private partnerships – an opportunity or risk for anti-corruption? Nick J Maxwell
  4. Communicating with SMEs on anti-corruption, Brook Horowitz and Jan Dauman
  5. Charting a New Path of Anti-Corruption in Africa: Bringing the Private Sector in from the Cold, Tahiru Azaaviele Liedong

Engaging more local and community partners in anti-corruption

  1. “Bottom Up” Corruption Prevention, Jennifer Widner and Tristan Dreisbach
  2. Look beyond the nation-state: Local-level success stories may reflect different power dynamics, Tom Shipley
  3. Nuevo Leon’s Anticorruption System: Taking Stock of an Ongoing Experiment in Fighting Corruption at the Local Level, Bonnie J. Palifka, Luis A. García and Beatríz Camacho
  4. Can Customary Authority Reduce Risks of Corruption and Local Capture? David Jackson and Jennifer Murtazashvili
  5. Every Penny Counts: Exploring Initial Strategies for Successful Open Contracting Initiatives in Challenging Environments, Tom Wright, Eliza Hovey and Sarah Steingruber
  6. Empowering Agents of Change, Phil Nichols

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

Announcement: PAR Blog Symposium on “Corruption and Anti-Corruption in the 21st Century”

Here at GAB we’re always thrilled to see more useful discussion of corruption-related issues in the blogosphere. I’m therefore delighted to announce that the Public Administration Review is organizing a special “blog symposium” on “Corruption and Anti-Corruption in the 21st Century,” and is soliciting contributions from anticorruption experts. The symposium editors, Liz David-Barrett and Paul Heywood, provide the following overview of the symposium theme and the sorts of contributions they’re looking for:

It is a quarter of a century since the launch of the global anti-corruption NGO, Transparency International. In those 25 years, corruption has become a major focus of academic research, while seeking to curb corruption has become a core preoccupation of ever more international organisations, national governments, dedicated agencies and civil society groups, as well as an issue with which the private sector increasingly engages.

Yet many question what has really been achieved and bemoan our seeming inability to distill research and experience into effective lessons for action. Scholars and practitioners alike complain that they lack channels through which to share ideas and learning, and that all too often their respective agendas and insights fail to connect. And many international organisations, including the World Bank, IMF and OECD, are reassessing their approaches. This blog symposium seeks to develop an open and engaged dialogue to facilitate learning.

We invite scholars and practitioners to contribute posts on the topic of Corruption and Anti-Corruption in the 21st Century, which:

  • Showcase new approaches to understanding and tackling corruption.

  • Share learning about how change can be encouraged, achieved and sustained.

  • Exchange ideas on how to evaluate the impact of anti-corruption interventions.

Those interested in contributing should submit a proposal/abstract by midnight GMT on April 27th (two weeks from today); the proposal should not exceed 150 words, and should outline the main argument and examples to be discussed. The submission should also include a brief bio of the author(s), not to exceed 100 words. Please send your proposal by email to e.david-barrett@sussex.ac.uk and Paul.Heywood@nottingham.ac.uk, and mark the subject line “Blog Symposium Proposal.” The editors will invite 20 authors (or author teams) to contribute, and will notify the selected authors on May 11th. Invited authors should submit their completed blog posts (1200 words max) by June 1st, and shortly thereafter the blog posts will then be published in an online symposium hosted by the Public Administration Review.

Here at GAB, we look forward to reading (and perhaps responding to) what we’re sure will be a set of insightful and provocative contributions in this symposium.