Converting Ideas Into Action: Next Steps for Smarter Crowdsourcing Against Corruption

Over the past eight weeks, The GovLab, in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Mexico’s Secretariat of the Civil Service (Secretaría de la Función Pública, or SFP), held a series of online conferences to generate new, actionable ideas in the fight against corruption in Mexico.

Using The GovLab’s Smarter Crowdsourcing method, a collaborative problem-solving technique pairing the agility and diversity of crowdsourcing with the curation of relevant know-how in a format designed to produce effective and implementable outcomes, the series brought together over 100 global experts from 25 different countries with representatives from the Mexican government and civil society leaders.  These stakeholders and specialists convened virtually to share insights and identify innovative yet practical strategies capable of achieving measurable progress against corruption in six separate challenge areas:

  • Measuring Corruption and Its Costs
  • Fostering Openness and Integrity in the Judiciary
  • Facilitating Citizen Participation in Policymaking
  • Ensuring Whistleblower Support and Protection
  • Increasing the Effectiveness of Prosecution
  • Tracking and Analyzing Money Flows

These six areas were delineated following a rigorous research and evaluation process carried out by the Governance Innovation Clinic at the Yale Law School, created and led by The GovLab’s Director Professor Beth Simone Noveck. Graduate students in the Clinic, along with GovLab Research Fellows, conducted interviews and documented each issue extensively in an effort to define the problem of corruption by its root causes. In turn, the briefs they developed would anchor a specialized online session to focus the invited experts on identifying workable solutions in the form of new policies and services.

Each of the conferences centered around a robust, deliberative dialogue moderated by Professor Noveck between approximately two dozen specialists from multiple disciplines along with the government officials in Mexico who will subsequently be responsible for the implementation of the most promising ideas. The following paragraphs offer a glimpse of the actionable recommendations discussed under each theme:

Smarter Crowdsourcing - Whistleblowing Conference

Experts gather online for the fourth anti-corruption conference on whistleblowing.

Measuring Corruption and Its Costs: The first conference addressed the scarcity of adequate, objective and real-time measures of corruption. During the conference, the experts discussed which indicators should be measured, who should collect this information, what strategies should be used for measuring, and what incentives should be set in place to reinforce accurate and effective measurements. One recommendation was that Mexican authorities, members of academia, and civil society should employ big data tools to capture information from rich online data that already exists.

Fostering Openness and Integrity in the Judiciary: The next conference tackled the issue of corruption in the judiciary, specifically how to increase transparency, reduce undue political influence, and strengthen judicial oversight. Among the potential solutions was the idea to employ technology to enable the public to oversee and participate in the selection, evaluation and removal of judges. In addition, conference participants expressed the belief that digital platforms providing standardized data on the performance of judges and courts could help identify and prevent malfeasance.

Facilitating Citizen Participation in Policymaking: The third discussion focused on the lack of public engagement opportunities in anti-corruption efforts and how to gather permanent and sustained contributions from citizens. Reviewing their experiences using platforms, conference participants suggested establishing a means of communication between the Federal Government of Mexico and its citizens by designing a collaborative online platform that allows individuals and communities to propose, to any government agency, policies and mechanisms to address corruption risks. Participants also discussed a solution geared toward managing citizen participation efforts, where they suggested that Mexican authorities develop a series of materials and events to promote receptiveness of citizens’ input to create, and improve and adjust anti-corruption efforts within the government.

Ensuring Whistleblower Support and Protection: The focus on public engagement was also present in the fourth conference, which focused on a shortage of trustworthy whistleblowing mechanisms. To incentivize reporting, participants proposed the idea of developing secure online platforms that are co-managed by government and civil society organizations to protect anonymity and increase accountability. They also argued that the burden for successful reporting should be shifted from whistleblowers to managers. Accordingly, participants suggested that organizations focus on training managers to respond to disclosures appropriately and provide timely follow-up.

Increasing the Effectiveness of Prosecution: Complementing an earlier discussion about corruption in the judiciary, the next problem considered was the current weakness in the prosecution of corrupt officials and strategies for bolstering the integrity and efficacy of prosecution of public corruption. For instance, a general repository of best practices for prosecuting corruption could provide key references to build solid cases. Additionally, another solution focused on ways of building up forensic data science skills within the office of the prosecutor.

Tracking and Analyzing Money Flows: The final conference addressed the problem of accurately tracking and recording money flows in public procurement and public financing. In order to strengthen the quantity and quality of money flow records, conference participants suggested developing financial incentives to encourage voluntary disclosure of corporate beneficial ownership and other legal entity data. Participants also focused attention on methods of analyzing money flows, and recommended developing customized machine learning algorithms that could run on open data to detect corruption in public procurement. The feasibility of utilizing blockchain technology was also the subject of debate.

Recognizing there is a large gap between a good idea and a workable new public policy or citizen service, the next phase of the Smarter Crowdsourcing project focuses on prioritizing among the innovative proposals, researching the most promising ideas, and developing these ideas into detailed implementation plans that lay out the specific “how to’s” for acting on the selected proposals.


Details regarding the design of the Smarter Crowdsourcing conferences can be found here.