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Countering Corruption: Don't Believe The Data

Organisations are using data to counter corruption. But is this really the way to eradicate unethical behaviour?

...leadership, social dynamics and faults in technology are the main factors that can perpetuate – and help tackle – corruption in the workplace

Author profile

Tatiana Martinez holds a PhD in Information Systems from LSE’s Department of Management and an MSc in Comparative Politics (Democracy) from LSE’s Department of Government. She completed a BA in Business Administration at the Escola Superior de Propaganda e Marketing in São Paulo, Brazil. Prior to coming to the LSE, Tatiana worked for several years in the technology industry for companies such as Cisco Systems and Verizon.

Tatiana’s research has been primarily focused at how public institutions invest in technology in order to become more transparent, accountable and responsive to citizens’ needs and requirements.

Full story

Currently there is an overreliance on technology to combat corruption. By providing data on their operations, organisations supposedly increase their level of culpability, which helps counter claims of corruption.

But when it comes to unethical practice, technology alone is not transformative.

Tatiana Martinez, a PhD graduate from LSE’s Department of Management, has conducted research into transparency and corruption within organisations. She found that leadership, social dynamics and faults in technology are the main factors that can perpetuate – and help tackle – corruption in the workplace.

“Transparency has been hailed as one of the main mechanisms to combat corruption, because it supposedly increases levels of accountability,” Tatiana explains. “However, my research shows that this isn’t case and that implementing transparency alone doesn’t make a difference.”

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According to Tatiana, there are three factors to consider in cases of corruption:

1.  Organisational power structures and how unethical leadership normalises corruption

2.  How information is shared through social dynamics

3.  Issues with technology and how this can contribute to the distortion of information

So, what can you do to fight these issues?

Lead by example

“Changing culture is a top-down endeavour,” says Tatiana. “My research confirms what had been found previously: leadership sets the tone for how the rest of the organisation behaves. When leadership behaves unethically, the rest of the organisation does as well – through a process which we call moral disengagement.” Despite the dominant view that power is abused for personal gain, Tatiana argues that staff often have very little to get from behaving immorally. Instead, they are simply following the trend.

Change social and cultural norms

In practical terms, leaders need to confront the culture of the organisation. Tatiana’s research shows how employees will often claim their operations aren’t corrupt and will find ways to justify it. As a result, she says: “Organisations should invest in training programmes aimed at identifying corrupt and unethical practices and changing behaviour. There should also be channels created for employees to come forward with complaints about what they perceive to be unethical.”

Question the tech

Despite being used to increase transparency, technical systems themselves can be a source of supporting corrupt practices. Humans still lead on the production of the data, who themselves could be corrupted. Also, it’s often only the final piece of data which is shared publicly, as opposed to the process of how it is collected. “Systems should be developed in closer partnership with the final users themselves, as opposed to being centrally deployed with little input from those using these systems on a daily basis,” Tatiana explains. “This would allow technology to become a more effective tool in the battle towards tackling corruption.”

In a time where data seems to rule, it would be wise to consider the role that people can have overcoming organisational corruption.

Read Tatiana’s thesis

Discover more about Tatiana Martinez