What can York's Post-War Recovery Students and Integrity Action learn from each other?

edward.irby Jan 26, 2017

On Wednesday January 18th 2017, Edward Irby and I (Sean Darby) from Integrity Action visited the University of York to give a lecture to students studying an MA in Post-war Recovery Studies. This MA, which focuses on teaching students about development in states which have recently emerged from conflict, is run by the Politics Department. As much of Integrity Action’s work focuses on fragile states and post-war countries the course administrators see an added value in us presenting our work to their students.

Up to 17% of GDP in developing and war-torn countries is lost due to corruption, fraud and mismanagement, thereby affecting vital development outcomes such as access to healthcare, education and social servicesⁱ. The presentation focused on Integrity Action’s work, especially around explaining our Community Integrity Building (CIB) approach in the context of post-war reconstruction. We also elaborated on what it is really like to work in international development, including working in the field, as these students will soon be undertaking work placements in their country of choice.

There was plenty of time for a lively Q & A session and key questions the students asked included:

  • How does Integrity Action work in situations where its monitors could be harassed by government officials;

  • What happens if Integrity Action’s local partners raise an issue which highlights that a project is not being done to its required standard;

  • Do Integrity Action’s interventions potentially open the door for conflict;

  • What if a stakeholder wishes to stop information about projects not being completed from properly coming out?

We explained that Integrity Action’s CIB approach encourages collaboration and constructive engagement. At Integrity Action we believe that working with potential spoilers enables monitors to find solutions to problems instead of isolating stakeholders. We try not to name and shame an organisation or individual, but by collecting detailed information about a problem we can enter a conversation with them in order to find a solution.

A monitor may discover that a contractor, responsible for building a road, was using poor quality materials and/or not completing the project in accordance with the project documents. Accusing them of not doing their work properly may lead to conflict. However, by gathering key project documents such as the contract, project plans and budget the monitor is able to measure how the project was supposed to have been completed. Then, when they have a meeting with the contractor, they can discuss why the project is not to the standard that was stipulated in the contract. Perhaps the problem is a lack of funds, or assistance from the local community may have been promised and then did not materialise.

Whatever the problem was, by gathering evidence, then approaching the contractor in a non-confrontational fashion provides the community and the monitor with a much greater opportunity to fix any identified problems. We measure the success of this approach using the 'Fix-Rate'. This shows the percentage of problems that were identified, that we have been able to fix. Our approach of constructive engagement is what has led to us having such a high Fix-Rate, currently over 50%.

Part of the MA programme requires students undertake a two month placement in a developing or post-conflict state. Integrity Action has previously facilitated placements for students to work with our partners in Kenya, Afghanistan, Nepal and Timor-Leste. This allows the student to experience working in a new environment with a development organisation and conduct research for their thesis whilst there. It also means that we have the opportunity to learn from the experiences of the student, receiving a new perspective about our work.

At the end of the discussion we asked some of the students to provide feedback. This is what they said:

'The presentation delivered by Integrity Action was very helpful in terms of mapping the range of activities within the field of post-conflict development. Questions about internships and volunteering with the organisation were answered in detail, hopefully opening up an opportunity for a few of us!'

'Integrity Action's presentation introduced me to a new and exciting monitoring and evaluation project. This innovative way to undertake monitoring in underdeveloped and developing countries is the step towards an inclusive and successful effort to preserve integrity. Also, Edward and Sean's personal advice on field work was indispensable. I will definitely use them for my own work placement. Thank you!'

Integrity Action has had a relationship with the Politics Department at the University of York for several years now. We hope that we can continue to exchange ideas with the MA students in the future, helping each other to continue to learn.                                           

UN Convention Against Corruption