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Martin Zapata: When we say ‘Collective Action,’ what do we mean?

In the tireless quest for effective anti-corruption measures, Collective Action (CA) can be a promising approach. The core principle of CA is that joining forces can boost effectiveness of anti-corruption actions and, even more, level the playing field for those involved.

Common examples of Collective Action are integrity pacts, anti-corruption declarations, and business certifications.

To assess the current state of affairs in the Collective Action field, a team of researchers from Bolivia, India, and Russia at the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA) gathered and analyzed information on nearly 230 Collective Action initiatives around the globe.

Our sources were databases and publications by international organizations, research institutions, and the CAs themselves. To understand CA initiatives, we first considered the basic elements of project management, such as planning, organizing, implementing, and monitoring/evaluating. In the second, and most challenging stage, we contacted CAs, sent questionnaires and, where possible, conducted interviews with CA managers. In spite of the research limitations, we arrived at some interesting insights.

We found that a major issue was the vagueness of information and misuse of the concept of CA. Although there are no precise standards, a single meeting or training activity hardly meets the criteria for CA but is often labeled as such. In our study, 22 percent of the initiatives touted as CAs were in fact training activities or meetings.

We also found that more than 50 percent of the CA initiatives we analyzed did not have clear objectives. In some cases the objectives were not stated at all, and where they were, statements were often broad and ambiguous, which made it difficult to understand the specific purposes of the initiatives.

Most CA initiatives surveyed had a clear management structure. Yet more than 50 percent of them did not include any information about their monitoring and evaluating mechanisms. These results show the need for a more structured implementation process within CA initiatives.   

Although Collective Action is a relatively novel approach, certain criteria should be satisfied for an initiative. Minimum requirements of project management (planning, organizing, implementing, and monitoring/evaluation) should be utilized.

Objectives of the CA (planning) should be clearly defined before starting activities. They will form the roadmap to follow.

Structure (organizing) sets the working framework and coordination mechanisms. A solid structure will contribute towards effective implementation. Specific activities (implementing) translates the CA to practice.

Cataloging CA activities is difficult, since this depends on the particularities of each case. However, these activities should have a level of formality and be conducive to achieving the stated objectives.

Finally, the CA framework should include a mechanism for measuring the effectiveness of the activities (monitoring/evaluation), which will be used to re-organize, maintain, or improve the initiatives.

The research conducted at the International Anti-Corruption Academy shows that as Collective Action continues to gain momentum in the fight against corruption, it is time to clearly understand what this tool is about. This should help advance the structured implementation of Collective Action initiatives to enhance the great potential of this anti-corruption tool.

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Martin Zapata is Research Associate in the Compliance and Collective Action Department at the International Anti-Corruption Academy. He has served as an expert and consultant for UNODC, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and the Bolivian Ministry of Transparency. He can be contacted here.

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1 Comment

  1. Dear Martin, thank you for the article, which we have read with great interest.
    Many examples for Collective Action can be found on http://www.siemens.com/integrity-initiative as well as some more information on http://www.siemens.com/collective-action

    Background: On December 9, 2009, Siemens launched a global Siemens Integrity Initiative which supports organizations and projects fighting corruption and fraud through Collective Action, education and training with over US$ 100 million. Our Initiative focuses on supporting projects that have a clear impact on the business environment, can demonstrate objective and measurable results and have the potential to be scaled up and replicated.

    With best regards, Sabine Zindera


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