Notes for Remarks at the Launch of Institutional Integrity Report Washington, DC, November 8, 2018. Courtesy of James Michel.

This study of institutional integrity has been an educational experience for me. I’m grateful to Tetra Tech DPK for providing me with this learning opportunity.

The international community has long recognized that effective governance is important for sustained economic and social development. There is equal recognition that capable, fair, and accountable institutions are essential for effective governance. Awareness of those linkages has broadened the development agenda to place increased emphasis on strengthening the institutions of governance.

But there has been considerable disappointment with the impact of many institution-strengthening efforts. Analysts have attributed disappointing results to inadequate alignment of aid programs with local politics, system, and values. In particular, they have expressed concern about inadequacies of technocratic approaches in addressing entrenched political resistance to change by powerful interests that benefit from weak and often corrupt public institutions.

These concerns have influenced the policies of development organizations, including USAID. In recent years we have seen more iterative and adaptive approaches, more emphasis on local ownership of reforms, greater reliance on local systems, and increased attention to the local political, economic, and social context. There may even be some closing of the gap that has long existed between donor rhetoric about partnership and the actual practice of international cooperation.

The World Development Report 2017 on Governance and the Law reflects this trend. It points out that the reform of weak institutions is often inhibited by local power asymmetries, and it encourages a focus on changing contestability, values, preferences, and beliefs to improve the prospects for broad and lasting reform.

The concept of institutional integrity is closely tied to this emphasis on the local context and readiness for change. It considers how local public institutions can examine their governing policies, their organizational culture, their management and operating systems, and their incentive systems.

And it helps them find their way to become more fit for carrying out their intended purpose, more committed to ethical values and principles, and more attentive to how they are perceived by the citizens they serve.

The underlying assumption here is one about human nature. The premise is that most people find attractive the idea that they can be part of a more efficient, transparent, and accountable organization and they are willing to participate in credible efforts to make this happen.

The report gives particular attention to the corrosive influence of corruption on the institutions of governance. Historically, international cooperation strategies relied principally on efforts to prevent and deter and to detect and punish corrupt behavior. But while those elements of a control strategy are clearly necessary, they are not sufficient by themselves.

The institutional integrity approach includes measures of control and compliance. But it embeds them in a broader strategy that highlights positive values, pride in self and in one’s organization, and commitment to excellent performance.

Research suggests that values, preferences, and beliefs are shaped in a context of social interaction. An organizational culture of integrity that fosters shared values and mutual trust can influence the behavioral choices of people who make up the organization at all levels.

The academic studies distinguish between the integrity of an individual and the integrity of an institution. For an individual, integrity is thought of as “honest and appropriate behavior with consistency between words and action.” By contrast, the integrity of an institution is described more in terms of its overall performance.

One study speaks of institutional integrity as “a quality demonstrated when an organization functions correctly, is robust and legitimate, and is fit for purpose.” Another study refers to an institution with integrity as one that is “earning and sustaining public trust by serving the public interest; using powers responsibly; acting with honesty and transparency; and preventing and addressing improper conduct.” Institutional integrity certainly includes the qualities of individual integrity, but it is far more.

The value of institutional integrity in diminishing vulnerability to corruption is derived from a broad agenda of improving performance, building trust, and influencing the values, beliefs, and behavior of internal and external stakeholders. When a culture of integrity prevails there will be less corruption to deter and detect and there will be better institutional performance overall.

The report describes policies and practices of a number of countries and international organizations. European countries and institutions have developed integrity assessment methodologies and sponsored extensive research. Multilateral organizations have broadened their governance and anticorruption strategies to give greater weight to political economy factors, organizational culture, and local context. For the World Bank, in particular, policy about working with the political dimension of development is clearly evolving.

In the United States, The USAID DRG strategy has a dual focus – on citizen participation and accountable institutions and leaders. USAID programs often integrate anticorruption and institution strengthening objectives in a variety of sectoral programs. Promoting a culture of integrity is part of the Department of State-USAID joint strategic plan. USAID’s emphasis on strengthening both capacity and commitment in its new policy framework fits well with the concept of institutional integrity.

With regard to multilateral organizations, I want to mention the leadership role that the OECD has taken in promoting accountability and effectiveness of public institutions through an integrity lens. The OECD has developed an extensive array of guidance documents and undertaken a growing number of collaborative public integrity reviews of member and non-member countries. These reviews are sometimes followed by cooperative work programs.

The 2017 OECD Recommendation on Public Integrity calls for a comprehensive strategy in furtherance of a society-wide culture of integrity. The related OECD guidance includes behavioral insights about how individuals make moral choices in the social context of an organization. Working along with others toward a culture of integrity affects their value judgments and their behavior.

I think the OECD is right to advocate a society-wide approach. There is broad agreement that successful societal transitions involve achieving a critical mass of leaders, interest groups, and citizens who believe “they have a stake in effective, credible, and accountable governance.” [Alma Mungiu-Pippidi and Michael Johnston]

In particular, I want to call your attention to a new OECD study on Integrity for Good Governance in Latin America and the Caribbean. This report was just published in October at a major conference held in Lima, Peru. In addition to in-depth analysis, it proposes a 10-point action plan for the region. This 10-point plan is a logical beginning for policy dialogue on next steps. Part of the background is reflected in the last major area of my report, which examines is the experience of Tetra Tech DPK in promoting institutional integrity in Latin American during the past two decades.

