In Bribery Experience Surveys, Should You Control for Contact?

Perception-based corruption indicators, though still the most widely-used and widely-discussed measures of corruption at the country level, get a lot of criticism (some of it misguided, but much of it fair). The main alternative measures of corruption include experience surveys, which ask a representative random sample of firms or citizens about their experience with bribery. Corruption experience surveys are neither new nor rare, but they’re getting more attention these days as researchers and advocates look for more “objective” ways of assessing corruption levels and monitoring progress. Indeed, although some early discussions of measurement of progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) anticorruption target (Target 16.5) suggested—much to my chagrin—that changes in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) score would be the main measure of progress, more recent discussions appear to indicate that in fact progress toward Goal Target 16.5 will be assessed using experience surveys (see here and here).

Of course, corruption experience surveys have their own problems. Most obviously, they typically only measure a fairly narrow form of corruption (usually petty bribery). Also, there’s always the risk that respondents won’t answer truthfully. There’s actually been quite a bit of interesting recent research on that latter concern, which Rick discussed a while back and that I might post about more at some point. But for now, I want to put that problem aside to focus on a different challenge for bribery experience surveys: When presenting or interpreting the results of those surveys, should one control for the amount of contact the respondents have with government officials? Or should one focus on overall rates of bribery, without regard for whether or how frequently respondents interacted with the government?

To make this a bit more concrete, imagine two towns, A and B, each with 1,000 inhabitants. Suppose we survey every resident of both towns and we ask them two questions: First, within the past 12 months, have you had any contact with a government official? Second, if the answer to the first question was yes, did the government official demand a bribe? In Town A, 200 of the residents had contact with a government official, and of these 200, 100 of them reported that the government official they encountered solicited a bribe. In Town B, 800 residents had contact with a government official, and of these 800, 200 reported that the official solicited a bribe. If we don’t control for contact, we would say that bribery experience rates are twice as high in Town B (20%) as in Town A (10%). If we do control for contact, we would say that bribery experience rates were twice as high in Town A (50%) as in Town B (25%). In which town is bribery a bigger problem? In which one are the public officials more corrupt?

The answer is not at all obvious; both controlling for contact and not controlling for contact have potentially significant problems: Continue reading

Guest Post: The U4 Proxy Challenge and the Search for New Corruption Indicators

Osmund Grøholt, a research assistant at the Chr. Michelsen Institute and the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, contributes the following guest post:

One of the major challenges that the development community faces in promoting effective anticorruption reform efforts is the difficulty of measuring progress. This challenge has become all the more pressing in light of the explicit inclusion of anticorruption targets as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Unfortunately, many of the most widely-used national-level corruption perception indexes, such as the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index and the Worldwide Governance Indicators control-of-corruption index, are not suitable proxies for measuring anticorruption reform effectiveness.

To help address this challenge, the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre is announcing its second “Proxy Challenge Competition.” The Proxy Challenge Competition invites researchers and practitioners to submit proposals for indicators that can help show the direction of change and the progress of reform efforts, rather than measuring the quantity or volume of corruption per se. Ideally, the proxy indicators should be reliable, intuitive, accessible, and cost-effective.

The proposed proxies will be evaluated by a panel of experienced anticorruption practitioners and academics, and the individuals who submit the two best submissions will be invited to present their proposed proxies at a special session at the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Panama (Dec. 1st-4th, 2016), with travel, hotel, and conference registration expenses covered. In addition, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) will work with the proposal authors to test the relevance and the validity of the proposed indicators, including financial support for a policy paper on the proposed proxy indicators and, if appropriate, developing a plan for testing the proxy indicator for actual reporting in selected countries.

Proposals of no more than 700 words should be submitted to by September 1st, 2016. The submissions should:

  • Clearly define the proposed proxy indicator, and explain why and how this indicator reflects changes in corrupt behavior;
  • Explain how the indicator can be combined with other indicators to obtain a better measurement of overall anticorruption progress, including how the proxy indicator would be useful for different agents (e.g., aid agencies, governments, civil society) for purposes of monitoring and reporting;
  • Comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the proxy indicator, including how they differ with shifting national contexts.
  • Present ideas for how to test the validity of the proxy indicator.

More information on the Proxy Challenge Competition, including a complete list of requirements, can be found here. Additional background reading, including material from the first Proxy Challenge Competition (held in 2013-2014) can be found here and here.

We look forward to your submissions!

Guest Post: A New Additional Indicator for Measuring Progress Toward SDG 16

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

A very interesting discussion has evolved on this blog (see here, here, here, and here), and in the wider world (for example, see here), on about the indicators that should be used to measure progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) goals for improving governance and reducing corruption (Goal 16). There are already some very good suggestions on the table, including the use of Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) to measure progress toward Target 16.5, on reducing corruption and bribery in all their forms. (TI has used the GCB since 2005 to compile one of the largest data troves on the detailed experience with corruption of households and individuals around the world. Using a GCB-type indicator for the bribery dimension of SDG 16.5 is supported by a wide variety of stakeholders, including the World Bank, UNDP, and Save the Children.)

Yet most of the indicators proposed so far, including the GCB, speak to very specific aspects of corruption (such as bribery) and don’t quite do justice to Goal 16’s broad ambitions and its emphasis on public accountability. So to spice up this stew a bit, let me suggest another possible indicator, one that complement to some of the ideas that are already on the table. My proposed indicator of progress toward SDG 16 is as follows:

What percentage of national-level parliamentarians (and perhaps top level members of the executive) have made assets, income, and interest disclosures (AIIDs) in a format that is publicly accessible online at sufficient level of detail, in timely manner, and in a machine-readable data format.

