16. April 2018

Key takeaways from Transparency International’s new guide on civil society and anti-corruption Collective Action

How can more civil society organisations get involved in anti-corruption Collective Action, and in what capacity?  These are the questions that Transparency International addresses in its new publication, Collective Action on Business Integrity: A Practitioner’s Guide for Civil Society OrganisationsThis Guide is a succinct, easy-to-read, and practical tool for civil society organisations (CSOs) to better understand what anti-corruption Collective Action is and the important –  and diverse – roles they can play in supporting multi-stakeholder approaches to corruption prevention in varied environments.  

The Basel Institute on Governance’s International Centre for Collective Action advised Transparency International at various stages of the Guide’s development and shared its expertise based on the work it does as facilitator to several anti-corruption industry sector Collective Action initiatives and from its advisory, research, and analysis work with many of the initiatives that are part of the B20 Collective Action Hub database

Of the Guide’s many insights and contributions, there are three that merit highlighting here. First, one of the most important contributions of the Transparency International Guide is its analysis of the four different types of CSO involvement in anti-corruption Collective Action, namely, CSOs’ roles as:

  • initiator
  • facilitator
  • participant / contributor
  • monitor 

The Guide quite rightly notes that a CSO can play multiple roles in various stages of a Collective Action’s development.  But distinguishing these roles and highlighting the pros and cons of involvement in each stage helps underscore the various ways that Collective Action can get started and evolve. 

For example, in some environments, anti-corruption CSOs might be looking for new tools or approaches to address corruption and might play the initiating role in approaching private and/or public sector actors to come together and commit to a multi-stakeholder process of corruption prevention.  This is the case in Transparency International’s Business Integrity Country Agenda (BICA) project which includes an initial research phase on the state of business integrity rules and practices in a given country with a multi-stakeholder advisory committee and a subsequent collective action phase to collectively implement the resulting policy recommendations and tackle existing integrity gaps.

In other instances, by contrast, private sector competitors might want to engage in a dialogue to improve anti-corruption compliance standards in their industry sector, but need a neutral third party to pre-empt antitrust concerns, as well as bring expertise in a facilitating role. Some Collective Action initiatives take the form of classic multi-stakeholder governance initiatives – such as the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative, or the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative – in which civil society is a necessary counterpart whose inputs provide credibility to the initiative and communication channels to citizens.

Some CSOs (in many instances Transparency International chapters) monitor actors’ compliance with anti-corruption commitments made in a Collective Action initiative.  This role not only puts a CSO at the centre of a Collective Action with powers and responsibilities to oversee its execution, such as by monitoring an Integrity Pact, but also raises risks: if stakeholders fail to abide by the conditions of an Integrity Pact, the CSO may face difficult decisions about whether to withdraw from its role to protect its reputation.

Second, the Transparency International Guide opens debate for further elaboration on the questions – what is civil society and who belongs to it? – as pertains to anti-corruption action.  There is no universally accepted definition of “civil society” and the concept is subject to subjective interpretation. The Transparency International Guide endorses a definition of “civil society” by Civicus, a global alliance to promote citizen action and CSOs around the world as: “an arena outside the family, the state and the market that is created by individual and collective actions, organisations and institutions to advance shared interests.” On a spectrum, this definition classifies CSOs as representing citizens’ interests – be they individual or collective vis-à-vis the state and private sector. But who then can decide what is a shared interest?

Following Civicus, the Transparency International Guide does not consider business associations as part of civil society. However, it acknowledges that business associations play an important role in facilitating many Collective Action initiatives from which good practices applicable to CSOs can be learned. The Guide’s case study on the Egyptian Junior Business Association’s Integrity Network Initiative is a good case in point on this.

Does the definition of civil society therefore matter for Collective Action? It does in the sense that an organisation’s vision – whether it is to represent citizens’ views and advocate for a particular position or rather to provide neutral and independent expertise – will influence what kind of role in Collective Action a CSO will seek to engage in and be effective at.  Likewise, the private sector and/or government will also reach out to involve a particular CSO as facilitator or moderator of a Collective Action initiative based on its perception of that CSO’s objectives and means of work.  There is certainly more research and analysis to be done in teasing out good practices with respect to the various roles and effectiveness of different types of CSOs in different kinds of anti-corruption Collective Action as a follow-up to the TI Guide.

Finally, a third strength of the Transparency International Guide is its emphasis on project management as integral to CSO engagement in anti-corruption Collective Action.  The Guide outlines several key steps to engaging in Collective Action, underscoring the importance of stakeholder mapping, ongoing risk assessment, SMART objective-setting, and real-time monitoring and evaluation.  It provides pragmatic, if sobering, tips on the time it usually takes for Collective Action initiatives to launch and produce tangible results.  It is a helpful reminder to all actors, whether already engaged in or embarking on anti-corruption Collective Action, of the positive effect that good project management can have on the evolution of an initiative.  It also provides questions to help CSOs determine if a particular context is ripe for Collective Action, or if separate awareness-raising or outreach activities with government and business stakeholders are needed first to set the stage for future Collective Action.

The Transparency International Guide will hopefully spark not only further discussion, debate, and analysis but also more action and engagement on the part of civil society organisations of all stripes around the world to better understand and engage in anti-corruption Collective Action as an important tool for corruption prevention. 

Read the guide: Collective Action on Business Integrity: A Practitioner's Guide for Civil Society Organisations

Mirna Adjami