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A “Fix-Rate” for Corruption: Integrity Action Wins the Google Global Impact Award

BY Rebecca Chao | Friday, June 14 2013

“From wanachi (“citizen”) to up there,” Emmanuel Dzombo explains with an upward sweep of his hand, is how Integrity Action has begun to reverse the bureaucratic top-down approach that has often blocked development work in Kenya. Dzombo is a local leader in Chengoni, Kenya, a country that ranks towards the very bottom of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index – at 139.

The organization believes it could do more, and Google.org seems to agree. The Google Impact Challenge will provide the charity with £500,000 that will allow it to develop a mobile application for tracking and collecting data from citizens.

When traditional, top-down methods fail to make sure projects in fields like education, health care or infrastructure are completed, Integrity Action steps in. The organization teaches citizens how to report on failures in social service delivery and gives them the tools to participate in the local political process by raising media awareness and spearheading advocacy campaigns. Integrity Action announced that over the next 18 months, it will “train over 2,000 community monitors in seven war-torn countries and help citizens fix 50 percent of problems in public services and infrastructure projects.” The project aims to reach half a million people.

For example, Integrity Action will look at the number of monitored infrastructure programs in Afghanistan and try to increase the percentage of those that are completed.

Helping citizens track the progress of social service and development projects can create dramatic changes. The small town of Naryn in Kyrgyzstan suffered from a waste collection system that only covered certain parts of the city. After Integrity Action implemented community "integrity building" – allowing citizens to voice their concerns and monitor the progress of their local officials – the government doubled the number of garbage trucks, installed 250 more dumpsters, and created a map of collection points that could be publicly accessed.

By measuring how often problems are actually resolved, community members can more actively participate in local governance and address the crux of the problem, like an unusable road, a broken water pump or a school without books. Aid and development money are often wasted – around 25 percent – due to corruption or mismanagement. For every $1 that USAID spends on food aid, 32 cents are wasted due to Washington politics that favor interest groups over the beneficiaries. For example, food must often be purchased from preferred growers instead of those that offer the best price or types of food.

A mobile application would augment the ability for people to document and share problems. But there are still several challenges that a mobile application will not address. First, the metric Integrity Action is using — the number of accountability problems, or "fix-rate" — can be misleading. If only a small number of problems are identified, say five, resolving three problems would provide a whopping 60 percent fix-rate. Integrity Action needs to qualify its fix-rate and as it admits, explain the types of problems resolved and how much money was spent. A high fix-rate might also mistakenly lead stakeholders to believe that public service delivery is improving when in reality there were simply many easily resolvable short-term fixes.

A second challenge is the difficulty in defining a “fix.” Getting a deeply impactful and sustainable fix that also covers vast swaths of the developing world is incredibly challenging – the question is how to determine when enough has been done without undermining the impact of small fixes. In the case in Kenya, of rampant sexual abuse of students by teachers, Integrity Action notes while it targeted only one teacher, it set an example, had great social impact because it disrupted a pattern of corruption among local police officials, and would trigger greater change in the future.

While the use of mobile technology to track data is not particularly new, it is still ground breaking for those in developing countries who have never had the opportunity to take governance in their own hands. At the end of the day, when non-profits and government shut their offices for the day, it always goes back to the “wanachi.”

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.