October through December ICYMI Event Roundups

Have you missed out on some of our key events the past few months? Here's our takeaways from each and every event we've held this fall from international arms scandals, to fighting election fraud, and breaking through bureaucracy. Dig in, learn something new, and let us know what you think!


Innovations in Addressing Corruption in Bulgaria and Jordan

  1. Many young Bulgarians are increasingly leaving the country to study abroad, and only 1/3 of those who study abroad return. Why? The number one concern is lack of quality of Bulgarian higher education. These lack of quality comes from 3 root causes: lack of accountability and brave management decisions (no sanctioning of poor professors), no response to corruption in the system, and some skills/content being taught that is irrelevant for current labor market. Civil society can play a key role to address: there are 49,000 nonprofits in Bulgaria and over 1/3 focused on education.

  2. In Jordan, the anti-corruption committee in 2006 had a bad reputation so citizens didn't trust it or submit reports of corruption. Recent anticorruption efforts in Jordan have focused on asset recovery, building capacity of bureaucrats to close legal loopholes, but no significant efforts have been made to help citizens raise the demand to eliminate corruption.

  3. Most citizen complaints received by Jordan's TI chapter weren't actually about corruption. This indicated that citizens' don’t have a clear understanding of corruption.Jordan passed whistleblower protection law in 2013 but its not yet effective. Jordan also has a Corruption Act and other good laws on the books, but the challenge is that they are not being effectively or fully implemented. So the citizen education campaign will focus both on Jordanian laws around corruption and international standards on combatting corruption and promoting integrity.

How a Corrupt $3.2 Billion International Arms Scandal was Uncovered

What does it take to uncover an international corruption scandal?

Hear from Ivan Angelovski, an investigative journalist from the Balkans and current Open Gov Hub Community Catalyst, who will tell how he was part of a team that uncovered a $3.2 billion arms trade corruption story, which involved actors in the US, Central Europe and the Middle East.

He will explain how they used open data combined with key tactics - like mining procurement documents and triangulating multiple sources - to uncover this dark shadow world, and how the same methods can be applied to other research investigations on complex issues.

Ivan will summarize key lessons and tools from this experience, especially ones that NGOs can apply to their own policy research and investigative work.

  1. Presenter Ivan discussed how he was part of a team of 20+ reporters working for 2 years across 20 different countries, who unlimited uncovered a $3.2 billion arms trade scandal that was explained in 25+ stories with 1000+ republishings and received the Global Shining Light Award during the Global Investigative Journalism Conference. One of his leads directed him to one photo on Facebook - of a cargo plane found to be carrying weapons from Serbia to Saudi Arabia then Syria - which became the catalyst for this entire effort.

  2. Ivan and his colleagues used open source platforms - like flightaware.com, opencorporates.com, and open procurement data on usaspending.gov and FPDS.gov - as part of this investigation. Key lessons from this experience were: use multiple sources, document each and every step you take (you never know what image/document/detail may hold the key), and get to know the administrative procedures behind the scenes for whatever issue you are researching so you are able to find holes and red flags.

  3. The ultimate violation this project uncovered was the intentional hiding of who the end users of these weapons were. This violates the UN Arms Trade Treaty (which many countries are signatories of, though not the US). The investigation found that these arms were ultimately financed by the US, produced in Central and Eastern Europe, then shipped on paper to places like Saudi Arabia and UAE, but secretly ended up fueling the conflict in Syria.

How Can Bottom Up Approaches Break Through Bureaucracy?

  1. How can advocates of participatory, inclusive development break through bureaucratic hurdles and implement meaningful reforms at scale that translate into improve quality of life for citizens? Through the case studies Dr. Brian Levy (former head of Governance at the World Bank) presented of provincial-level education reform in South Africa, the goal of this book talk was to explore the governance implications of improved service delivery - specifically to see how innovative, bottom up, and participatory approaches can break through bureaucratic hurdles and can add more value than top-down hierarchical reforms. This book, The Politics of Governance and Basic Education: a Tale of Two South African Provinces (Oxford Press) is available for free download here: https://workingwiththegrain.com/downloadeducSA/

  2. Bureaucratic systems (like school systems or otherwise) can get stuck in 2 types of traps that diminish the quality of public services they provide: one is the trap of being fragmented, ad hoc and chaotic; the other, is the trap of being well organized but aligned to process compliance/inertia and therefore resistant to sometimes needed change.

  3. Although one of the 2 South African provices studied for this book had strong bureaucracy, it was far outperformed in terms of education outcomes by its counterparts in Kenya. Why? Because not only did the Kenyan system have bottom up citizen demand for education reform combined with top down bureaucracy structure. Its incredible educational success was also driven by the power of a simple, influential idea engrained in Kenyan society from the 1920s of "all for learning." This made learning an integral part of the public's understanding of citizenship and created a coherent ground for citizens and government co-creating education reform.


Election Integrity in the Digital Age

  1. There are unprecedented concerns about challenges to the integrity of free and fair elections in the US. The essential challenge is: how do you simultaneously have a black box and a glass box for voting? In other words, how do you balance the need to respond to cybersecurity threats with the need to maintain transparency in the electoral process (to ensure public trust in it remains)?

