Integrity, Goulash and Hot Baths
Last week I attended the Tiri Leadership and Management for Integrity course at Central European University in Budapest. Through a series of plenary sessions, discussions with guest speakers, and policy labs, we were exposed to a wide range of thinking on aspects of integrity, accountability and transparency. The course was truly global- participants came from all over the world- from Ghana to Georgia, Kenya to the Kyrgyz Republic, and Palestine to the Philippines.
Contexts and manifestations may differ, but lack of integrity and accountability are universal problems. Indeed, one of the functions of corruption is that it can create stable systems with interests that perpetuate the status quo. Often, the issue is not that citizens do not understand corruption or require help diagnosing a lack of integrity- it is that they do not have the tools to address it in adequate ways. The useful and encouraging part about the conversations in Budapest was learning about the varied approaches participants are using to tackle these problems.
For example, one issue that has become clear is that information must be provided to and used by interested parties in digestible forms. Information is the tool through which accountability can be leveraged.Verbose reports and dense statistics do not allow citizens to engage coherently on the core issue- whether power-holders are being responsible for the use of their power. Building on the great data visualization work of www.7iber.com in Jordan for example, it is important that we continue to innovate on this issue. Technology can fundamentally alter the way in which citizens can engage with institutions of all types- but only if the information it gathers and disseminates can be condensed into coherent blocks and delivered through engaging mediums.
The need for and nature of ethical leadership in contexts of weak governance was a further theme that seemed to resonate with participants.The argument was rightly made that “integrity builders” must not only be committed to public interest, competent and incorruptible, but must also demonstrate “institutional intelligence” in order to precipitate, manage and navigate change. This relates to the political-economy dynamics of reform, and the reasons why sound technical solutions to problems of accountability often fail in practice. The question is how to create this institutional intelligence, as it is experiential in nature and is difficult to teach- and equally, of course, “toxic leaders” can also use this same knowledge to work around or undermine institutions.
All of this is related to how best to understand and measure the effect that specific interventions can have on accountability and integrity- too often correlation is confused with causation and systems and processes dictate objectives, rather than the other way around. Human reflexivity and externalities of specific actions are often not considered or measured, and sustainability of programming is in many cases questionable. As Tiri understands, these are difficult issues- and discussing the problems with integrity leaders from all over the world is certainly a sound way to begin the process of developing answers. Doing it in a beautiful city with natural hot baths and great food helps a bit too.