Guest Post: How Tendering Practices By Anticorruption Research Funders Undermine Research Quality and Credibility

Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church and Diana Chigas, of the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University, contribute the following guest post:

Early last week, the Transparency International (TI) Secretariat in Berlin circulated an Invitation to Tender with a title that grabbed our attention. Framed as part of a commitment to “the highest standards of accountability, organizational effectiveness and learning,” this tender described a “Research Review and Evaluation of Anti-Corruption Work Assumptions: Grievance as a key determinant of people’s anti-corruption behavior.” The email that accompanied the tender suggested an exciting and needed inquiry into assumptions that drive anticorruption programs funded by the international community—on a topic that is closely related to some of our research team’s work on corruption in fragile states  (see here and here). That TI was interested in funding a project of this sort was encouraging: Testing core assumptions, after all, is central to learning and should be a fundamental element of effective programming. We were also heartened by the fact that TI sought comparative analysis, and would give preference to counterfactual analysis over experimental designs—suggesting an interest in the type of qualitative inquiry that is necessary to penetrate the dynamics of corruption as a complex system.

Our initial enthusiasm turned to dismay, however, by the time we finished reading the Tender. The reason may seem prosaic, even banal: The time-frame for submitting proposals and for the work itself. To our knowledge the Tender was circulated the first week of July, applications are due August 5th, work is to start August 29th and be finished by October 31—with a budget for 30-35 working days. At first, that may not seem like such a big deal—and we recognize that it might seem like we are merely griping about our team’s inability to meet the application and project deadlines for this tender. But this is not about any one tender or any one research team. Rather, the practices embodied in—but by no means limited to—this particular tender are in fact representative of larger problems in the world of anticorruption and development evaluation research, one that we suspect may be familiar to other researchers. In particular, two problems in particular stand out. Continue reading