Integrity-building is not the same as addressing corruption. Our FCDO-funded research programme on generating anti-corruption evidence has garnered attention this year due to an increased focus on how governments and institutions can direct practitioner-led interventions around building professional integrity and shifting behavioral norms.
We have developed three major insights this year through the GI-ACE programme’s research on advancing integrity. Several research projects make a distinction between promoting professional integrity and placing deterrents on corruption. Mark Buntaine’s project, Can Positive Public Recognition Lead to Good Governance? has found that “social norms are often the things that control behavior related to corruption, rather than top-down compliance.” He posited that a prospective offer of social recognition for those doing good work is “different from a retrospective award to those who are already showing integrity”, and might improve service delivery and governance efforts.
Social norms play at least as great a role as potential penalties (if not even greater) in an individual’s willingness to engage in corrupt activity, and interventions should therefore seek to address and change behaviors, rather than simply rely on codes of ethics or other compliance policies. Claudia Baez Camargo, another GI-ACE investigator, researches corruption in Tanzania’s medical sector. Her approach to building integrity looks at the behavioral factors driving professionals, such as the promise of gaining social status or respectability. These drivers are often “even more important than financial incentives”. Ultimately, “social norms and social networks define what is acceptable in different circumstances. That is the implication for integrity-focused professional training. They may be convinced through workshops and reflection that corruption is wrong, but social norms can be moved towards corrupt behavior”. She has sought to explore how working within established social networks may be an effective strategy to instigate attitudinal change.
Building integrity among professionals requires adapting interventions to address the specific social contexts and shared ethics across sectors, sub-sectors, and groups of professions. Dieter Zinnbauer, a researcher with the Cities of Integrity project, suggests that promoting professional integrity among urban planners may be an effective strategy to stem corruption in urban development in Southern Africa. He has hypothesised that “integrity is built when you’re involved in something bigger” and that integrity itself can serve as an intrinsic driver of happiness. However, it is important to be aware of potential risks. A video produced by the project and showcased at the panel, describes the challenges and opportunities posed when “activating” the integrity of a “professional community [with] a strong shared identity, continuous training and that runs its own ethical infrastructures”.
While there was consensus among panelists to advocate for integrity-building approaches, some emphasized the importance of measuring the possible consequences of offering recognition to individuals. When working with groups of professionals, it is important to adapt the intervention to the industry. For example, in the medical industry, doctors may feel that they “have to be corrupt in order to save lives”. Whereas in the military, personal and professional integrity-building is embraced due to a strong culture and pervasive set of norms. Aside from sectoral differences, identity groups based on class, geography and gender can play a significant role in determining how effective a civil servant may be in advocating for change. There is value in disaggregating corruption (and anti-corruption mechanisms) not just by sector – but even by groups within sectors, identifying and understanding their incentives and drivers.
There is potential to improve integrity-building work by working with professionals on the front line of their industries. Front-line delivery agents, such as teachers, may feel the impetus to address corruption in their day-to-day, but rarely have the opportunity to impact anti-corruption policy that might typically get “pushed up the chain” and occur on a superintendent or ministry level. However, they are the channels through which these policies would be carried out.
Recommendations from the IACC panel include:
- Civil society organizations, NGOs, and practitioners should consider addressing corruption among civil servants by engaging with their sense of integrity and understanding their specific social and normative context.
- It is important to build indicators for this work and to track changes over time. Anti-corruption NGOs and practitioners should work together to strengthen their relationship with academics to ensure resources can be easily shared among both groups. Funders and projects, such as FCDO’s GI-ACE, can serve as a bridge between these two groups.
- Project leads should work to ensure there is a mechanism to monitor and measure the effectiveness of integrity initiatives over time.
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