What happens if the pen doesn’t work?

Corruption is a destructive force on development. Promised school material arrives late or never, or is being sold, instead of given out freely to students. When it does get to the student, it might not work properly. Medicine is far beyond its expiration date. Houses, buildings, and schools crumble when an earthquake hits, leaving thousands dead.

What happens if officials of a multilateral bank receive a gift, say a pen, for Anti-Corruption Day - and it doesn’t work?

“I have been trying all morning, and it doesn’t seem to work. I even took the one from my colleague, but the same issue.”

“This can’t be! Will it ever work?”

“Maybe someone wants to tell me something.”

This is just what occurred this morning at the Inter-American Development Bank (my employer). Suddenly groups of people (those that came to work, that is, because of the the snow, ice, rain, you know…) were standing together and talking about the effects of corruption on their projects. People were frowning: they were frustrated, as they actually wanted to use the pen that came accompanied by the message: “We ask you to use this pen today to commemorate Anti-Corruption Day.”

A message, about two hours later, resolved the questions. The key phrase here:

“Working to prevent and control corruption is the responsibility of all of us at the IDB.”

I think this anti-corruption day action by my transparency colleagues at the IDB was a great idea. Much better than the traditional panel discussions. It is as effective as it can get to not only raise awareness, but to show something, that by nature is hidden. Corruption.


For those who are actually wondering on how to use a pen that has no ink cartridge: just put one in from another of those pens that you have been chewing on for a while!


Measurement tools and why we should not be afraid of failing

This guest post is by Juanita Riaño, who has a long-time experience in working on issues of measuring anti-corruption, transparency, and good governance at the World Bank Institute, Transparency International, and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Since I first read about Global Integrity’s innovation fund, TESTING 1 2 3, I have been looking forward to learning about the selected proposals. I have been working on the field of measurement of governance for a number of years now, and I have witnessed the explosion of approaches to gather or produce information intended to advance the agenda. By no means have I thought we have reached the frontier, but I think we are starting to see some diminishing returns.

This morning in her blog-post “tools in search of a problem”, Nicole Anand from Global Integrity was asking us, the blog readers, “Are we at risk of producing tools that yield disappointing results? Or can there be unexpected benefits to them – for example, can a tool conceived to help X end up fixing Y?” I could not resist giving my 5-cents worth of an answer. Of course you are at risk of producing tools that disappoint! That is the whole point of innovation; otherwise you should be talking about replication and/or adaptation.

The governance community should not be afraid of trying and failing. There is so much we can learn from our failures. Of course if, and this is, for me, the important part, we do not sweep it under the carpet but take the time to reflect on it. The worst case scenario would be that thanks to someone else trying and not succeeding, the rest of us would know that under a particular set of circumstances, certain ways of gathering information do not work.

This would save resources –money, credibility, social capital, etc– for many other organizations. The best case scenario, there are unintended consequences that benefit other initiatives. For example, thanks to someone else trying an approach to gather information to improve the participatory budget process, the rest of us could learn that there are tools we can use to inform programs intended to increase parents’ participation in primary schools in rural areas. Not bad, isn’t it?

This does not mean that those of us who work in the field of informed advocacy should stop being critical about our thinking process. When developing tools and approaches to gather or produce information, it is crucial to not forget defining what is exactly what we want to change. It is important to have a clearly defined objective because it is not about gathering information for the sake of gathering it. Nor it is only about trial and error: we need to  take some time to craft a strategy that put us at a point where given our resource constraint, we design an instrument that help us to get closer to whatever it is we want to change.

At the end of the day, I think it is about us being willing to take risks but also not losing sight of the forest. All this to say that I look forward to reading about the ideas supported by the TESTING 1 2 3 Fund.