Using AIID as an additional SDG 16 indicator might at first seem to be a step backwards, since such an indicator measures “outputs” rather than “outcomes.” But let me try to convince you that in fact AIID would be an extremely useful complementary indicator for progress toward SDG 16: Continue reading

Guest Post: Connecting Health and the Fight Against Corruption

Taryn Vian, Associate Professor of Global Health at the Boston University School of Public Health, contributes the following guest post:

The recent endorsement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has prompted greater discussion and debate about the most important aspects of, and the most effective means for achieving, sustainable development. Most of the discussion of corruption in the context of the SDGs has focused on SDG 16 (“Promote just, peaceful, and inclusive societies”), which specifically includes anticorruption and related objectives among its targets (and which has prompted some debate on this blog – see here, here, here, and here.) But the fight against corruption is also closely linked to the achievement of another one of the SDGs: SDG 3 (“Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”).

On its face, SDG 3 is about health, not corruption. But the fight against corruption is in fact closely connected to SDG 3, and health professionals need to open their eyes to this connection. Corruption worsens health outcomes in many ways: siphoning off resources that are supposed to be devoted to health care (for example, through embezzlement and absenteeism), increasing the cost and decreasing the availability of medicines and medical equipment (or enabling the spread of fake medicines), creating barriers to use of health services (particularly by poor and uneducated people who are especially vulnerable to bribery) and reducing the overall availability and quality of health services. Thus the fight for increased health ought to be—perhaps must be—seen as inextricably connected to the fight against corruption.

Though measuring the impact of corruption on health is challenging, at this point we have a sufficiently large (and growing) body of evidence that corruption threatens health. Consider the following: Continue reading

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love SDG 16

A few weeks back, I posted a skeptical commentary about the integration of anticorruption into the new Sustainable Development Goals and associated targets, in particular Target 16.5 (“substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms”). Rick was even harsher. The premise of most of my criticism (and Rick’s) was that progress on Target 16.5 was likely to be measured using changes in countries’ scores on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). It turns that this premise was (probably) incorrect.

I had based my assumption on the lengthy report released last June by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN)—a report which had been commissioned by the UN’s Inter-Agency Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDG). But as Transparency International Senior Policy Coordinator Craig Fagan helpfully pointed out in his comment on Rick’s post, the more recent official information released by IAEG-SDG in September 2015 does not indicate that the CPI will be used as the principal measure for Target 16.5. Rather, the IAEG-SDG document lists as the proposed indicator the “percentage of persons who had at least one contact with a public official, who paid a bribe to a public official, or were asked for a bribe by these public officials, during the last 12 months.” (The relevant material is on page 225.) This still isn’t finalized, but it certainly appears that the IAEG is poised to endorse an experience/survey-based measure for Target 16.5, rather than the CPI-style perception index.

Is this perfect? No, certainly not. But it’s a lot better than what I’d feared. A few further thoughts on this: Continue reading

Guest Post: Why We Should Be Excited About SDG 16

GAB is delighted to welcome back Daniel Dudis, Senior Policy Director at Transparency International-USA, who contributes the following guest post:

On September 25th, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs identify development priorities and set measurable targets for progress that are to be met by 2030. They also replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted in 2000 and set to expire at the end of this year. The MDGs were aimed primarily at improving living conditions in developing countries, and focused on reducing extreme poverty and improving health, education, sanitation, and nutrition. Unfortunately, progress towards achieving the MDGs has been uneven at best. Notably absent from the MDGs were any commitments on improving governance or reducing corruption. Given that in most countries, government is the primary service provider for healthcare, education, and sanitation, and that government provides nutrition assistance and sets economic policy, the absence of any commitments to improve governance or reduce corruption was a notable blind spot. Honest, accountable, efficient government is the foundation upon which economic development and improved service delivery are built.

Happily, goal 16 of the SDGs fills this lacuna. Goal 16, which seeks to promote just, peaceful, and inclusive societies, includes (among other governance-related targets) significant reductions in illicit financial flows, progress on the recovery and return of stolen assets, and substantial reductions in corruption and bribery.

It is easy to be skeptical about the utility of ambitious international agreements such as the SDGs. Indeed, Matthew’s post last week, which criticized the Goal 16’s anticorruption targets on the grounds that they are ill-suited to quantitative measurement of progress, and Rick’s post yesterday, exemplify that view. Such skepticism, however, is misplaced. The inclusion of these targets in Goal 16 of the SDGs is an important step forward as it represents a clear endorsement by the community of nations that good governance and the fight against corruption are integral parts of the global development agenda. Continue reading

Am I the Only One Who’s Not So Excited About SDG 16?

This Friday, over 190 world leaders are scheduled to gather at the UN headquarters in New York City for the UN Sustainable Development Summit to endorse a new set of “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) to be achieved over the next 15 years. The SDGs are a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but the SDGs are much more expansive and cover a wider range of topics. Most relevant to the anticorruption community is Goal 16 (“Promote Peaceful and Inclusive Societies for Sustainable Development, Provide Access to Justice for All and Build Effective, Accountable and Inclusive Institutions at all Levels”), and in particular SDG “Target” 16.5 (“substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms”).

There seems to be a lot of excitement among anticorruption activists and reformers about Goal 16 and Target 16.5 (see here, here, and here)—but to be honest, I’m not sure why. Indeed, I tend to think that the formal endorsement of anticorruption as part of the SDGs will do little good, and the inclusion of Target 16.5 might, if anything, be counterproductive. Continue reading