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.

Why movies about bad people are good: Berlinale Sunday

Let’s start with the highlight: Bu-dang-geo-rae (The Unjust), a movie about bad people and the corrupted system. No one is good, even less those who work on the good side, the Police, the State Prosecution. The rivalry between the police investigator Choi and the State Prosecutor Joo pushes the movie forward constantly and drives each of the characters to the limits of what they are willing to do to save themselves. But they only get tangled up worse.

And I loved it. No character to identify with, no scene that makes you feel like it will turn out well. I fuck you, you fuck me. The testosteron, the anger, the power of images raises hopes for more to come.

As director Ryoo Seung-wan, very cool in his leather fur-collared coat, said after the screening: Whatever you feel about the movie is right. Well, I think everyone should watch it.


A film about being lost, lost in your past and your future, between cultures, between farang and Thai. Main character Ananda returns to Thailand after studying in the US to act in a movie. While feeling a bit lost at times during the movie myself, too many loose ends in the story, director Aditya Assarat manages to catch the feeling of being disconnected from your environment quite well, that sometimes there are no words, or explanations. Where are you at home? Why do relationships end? In Hi-So, Ananda’s relationship to his American girlfriend Zoe ends (or better, phases out) after she visits him on a set for a Thai movie. Probably, she tried to understand more of Thailand than Ananda himself who just continues being the cool guy, giving interviews, having a romance, without commitments. The worst moment is probably the fact that the movie Ananda is doing seems to be completely boring. The best moment is when Zoe visits the beach with one of the hotel staff and he tells her about his trip to the US. But he only made it to the airport of Los Angeles, as he would not get a visa, and he shows her a key fob that he brought back as a souvenir from his trip.

Qualunquemente (Whatsoeverly)

What can I say. It’s trash. If you like trash, you might like this satire of the electoral race for mayor in a small village in Calabria between a decent and law-obiding candidate (Transparency International’s choice), and a corrupting, tax evading playboy (the Mafia’s choice).

It’s fun for the first half hour, but then it gets annoying. Of course, we all wonder how Italian President Berlusconi keeps himself in power despite all his affairs and cockiness. There are numerous references to his scandals in the movie, one for example asking during his campaign speech: “Anyone doubted my sexual virility?”.  But you might just read this good article in the German weekly Die Zeit by Roberto Saviano: Warum lieben viele Italiener Berlusconi?. So of course, much of what people say about taxes, construction permits and women may have a lot of truth to it. But more than a satire it is a trashball comedy, everything that happens is exaggerated, over the top.

If you want an amazing movie about a mayor and how power corrupts you, watch the Mexican film La Ley de Herodes by director Luis Estrada instead.

Missing Berlinale days already. During the week, it’s only Berlinale nights. More tomorrow about Russian movie Mishen, and the Japanese film Byakuyakou (Into the White Night).

my report: working for transparency in Morocco

Rabat Airport. Somehow just another airport, a very small one maybe. I am missing the time when you were travelling and arriving slowly, when you had time to prepare yourself while travelling. Now: Some shimmering lights in the dark. I walk from the plane to the immigration building. I arrive in Rabat, Morocco to put my feet on African soil for the first time in my life. (…)

The report on my time in Morocco is online. Read it here. It is difficult to summarize, select experiences and get a grip on my time in Morocco. Here’s my try. And as mentioned in an earlier post, it will evolve with time.

To discuss our CrossCulture Internship in Morocco, I will sit together with Lena, who did the same programme in Rabat, on a panel at the book fair in Leipzig on Saturday, 14 March, 2pm. The panel is  called “Germany, Morocco and back” and will be moderated by Judith Schulte-Loh from ZOOM Europa/ARTE .

It’s great,  as while I am sure we will have a good time to reflect our experiences, I also have never been on a book fair. I love reading, especially as it allows me to submerge myself into a different culture. In Morocco, I read one of the national classics by Driss Chraïbi “Le Passé simple” (The Simple Past), published in 1954, and I still owe you a review.

The Leipzig fair will be a great opportunity to find some promising German authors for a change.

Luttons la corruption

Luttons la corruption

advent calendar bakery

Things I love to do in the mornings (although I must admit that the image has been taken night-time) in Rabat is passing by the bakery to get myself some sweet bread. Wonderful stuff. I very much like the fillings with almonds, but there is much more. Not to talk about the pastery, amazing. Yesterday, at a seminar organised by Transparency Maroc and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the pastery for coffee break was great. At press conferences, such as yesterday’s by Transparency Maroc, or the one presenting the installation of the Moroccan anti-corruption agency, you usually have tea, coffee and pastery for the journalists. I’d love to be a journalist here for that (for other reason’s I wouldn’t).

13 December bakery

13 December bakery

Anti-corruption day

9 December is also international Anti-corruption Day. Transparency International’s national chapters have organised a multitude of events to commemorate, raise the awareness for the need to tackle corruption, and invite everyone to join events such as cartoon exhibitions in Bangladesh and awarding anti-corruption fighters in Sri Lanka. More information on 9 December and events by chapters can be found here.

Transparency International also launched the 2008 Bribe Payers Index today, exposing the degree to which companies of the leading exporting nations are likely to engage in bribery when doing business abroad.

Also, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has initiated the campaign: “Your No Counts”. I post the campaign slogan in Arabic, as I am in Morocco currently.

And here’s the video to the campaign. Have a look:


Working in Rabat

As I have been telling you all the other things that I am doing here so far, let me tell you a little bit on what I am working on these days in Rabat and what is something like my day-to-day. Both equally important bits to understanding as you might well imagine.

Here I am working for Transparency International’s national chapter Transparency Maroc. The chapter also runs the Observatoire de la Corruption, a project that, in short, monitors national news stories on corruption to identify key areas where the national integrity system fails, and makes recommendations on how corruption in different sectors can be tackled. My main tasks until now have been mostly related to the Observatoire, but also included preparations for the upcoming launch of the national Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre, a centre “providing assistance to witnesses and victims of corruption and provide valuable information about corruption hotspots to drive the advocacy efforts of the anti-corruption movement”. See more detailed information here. For the launch, I am working on the communications strategy.

I don’t really have daily tasks and do mostly individual projects, as well as learn how different a national chapter of Transparency International is structured and works. While there is a surprising amount of awareness and understanding for the need and benefits of professional communications, there are still some  issues that remain to be done. So I am engaged in rather conceptual work, as well as a couple of little things where I can help out, for example with preparing an interactive cd-rom presentation for journalists.

my desk and view

my desk and view

So, a normal day starts with getting up at 8am and getting to the office at 9am, pretty much as I do in Berlin too. Only the way to work is shorter, about 2-3 minutes walking, about two blocks and I am there. When the sun is shining, I stand a couple of minutes standing in the sun before crossing the street. Lately, this moment of my day has turned out to be a little difficult, as it’s been cloudy, cold and rainy. Lunch is around 1pm (as everyone else does), but we don’t have lunch together, so either I go to one of the many places close by to have some French fries and a sandwich, a tajine (to be explained in a later post on the culinary delights), or couscous, on Fridays, or sometimes I pass by the flat to have lunch with Saâd, my room-mate and volunteer for Transparency Maroc. And back home around 6pm or a little later, but usually not as late as in Berlin.

To finish this little post, here’s my working space, an empty table, in a white room. A lot of space for re-thinking approaches.

That’s because the offices have just been moved into and will host the ALAC starting in January, as well as the Observatoire.