14 Jul 2014

The Invisible and the Immeasurable: Towards Alternative Indicators of Corruption

How suitable are current measures of corruption in terms of forming anti-corruption policies? From 26-27 June, anti-corruption researchers including many from the ANTICORRP project came together for a colloquium convened by Alena Ledenva (UCL) and Nicolas Sauger (Sciences Po) to hash out the usefulness of old indicators and the promise of new ones.

The colloquium convened a cross-sector group of participants, including: academics (Monika Bauhr, Quality of Government Institute; Thomas Cantens, Centre Norbert Elias; Paul Heywood, University of Nottingham; Danica Prelec, MIT; Richard Rose, University of Strathclyde; Allan Sikk and Roxana Bratu, both from University College London), practitioners from the business and banking sectors (Ksenia Craig, Tina Fordham) civil society activists (Joy Saunders, Integrity Action, Elena Panfilova Transparency International Russia). Governance specialist Francesca Recanatini from the World Bank joined the debates in a one-hour video conference.

As participants discussed, the definition of corruption is currently too generic, and many argued for more nuanced definitions while taking into account the scale of the corruption problem. Future more sophisticated definitions would potentially rely on three key dimensions of corruption: need vs. greed, proactive vs. reactive, petty – administrative vs. political corruption.

One unintended consequence of what sociologist Saskia Sassen refers to as the ‘informalisation’ of global economy is that the existing indicators of performance and change are becoming less effective. Also, what researchers refer to as the ‘contemporary global corruption paradigm’, with governance indicators and multiple indices have not only been unable to solve the problem, that is actually reducing corruption, but they have also flattened the corruption landscape, treating corruption problems the same even if their national and cultural contexts are different.

Colloquium discussants suggested shifting from aggregate, perception-based measures and instead focusing on three key elements: costs of corruption, informal networks and questionable practices and the unintended consequences of anti-corruption policies. The alternative measurements could rely on innovative tools such as cartography, mapping or network analysis. Digital media was identified as important tool that could help researchers understand and reveal new forms of corruption through crowd sourcing and self-reporting. Corruption measurement tools could also be improved through triangulation of opinion-based approaches with standardized corporate and market measures (e.g. S&P ratings, CDS spreads, political risk premia).

Such shifts in the measurement of corruption suggest a move from ‘corruption’ to ‘integrity’ that facilitates policy actions focused on building fairer societies. In this context, rewarding integrity, promoting good behaviour become key policy interventions based on bottom-up local interventions.

A key research question for the ANTICORRP project involves assessment of current indicators and exploration of new ones. In February of this year project researchers Mihály Fazekas and István János Tóth won the U4 Proxy Challenge for development of new indicators of corruption in public procurement processes. They have since presented their work to the World Bank.

Recently published ANTICORRP research also backs up the need for more nuanced definitions of corruption. The first ANTICORRP milestone report revealed a disconnect between what corruption perception survey respondents identify as corruption and statistics, ie, respondents in countries with low reported incidents of bribery report perceiving high-levels of corruption. Researchers have uncovered that these perceptions in fact relate to favouritism that is the lack of a level-playing field necessitating that one have connections to accomplish bureaucratic tasks or to get ahead.