  2. There are several threats to the integrity of elections that we must consider in today's digital age. These election cybersecurity challenges include: misinformation campaigns, foreign influence/intervention, hacking election results and more. One way of hacking is direct hacking of voting equipment (ex: machines) itself, and the other is remote hacking (through any devices connected to the internet). What's more, the typical election administrator in the US is a county clerk with a tiny office and no technical background. These can be up against large, sophisticated digital threats.

  3. The panelists advised a number of ways we should respond to preserve the integrity of elections in the US and beyond - especially given that the US is the only country without a centralized federal election commission that can truly enforce standards (unlike the FEC). Panelists agreed on the value of always having a paper trail for votes, even as more countries move to e-voting. They also discussed the value of professionalized, nonpartisan, state-level election commissions to oversee and enforce norms. Finally, the encouraged active protection of the fundamental right to a secret ballot, which is increasingly under threat in this digital age.

When Community Monitoring Works (or Doesn't): Lessons from Randomized Evaluations

  1. This discussion with guests from the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) offered lessons from randomized evaluations from India, Indonesia, and Uganda and discuss the broader mechanisms they reveal about both the benefits and potential pitfalls of community participation. One is that the evidence base is growing around accountability outcomes of interest, and community monitoring is one example of citizen accountability actions.

  2. Sometimes community monitoring is effective, and sometimes not. Actionable, relevant information seems to be important for community monitoring to be effective. Supporting local action through interventions that do not depend on large-group participation may be more effective.

  3. Some examples J-PAL shared:
    Combating Corruption in Community Development in Indonesia
    Can Informational Campaigns Raise Awareness and Local Participation in Primary Education in India?
    Community-Based Monitoring of Primary Healthcare Providers in Uganda
    Randomized controlled trials are only one of a suite of tools and design options we have to evaluate our programs

Building Multistakeholder Dialogue to Catalyze Governance Innovation

  1. Collaborate for Resilience is a young organization dedicated to building dialogue among groups competing for limited natural resources. They focus first on purpose (shared goal? possibilities? obstacles), then the people (who might support? who might oppose?), and processes (what can you do to address?) needed to enable participants to commit to doing things themselves by the end of the dialogue process.

  2. Typically in the beginning of a dialogue on complex issues like governance of dwindling natural resources, you don't know who are all the key stakeholders who need to be involved. This is why the purpose -> people -> process cycle needs to be iterative.

  3. A conventional negotiation starts with what is each party's self interest, then tries to meet in the middle. Instead, this approach starts with identifying a collective shared purpose that all parties can agree on, then narrows in to specific areas of interest. This approach leverages difference and makes use of constructive conflict of opinions to reach the end goal.


Understanding and Measuring Data Use: Report Launch and Panel Discussion

  1. Too often, data initiatives have donors as the primary customer, rather than country governments. This needs to change

  2. Virtuous cycle from data use - once data addresses a specific government priority that governments can immediately act upon, this unlocks far more government demand for data, and helps governments make more data-driven decisions

  3. $200 million gap? Gallup now performs nationally representative surveys in 150 countries. There is great value in asking how people feel (not just measuring a country's progress based on metrics like GDP). Looking at this data from Gallup polls helps given context for understanding big events, from the Arab Spring to Brexit to the US 2016 Elections and more.

DEMOCRACY DIALOGUE: Pledges to Limit the Influence of Money in Politics

  1. This panel explored successful efforts to limit the influence of money in politics, with case studies from Mexico and the Czech Republic to compare to current efforts around campaign finance reform here in the US. The "3 out of 3" campaign was a highly successful effort in Mexico that combined citizen mobilization with legal and institutional reform to guarantee that political candidates disclose their assets, register their interests, and declare their taxes as the new norm. In 2019, 3 million public servants and judges across the country will now follow these disclosures. The campaign succeeded in making a paradigm shift. Now, all presidential and other candidates are expected to follow this. How did they succeed? They decentralized the message of the campaign early to have many local messengers. They also worked with people's conceptions about politics (even if they were imperfect and less than our ideal as anticorruption advocates). Ex: if most Mexicans assume that politics is transactional, so this campaign encouraged them to ask for a candidate to disclose first if they were asking to buy their vote.

  2. The Reconstruction of the State was a major, multi-year effort in Czech Republic that succeeded in getting the majority of parliamentarians to pass 5 anti-corruption related laws, including on campaign finance. It benefited from good timing, coming after the government collapsed from a Prime Minister scandal. These legal reforms helped reduce small scale corruption, but unfortunately grand corruption players remained unscathed. It was important for the campaign to explain to citizens the difference between government incompetence and actual corruption, because later an oligarch was elected who came to power with a simple message, "I am a successful businessman, so I can run the state better."

  3. Trailblazers PAC supports local candidates in New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere to be 100% transparent about their campaign finances, well beyond the state law requirements. They also support candidates to fundraise from their actual base (rather than from big business or other special interests). Rather than waiting for the national-level campaign finance reform needed in the US, they are working to set a new norm in politics at the local level.

Mapping to Combat Disease Spread: 3rd Annual Mapathon

Summary forthcoming from partner organizer

ICYMINada ZohdyComment