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Designing Corruption Out of The System: Collective Action Through Transformation Mapping

Note:  Professor Juliet Sorensen (Northwestern University School of Law) and Northwestern Law students Akane Tsuruta and Jessica Dwinell are attending the Fifth Conference of the State Parties (CoSP) to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in Panama City, Panama.  See here for a live feed of the States Parties’ discussions.

This post regarding the proceedings is by Akane Tsuruta.

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Companies can be agents of change.  But it is better if they act together, and act with a focus.

Representatives from the World Economic Forum`s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI), the OECD, the Basel Institute on Governance, and Siemens agreed on the need for collective action by companies against corruption and “transformation mapping” as an innovative way to focus their action.

Collective action in the corruption context is a “coordinated, sustained process whereby businesses and their partners jointly tackle the problems of corruption that affect them all.”  To be successful, action requires trust, time, and a joint understanding of the risks and potential areas for change.  But in an area as complex as corruption, companies and their collective endeavors may not know where to start.

Transformation mapping is a method to figure that out.  It “helps companies be more efficient about where to engage in collective action.”  It works by first brainstorming central topics and then radiating outward by identifying related issues, stakeholders, solutions, and challenges, until there is a “constellation” of ideas.  Such a visual may build understanding by illuminating connections and gaps between the various points – areas where company action may be especially impactful.

Yesterday at the CoSP , state delegates and observers tried transformation mapping corruption.  Some ideas that emerged were:

  • Corruption as an interaction between human beings and a system.  Human beings create the system but also react to it.
  • Corruption is the big elephant in the room, and the best way to tackle an elephant is bit by bit.
  • Language is important.  Just like visual mapping may build understanding, visual words may also better aid the emergence of new ideas.  Language may also be an indicator of business and country readiness to engage in real anti-corruption initiatives.  For example, if a company’s compliance officer cannot bear to say “corruption” and prefers “circumlocution,” the company might not be ready to take effective action.
  • Balancing collective action and anti-trust allegations. Collective action among industry competitors may raise eyebrows.  In the course of collective action, company competitors may need to discuss details that would verge on collusion.
  • Effective anti-corruption collective action may be realistically limited to companies who together hold a significant share of their market.  If competition abounds, a small band of small companies may not make a difference – bribe solicitors can just go to someone else.
  • An anti-corruption “tone from the top” should come from business leaders and government leaders, but anti-corruption recommendations should also be sensitive to the real consequences in some countries of “sticking your head above the parapet.”

In an area like corruption, where the target is always moving and adapting, transformation mapping may be a valuable means of gathering experts–whether CEOs or state delegates—and identifying the gaps where corruption may not exist now, but has the potential to spring up like a weed in the future.

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