False Dawn, Window Dressing or Taking Integrity to the Next Level? Governments Using ICTs for Integrity and Accountability - Some Thoughts on an Emerging Research and Advocacy Agenda
17 Pages Posted: 29 Oct 2012 Last revised: 19 Nov 2012
Date Written: October 19, 2012
Governments enthusiastically embrace technologies as central cornerstones of initiatives to tackle a wide variety of corruption issues that affect public bureaucracies. Yet, high hopes and expectations stand in contrast to a limited and mixed evidence base and little systematic monitoring and advocacy by civil society to critically accompany related technology implementations and to ensure that they perform effectively in stamping out corruption.
This article explores these challenges in a bit more detail and presents some ideas on how to start addressing them. Section 1 sets the scene by providing a brief overview of how pervasive, serious and difficult to fix the problem of corruption is.
Section 2 gives a sense of the very exuberant hopes and expectations that ride on new information and communication technologies to evolve into a game-changer in the fight against corruption.
Chapter 3 describes the immense scale and scope of governmental ambitions to deploy ICTs for deep reforms of political and administrative systems. It then zooms in on four concrete application areas where corruption risks are particularly rife and detrimental and where governments are particularly focussed on deploying ICT solutions with the express (although not exclusive) aim to tackle corruption. These four areas are electronic reforms in public procurement, judicial case management, tax administration and ID card systems. For each of these areas, examples of technology applications, a first overview of the empirical evidence base on impact and the status of related advocacy and monitoring by civil society are discussed. This section also summarises this first scan of evidence and engagement, arriving at a mixed picture. Some early positive evidence confirms a beneficial potential, yet other studies and lessons from technology adoption more broadly point to high risks of failure or inefficacy. Overall the evidence base is still very limited and inconclusive and critical engagement by civil society in this area is still in its infancy. This means, the extraordinary excitement, ambition and governmental action on deploying ICT as a major weapon in the fight against corruption stands somewhat in contrast to empirically-justifiable expectations and an overall still limited understanding of what design principles, implementation strategies and civil society engagement could make success more likely.
In section 4 the paper then speculates on the reasons for this peculiar mismatch and finds some capability constraints and, equally important, a convergence of interests by different stakeholders to engage in some wishful thinking and believe in the extraordinary potential of technology for integrity.
Chapter 5 moves from diagnosis to remedies and proposes a more in-depth and systematic approach to map these disparities more comprehensively and identify the most critical gaps as well as priority entry points for stepping up research and engagement.
Chapter 6 concludes by suggesting a first list of the most important research questions that would have to be broached, in order to build the empirical knowledge base for effective advocacy in this area. ICT has an enormous potential to tackle corruption. The four application areas that are briefly reviewed are only a small part of this, many other applications from mobile payment systems to computer-administered education tests also fall into this category of government technology use for integrity. But much more close scrutiny, critical appraisal, learning, careful design and constructive engagement by civil society is required to fully unlock this potential. Both the good governance and the technology communities should take note and work together for making this happen.
Keywords: corruption, accountability, integrity, technology, electronic government, e-government, electronic procurement, civil society, electronic ID cards, e-taxation
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