Initial conversations with interested leaders about their institutional goals and strategies for achieving them led to facilitative support for self-assessments by public institutions. Experience with those assessments indicated that there were four principal recurring and interrelated factors that public institutions should consider:

  1. The norms and public policies that define the purposes of the organization.
  2. The organizational culture that affects how and to what extent human capital is user-
    oriented and performance is based on ethical standards.
  3. The degree of transparency, efficiency, and effectiveness of the management of the
    organization’s substantive process and of its administrative, financial, and audit
  4. The system of consequences that recognizes the merits and the contributions of those
    who make up the organization, expressed through promotions, career development
    opportunities, and recognition or, when appropriate, through application of a fair and
    effective disciplinary system.

Once an organization completes an initial diagnostic self-assessment to identify its challenges and priorities, the next step is to use that assessment to develop a work program with specific objectives and design a monitoring and evaluation system with relevant indicators. A recent innovation, introduced in Mexico, was a certification process in which an external oversight institution determines and then periodically reviews the organization’s performance.

This approach has worked for several reasons:

  • In each case, the organization’s leadership was supportive.
  • In each case, the entire process, from assessment to planning to implementation to
    monitoring and evaluation, has been very inclusive, participatory, and transparent,
    including consultations within the organization and with the public that it serves.
  • The process has been flexible, with Tetra Tech DPK acting in a facilitative role while
    operational responsibility and decision making authority are in the hands of those who
    know best their organization and the political, economic, and social context in which it

I’ve had the opportunity to see this process in action – first in the Dominican Republic in 2007 and this year in Mexico and El Salvador. In each case I’ve been impressed by the enthusiasm and the discipline of the participants, by their awareness of the significance of the changes they were creating, and by their commitment to continue the effort.

I want to take a moment to recognize the intellectual leadership of Bill Davis in the design and development of this successful approach and his moral leadership through his firm belief in our common humanity.

I also want to acknowledge the extraordinary vision and skilled management by Josefina Coutiño, who was Chief of Party in the Dominican Republic and is Chief of Party in Mexico today. I saw her engage persuasively with staffs in participating organizations, encouraging them to do the analysis, share their ideas, select the needed actions, and make the decisions. At the same time, she maintained a productive dialogue with the leaders of those organizations and ensured their sustained involvement, guidance, and support.

The result has been dynamic, locally owned reforms that were sensitive to the local context and driven energetically by people who shared positive values and expectations, had growing interpersonal trust, and showed increasing confidence in their collaborative undertaking.

The report describes the situations encountered, the activities undertaken, and the results achieved in the Dominican Republic, Peru, and Mexico, and are beginning to emerge in El Salvador. These have all been positive experiences during the time that the USAID projects provided financial and technical support. They also created momentum that has continued to some extent after the projects ended, even when political conditions had changed or budgets had been reduced.

However, the benefits have been limited in two respects:

First, for the most part these initiatives have directly affected only selected institutions that were included in aid projects of limited scope and duration. For example, the project in Peru to strengthen integrity in the justice system involved working only with the Justice Ministry and the Prosecution Service, but not the judiciary. The current project in El Salvador is expected to reach 30 of the country’s 262 municipalities.

Obviously, the value of the institutional integrity approach would be multiplied if countries were to adopt it as national policy for public administration with general application. That would also diminish the risk that relatively few selected organizations would be left as isolated islands of integrity, trying to interact with organizations that did not share their culture.

Second, progress at the level of individual institutions needs to be a part of a comprehensive strategy to achieve transformative change at all levels of society, such as the approach proposed in the new OECD report. Other relevant factors beyond institutional performance include economic growth and opportunity, public health and education, an engaged and informed civil society, and the protection of the rule of law.

And so, the report ends with three conclusions:

  • that the integrity of institutions is important,
  • that thoughtful international support for institutional integrity is very worthwhile and
    should be continued, and
  • that the pursuit for institutional integrity should be considered as one part of a
    comprehensive strategy to build a societal culture of lawfulness and integrity.

I’m convinced that institutional integrity in building and maintaining competent, fair, and accountable public institutions is clearly an essential building block in the efforts of societies become more stable, just, and prosperous. I hope this report provides some ideas that can contribute to progress in those ongoing efforts.

View the full report
Institutional Integrity: An Essential Building Block of Sustainable Reform

This report on institutional integrity examines a promising approach for addressing a particular aspect of change: the fundamental need for competent, fair, and accountable public institutions. This includes institutions in the sense of accepted norms that guide public policies as well as the public organizations that give effect to those norms and policies. The report discusses the concept of institutional integrity, how it has been applied in practice, and the potential of international cooperation to contribute to it.

Original resource: Institutional Integrity: An Essential Building Block of Sustainable Reform. Tetra Tek Newsroom, Papers and Presentations. Accessed 5 October 2020 at