Beads - Passion for Facilitation

Capacity development, learning, change, poverty/power/progress

Blog about learning/change, facilitation, systems: small groups and large scale processes, and poverty/power/progress.


Culturally sensitive anti-corruption?

I have lived in different cultures for more than half of my life. It has changed me in many ways; see for instance my blogpost about Facilitator Certification. Not only I have changed, my native country, The Netherlands, has changed too. The Dutch politics are beyond me these days, and I also find people much more stressed. When I stand in line in the supermarket to pay for groceries, there always seems to be somebody trying to get in front of me. Not that I mind. I’m not in a hurry when I’m on vacation in Holland. But I remember from my student time that when you had just a few things in your basket, people with lots of stuff in their cart would invite you to go first. Hasn’t happened to me in years, even though people are starting to address me as 'mevrouw’ (Dutch for madam).

Understanding and working with different cultures is interesting. I have learned a lot from working with Christine Hogan, who wrote a book Facilitating Multi-Cultural Groups. Every now and then, ‘culture’ is in vogue as a development theme, but it rarely comes from technical corners. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to see Brian Pinkowski, an anti-corruption specialist, blog about it.


We Can't Fix Corruption - It's Part Of Our Culture  is a thoughtful piece about tackling corruption, or rather tackling the mindset that it can’t be fixed. Brian argues that cultures change all the time, so it doesn’t hold as an excuse that nothing can be done. For him, the real question is: What must we do to bring about a positive long-term change in government and business culture? The challenge seems to be the willingness to confront the challenge of re-educating an entire corporation, government institution or society.

It made me think of a rule of thumb I use in professional development programs for advisors in international development. It builds on a theory of how people accept 'loss' and then move on. Advisors can help create 4 conditions in which people can build the 'willingness to change':

  1. a great sense of being fed up with the current situation, and realising that you yourself (and your organisation) are part of the problem, and thus part of the solution.
  2. a clear vision about the new situation, your dream of what life without corruption will look like, and describing that in such a way that it almost feels as if it was already there. If you can't see it, you can't begin to believe in it either.
  3. a feasible first step: even though the whole road may not be very clear, you have to start somewhere. So where?
  4. the minimum capacity needed to do it: As long as the resources and skills are missing, people will feel incompetent and cannot get started.

Let’s take Brian’s example where a government official could not agree on using staff assessment, because he feared that the results would insult staff. Yet he knew the performance of his staff was too poor (important, though maybe not sufficient for point 1), and he knew they needed more education to get the performance up to standard (important, though not sufficient for point 2). The first feasible step (point 3), the assessment, was what got in the way.


Creating the 4 conditions for change in the context of anti-corruption work is daunting. I worked with another anti-corruption specialist last year, for the Water Integrity Network WIN. We came up with a design aimed at setting new services standards which could, we argued, affect corruption via the back door of accountability. It’s all about mindsets: what is acceptable and what is not. And that can change with time. And change starts with influential people who can sketch the future without corruption. We found a few in the design process. Time will tell if the design will work.

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