Friday, July 2, 2010

Corruption is a big problem ... but system change can make a big difference!

Dear Colleagues

Corruption is a big problem ... it is global and essentially everywhere. People keep calling for an end to corruption, but it never happens, and will not happen until there are some system changes made in the way society organizes itself.

Narayana Murthy, Chairman of the big IT firm Infosys in a recent speech suggested that corruption in government could be reduced with "e-governance" ... using IT to help to address the problem. This might help at the margin ... but, I would argue, the promotion of e-governance seems also to have some large component of self interest coming from the head of one of the largest IT firms in India, if not the largest!

My own take on the system change that is needed is rather different. The way data are compiled, stored, analyzed and reported are not suited to an elimination of corruption ... essentially data which ought to be powerful are rendered useless simply because critical data can easily be suppressed when it suits those that control the data.

Imagine if this data system were used in the sporting world ... any time a team is losing, the data gets lost and nobody ever knows the results of the game. This is a ridiculous idea in sport ... but it is essentially pretty much how the world makes its big decisions and the basis for holding leaders accountable for their decisions.

The concept of using community focus data as the locus for data acquisition and performance analysis is the key to systemic change ... together with the idea of value accounting as well as money accounting. Organizations being in charge of resources, decisions, performance, metrics and reporting is a system without any control ... and is going to be abused. Not surprising, therefore that there is abuse ... and corruption. Simply by adding another flow of data about socio-economic performance ... the flow of data from the community perspective ... and ALL data flows become more likely to be valid and serious.

Until quite recently this has been technologically impossible ... or at least very difficult ... but not any more. Expect more dataflows to emerge ... and then better data and better data analysis ... and then better decisions and less bad behavior ... more progress and less corruption. This is paradigm change that we should believe in! Stay tuned!

Peter Burgess

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