Challenge review

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All three steps of SFRA entail review, evaluation and challenge. Politicians, leaders and managers will be experienced in evaluating the issues and the options: reviewing the expected impact, the risks, the available timeframe, the likely support, the likely opposition, the costs involved, the feasibility, the disruption involved.

However, reviewing corruption reduction strategies are also different from normal programmes. SFRA proposes that this leading should review the options by challenging them in the following ways:

Challenge dialectically

To avoid having  a long list of desired actions in your strategy, force the choices. This is where you ‘pick the right battles, ignoring lesser objectives’. SFRA helps to narrow down the choices that you have through a dialectic approach: offering contradictory choices which you then choose between, knowing your own situation. Here are ten dialectical choices:

1. Incremental progress or large-scale change?

2. Preventive strategy or disciplining strategy?

3. Prioritise fighting corruption or building integrity?

4. Focus on daily corruption or high-level corruption?

5. Engage the public immediately, or keep public expectations low? Engage closely with the media, or keep them at arm’s length?

6. Narrow focus, such as on a single reform, or broad?

7. Substantive reforms or giving people hope?

8. Substantive reforms or improving monitoring?

9. Improving service delivery or on saving money?

10. Controlled execution of the plan or permitting multiple paths to reform?

Challenge politically

You are likely to know the political context, but it can be valuable to consider this in more granular detail. Who may be gaining from each corruption issue, and why?  Who might gain and who might lose from reducing corruption in this specific area? What are the sources of leverage are there for the reform group? What advantages might they have that they can use?Argument over the gaining, losing and sharing of benefits is the essence of politics. The argument and the resistance is all the greater when the benefits are illicit ones – ‘rent-seeking’, in the language of economists.

Sometimes, doing a Political Economy Analysis (PEA) helps to address these issues, and lays them out in a structured way, so as to help decide which corruption types to address and how. Reformers can do such an analysis themselves, or can commission someone to do it more formally. There are many guides available, such as those from Hudson et al. (2016), ESID (2015) and Whaites (2017).

The supposed need for ‘political will’ is generally an unhelpful way to frame any strategy for change. Whilst strong political support is a benefit, it is still a remarkably hard task to implement corruption reform. Even where you do not have top-level political will, each sector will still contain many people committed to working for reform and to improve outcomes. The purpose of the strategy-formulation process in such situations is to identify ways to progress despite the lack of top-level political commitment. Reformers have shown that tactical reforms can occur successfully under conditions of limited political will, even in the most unfavourable situations of endemic corruption or violence, such as the improvements in public procurement in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

The impact of national regime type

Examine the differential influence of regime type across sectors

Examine whether the features & incentives of the sector are fully reflected in the options

Political will considerations

The political value of very small first steps

The opportunities posed in times of major disturbance to the social equilibrium

Better understanding the types of power in shaping an environment

Maximising collaborations and coalitions of parties with different interests

Test the options against your sources of advantage

Challenge the plans

Work up the options to check if the plans are feasible

Review flexibility

Be clear about your timeframe

Skills, motivations & diversity

The match with the political skills of your team and collaborators

Leveraging emotional motivations to build support

The strength of family ties is an important shaping factor

Test with diverse groups, especially women and youth

Challenge Programme Management

When engineers have a large task, such as building a ship or a power station, they plan the work into many small projects, each of which is individually managed. The engineers then manage the totality of these projects as a single ‘programme’, with one master plan of how all the individual projects fit together, depend on one another, and so on. Each separate project – which for our purposes is an individual reform – might be managed in quite different ways: for example, a project to implement technical changes to IT systems will be managed quite differently from a project to strengthen the values of the organisation. This is ‘Programme management’. Programme management approaches are routinely used for managing organisational change programmes in government.

Managing a multitude of small projects in a coordinated way is a formal skill in its own right, so do approach this with respect as many programmes fail due to poor execution. There is plenty of guidance available on how to run a good programme, which we summarise only briefly in this section.

Common errors in programme management

A clear definition of the purpose, value and scope of the programme

Full-time project personnel

Programme management and control

Programme Governance

Programme ownership

Engaging with stakeholders

Tracking results and benefits

Two programme implementation tools

Challenge governance & alignment

Strengthening the initiative using formal mechanisms in government and among stakeholders

One of the lessons learnt about tackling corrruption is that to do corruption reforms ‘on their own’ is usually a recipe for failure. At the very least, they should be embedded in the organisation’s overall programmes. Usually it makes sense that they be included in larger cross-organisation alignments. A good exammple is the sector-specific reforms that form part of the UK Government’s National Anti-Corruption Strategy and how they are drawn into the overall coordination (HM Government 2020). Note, though, government coordination mechanisms can be so  labyrinthine, and/or predestined to fail, that it may be better to stay outside of them.

You will normally expect to have a greater chance of success and more sustainability if your efforts are aligned to the wider government effort. This is especially the case if the government has got a broader anti-corruption plan running and is pursuing progress on it across multiple sectors.

A comprehensive government-wide anti-corruption strategy would embrace national, sub-national and sector strategies, as per the diagram opposite. Ideally your sector strategy would fit cleanly into an overall structure along these lines.

But on the whole, government anti-corruption efforts across ministries are not well aligned. In such cases you could also consider setting up an informal coordinating forum across Ministries.

Decide whether cross-government alignment is a worthwhile effort

Take advantage of any central cross-government coordination unit

Strengthen alignment with major government policies

Strengthen alignment with other stakeholders


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