Actionable Reform Approaches

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This is the political, judgemental part of the strategy formulation exercise

It starts with how to shape the overall approach. Would it be most effective to mainstream the anti-corruption improvements within a larger improvement initiative? Or to adopt an incremental approach, keeping the anti-corrruption measures below the political radar? Or tackle just one vital aspect of the corruption problem so as to concentrate effort and have a visible result? Would the organisation’s output be better if the overall anti-corrruption approach was framed as integrity-building, as confidence-building, or directly as confronting corruption?

This is about how to best navigate the local circumstances, so as to have the best chance of helping to deliver the overall objectives of the organisation. The actionable reform approach will be more political, more contextual and more time-bound than individual measures.

SFRA sets out eight possible actionable reform approaches. This list is not comprehensive – circumstances will always be too complex for that – but they direct reform leaders towards a set of possibilities from which they can adapt and extrapolate.

i) Broad approach

A broad approach is when a wide set of anti-corruption measures are to be adopted. This may be because the organisation, or the public may be clamouring for action against corruption; or when the leadership believes that a strong and broad anti-corruption drive is necessary. The downside is that they are hard to manage, hard to motivate diverse groups of actors, and prone to run out of energy. They are also a favourite tool for those who wish to appear active but actually desire to subvert the initiative; their insight being exactly that the initiative will either collapse under its own weight, or run out of steam.

ii) Narrow approach

The narrow approach avoids the above problems and is generally more likely to have a measurable impact. In the public sector, this approach is safer, given the frequency with which ministers can be replaced. Limited time in office does not stop ministers from working hard to have a positive impact against corruption in their ministry: either from a genuine desire to see improvement, or because they were being pressed hard by the president or chief executive to deliver promised improvement. Pyman’s observations from Afghanistan was that many of the reform-minded ministers had thought hard about how to reduce corruption in their ministry/sector and were implementing well-chosen narrow strategies. What was most interesting was how greatly the chosen strategies differed from one ministry to another. See Pyman (2019a) for more detail.

iii) Low profile approach

There are many environments where it can be counter-productive to emphasise corruption issues, or to draw attention to the fact that the reform measures are aimed at tackling corruption. For example, some anti-corruption reforms in Saudi Arabia have been successful partly as a result of hardly mentioning corruption, yet implementing tough measures that would be categorised as anti-corruption in most other contexts. See, for example, the description of the reforms to the recruitment processes by the Saudi private sector company AEC in Pyman (2019b). In situations where the political regime is hostile, low profile reforms are likely to be the only ones that will be tolerated, or be safe to implement.

iv) Multi-party collaboration

It is almost a cliché today that corruption reforms have to involve several parties; in the jargon of the anti-corruption world, these are called ‘Collective Action’ initiatives, as exemplified and curated by the work of the Basel Institute of Governance (2020). Cliché or not, it can be helpful to think whether an approach that starts from the concept of multi-party action may be the best route to success. A good example was the collaboration of very diverse groups that led to the passing of the ‘Sin Tax’ in the Philippines that addressed corruption issues in tobacco as well as the health issues (Sidel 2014).

v) Rapid and Radical

Occasionally the political timing – whether external politics or internal politics – is ripe for a rapid, radical change. Hence this option should always be on the list of possible actionable reform approaches, even if it can only rarely be used. This was the approach taken in Georgia in relation to police sector and education sector reform (see Heywood and Pyman 2020, Pyman 2020).

vi) Signature-issue approach

One of the dilemmas of corruption reform is that the more fundamental changes, typically technical, adminsitrative or organisation reforms, take a long time to come to fruition, carry the risk of running out of energy, and have little public visibility. Therefore, in order to maintain public and organisation support for change, it can be advantageous to lead with something different, and to make this different issue the main lead element of the actionable reform approach.

vii) Bundling approach

This approach, described in the companion paper to this one (Heywood and Pyman 2020), is a deliberate bundling of specific reform measures where each individual reform will be seen through a polarised political lens. Well understood by politicians, such an approach may allow the package of reform measure to be approved even whilst individual ones are strongly opposed by particular groupings

viii) Keeping-up-hope approach

Also outlined in Heywood and Pyman (2020), this may be a suitable approach in highly hostile environments. The purpose is not to have material impact – almost by definition the reforms would be shut down if they did have an impact – but to continue to give hope to those working in the system that change is still being contemplated and that they should not despair.

Developing the options both as overall approaches and as specific measures allows for more granular consideration and debate on ho  best to proceed. The two levels do, of course, sometimes overlap. For example, even though a wide range of specific measures can be identified in response to the individual corruption issues, the context may mean that only a few low profile reforms can be considered. Conversely, specific integrity-building measures may form the bulk of an overall approach that stresses the importance of integrity.

Approaches in high corruption environments

Most of the material and guidance in this website assumes that you have some reasonable degree of freedom to initiate reforms. But, how does this change when you believe that your own leadership cadre – above you or at the same level as you – are all corrupt? There is much experience about the difficulties of addressing corruption in high-corruption environments, but little constructive guidance. Whilst some of the strategic choices may be similar to those above, there are other choices that are more specific to high corruption environments. What sort of strategy do you devise when the corruption is so endemic and so all embracing that there seem to be no avenues for hope at all? We lay out some thoughts and experience for you to consider about making at least some progress against corruption within individual sectors in this environment.

High corruption environments: Six thoughts on ways to progress


Developing an overall strategy: Bibliography

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