The Case for Systems in Corruption Analysis

By Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church

In this blog post we share a new video we created to reach those who are too busy to question the effectiveness of their current approaches, too invested in conventional methodology, or work in organizations that resist new ideas or – to be fair – reject our premise. Is the video clear and compelling? Could you imagine using it? With who and for what?

Anyone who has been following the Corruption in Fragile States blog series knows by now that we (the Corruption, Legitimacy and Justice team and Central Africa Accountable Service Delivery Initiative teams) think systems thinking, offers practitioners a more useful way to analyze corruption dynamics in fragile states.  In the last year we have spent much time reaching out to the policy and practice communities explaining our rationale and offering to present our research.  There have been two fairly consistent types of responses; no response! and warm welcomes.

When we hit the sweet spot of individuals who have an immediate need e.g. new strategy design or policy review and are simultaneously frustrated with past programming – they have been willing to give us the time to make our case.  This generally produces more follow-up and engagement with the team.

However there has been a second set of people who have no interest in a four-hour presentation or 50-page document that uses words like dynamics and complexity multiple times a page.  (Can you really blame them; systems language can be a barrier in itself! ) This group is either too busy to question the effectiveness of their current approaches, too invested in conventional anti-corruption methodology, or work in organizations that resist new ideas or – to be fair – reject our premise.  Within the government donor world specifically, in addition to this myriad of reasons we also found the fact that we were working on the nexus of two sectors – corruption in the criminal justice sector – as a significant deterrent to engagement.  As a nexus issue – it suddenly became no one’s issue.

What did we do?

So for this audience, and all those who work with this audience –  we made a short and (hopefully) snappy video.  In under four minutes we explain why systems thinking generates a more useful analysis of corruption.  Using short examples from our research in the criminal justice sector in Northern Uganda, the video:

  • explains the difference between a systems-based analysis and conventional corruption risk mapping,
  • offers a key distinction around enablers and drivers of corruption, and
  • describes ways to use the corruption systems map once in hand.

It is our hope that a video, with its easy to share and visually engaging medium will start to make inroads into this second category of key anti-corruption actors.    If you want to know more about the results of our Uganda research; the blogs (herehere and here) or the full paper are available.

Who else might find this video useful?

We also think the video has the potential for use in academic courses or professional training on corruption analysis or anti-corruption programming.   As a very short synopsis of a complicated set of ideas, it may respond to the always difficult challenge of getting professionals to do preparatory work prior to a training event.  Moreover, the audio-visual elements respond to different learning styles so it could be offered in conjunction with written resources/reading assignments.

Finally, we think the systems community could use the video to show the application of systems thinking to a specific topic.  As systems is a burgeoning field that is slowly making inroads into more traditional donor and implementing agencies, our hope is that a short overview grounded in a real-life scenario may highlight the practical potential of the approach.

What I learned about transitioning text to video

For those who are considering generating alternatives or supplements to written products, video production offers a world of learning.   From picking the voice-over accent and gender that will lend the most credibility to the content, to figuring out appropriate visuals I learned a lot about communication.   If I could do it again, I would use shorter sentences in the voice-over script and have taken far more thoughtful and high quality pictures when we were on the ground doing the research.

In terms of accessing and then influencing our core audience – those who are busy, not yet convinced or not willing to engage in a long-complicated document; well you tell me.  Is the video clear and compelling?  Could you imagine using it?  With who and for what?

Your feedback will help us as we make choices going forward on form and structure of our products. All input is much appreciated!


About the author

Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church is Principal at Besa: Catalyzing Strategic Change, a social enterprise committed to catalysing significant change on strategic issues in places experiencing conflict and structural or overt physical violence. She has significant experience working on anti-corruption and state legitimacy in the DRC and Uganda. As a Professor of Practice, she teaches and consults on program design, monitoring, evaluation and learning.

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