Corruption, Systems, Power and Learning (March 2022)

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We skipped sharing our open and adaptive reads last month. In addition to being stunned and appalled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the horrors that have unfolded, we were also busy with closing out the current phase of the Global Integrity Anti-Corruption Evidence program (GI-ACE), and disseminating the findings.

There’s been a particular flurry of interest in the research conducted as part of GI-ACE on the role that London has played in providing a safe haven and a laundry facility for kleptocrats’ assets. It’s lamentable that it has taken a war for this issue to gain traction, but we are glad to have been able to play a small role in contributing to policy discussions and policy change.

We have also been investing quite a bit of our time revisiting the question of how we can best add value to the system of actors – frontline actors and more global players – working to address complex challenges relating to corruption, the use of public resources and the delivery of public services, and their political economy dynamics. We’ll have more on this over the coming weeks and months.

Our favorite reads this month reflect the things that have been on our minds. We hope that they provide some inspiration for others’ efforts to understand and address the causal dynamics that too often lead to bad governance, corruption, kleptocracy and conflict.

The Top Reads

  • Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church tops our list with From Talk To Action – a hopeful message about some encouraging signs that she sees in the US Government’s prioritization of anti-corruption. Informed by her groundbreaking work on understanding corruption as a system, and on social norms, corruption and fragility, Cheyanne notes, and encourages, a sharper focus on context, on power, politics and social dynamics, on the value of analysis, on sectoral problems, and on the nexus between fragility, conflict and corruption. Asking for more movement in these directions may be a tall order, but as Cheyanne puts it, “in an unprecedented year of commitment and attention to corruption by the largest actor in the international aid community, we can’t ask for anything less.”.
  • Next on the list is an excellent review of Systems Approaches to Service Delivery: Lessons from health, education and infrastructure by Zahra Mansoor and Martin J. Williams. Developed with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Zahra and Martin’s paper does three things: First, it seeks to define the common core of systems approaches as being about complex interdependence between policies and the contexts in which they play out. Second, it identifies and categorizes different types of systems approaches, with examples from health, education and infrastructure sectors. Third, it sorts through the challenges that these various approaches face as regards efforts to understand impact and effectiveness. Overall, the paper is a bold and important effort to build bridges amongst a range of systems approaches and associated evaluation practices that have often seemed far apart, in order to advance learning about using evidence to improve public service delivery.
  • A third set of publications which caught our eye was from Co-Impact, a global philanthropic collaborative for equitable systems change at scale. As well as providing an update of their Handbook which sets a high bar for providing clear information about funders’ grantmaking processes and ways of working with partners, Co-Impact also put out additional publications on Organizational Strengthening and Learning, Measurement and Evaluation. There’s a lot to like: the fully integrated focus on gender; the strong emphasis on supporting frontline actors; the sharp focus on how the institutionalization, distribution and exercise of power makes a difference; and the value accorded to learning, supported by measurement and evaluation, as a driver of systemic change. As the Handbook puts it: “A system that improves is a system that learns”.
  • Inspired by the work of Rob Ricigliano on getting serious about systems change and frustrated with some of the systems change conversation, Tom Aston’s recent piece on What, so what, now what? points towards some simple questions that people aiming for systems change should ask. What directs our attention to the difference that our actions seem to make. So what encourages us to reflect on how that affects our understanding of the system. Now what leads us to consider how we might act now, given our updated understanding of the system. With the addition of what Tom refers to as the hidden how and the missing why, such questions may provide a simple approach to orient and inform action in complex systems. But then, as someone who has a “Sense → Feel → Choose → Act” post-it over his desk, perhaps I would say that!
  • Last but not least I was excited to see the latest outputs from the Centre for Public Impact (CPI), which has been doing some amazing work on transforming the delivery of public services and reimagining government, and doing this in the collaborative and learning-centered manner that social complexity requires. In addition to explaining how CPI plays the role of learning partner – a role that Global Integrity often plays – associated pieces dive into the details of sensemaking and action-learning. These pieces set out how CPI puts these approaches into practice, combining these complementary and self-reinforcing elements into a never ending, but always progressing, loop of sensing, acting and learning to support the emergence of more human learning systems.

Next month, I plan to review the SOAS-ACE Synthesis Report “Making Anti-Corruption Real: How to stop wasting money and start making progress”. The language is somewhat different from the complexity, systems, power and learning conversations that I tend to gravitate towards, but there are strong overlaps and complementarities. The SOAS-ACE approach to addressing corruption is about understanding systems and their contextually-embedded political economy drivers and then identifying policy reforms that might shift the dynamics of those systems – and the relationships which make those systems what they are – so that they generate better outcomes in terms of anti-corruption, public policy and development. As a teaser, here are my rough notes for the comments I shared at an excellent SOAS-ACE event last week.

If you have any feedback on my missives, and how I might make them more useful and interesting, just drop me a line. My other monthly missives can be found here. If you’d like access to my full Evernote Notebook, drop me a line! I’ve grouped all articles within broader themes and categories such as:

  • Systems
  • Philanthropy
  • Open Data
  • Learning
  • Fiscal Governance
  • AdaptDev
  • Corruption
Alan Hudson
Executive Director

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