SUMMARY: Getting to Accountability: A Framework for Planning & Implementing Anticorruption Strategies

In “Getting to Accountability: A Framework for Planning & Implementing Anticorruption Strategies,” Matthew Taylor discusses the difficulty of fighting corruption and introduces an accountability framework that can be applied broadly. In an examination of failed anticorruption attempts, Taylor argues that the most successful approaches focus not on extensive structural changes or narrow institutional changes, but rather on accountability and the implementation of incremental, strategic changes that are re-evaluated as circumstances change.

Taylor argues that a direct focus on corruption is too narrow, and that encouraging accountability among actors leads to more success because the widespread involvement of government officials, institutions, and society results in “answerability”. Accordingly, the government is required to practice honest and fair behavior, and society is given the ability to monitor governmental actions and impose sanctions if the government submits to unethical influence. A focus on accountability reduces the possibility of corruption because of the range actors involved, and incentives to hold each other responsible. Taylor introduces an accountability equation:


Accountability = (Transparency + Oversight + Sanction) * (Institutional Effectiveness – Political Dominance).


In explaining the effect of applying this equation across a variety of structures and circumstances, Taylor compares the successful and lasting anticorruption efforts of Sweden to the ineffective and short-lived efforts of Italy. For example, in the mid nineteenth century Sweden responded to military failures by strengthening their institutions, encouraging civil participation, and by monitoring government behavior, which in turn resulted in parties answering to each other, and over time, and with re-evaluation of polices, significantly reduced levels of corruption. On the contrary, while Italy’s anticorruption movement after the end of the Cold War prompted the investigation of over six thousand individuals and an emergence of new judicial figures led to more change than had previously been accomplished, efforts eventually died off. The public lost faith in the investigation because powerful and corrupt officials continued to influence legal change, citizens were not encouraged to participate, and the government was not held accountable, preventing any real change from occurring.

While Taylor argues that a focus on accountability produces the most lasting results, he recognizes that this shift may take time and discusses the importance of a move from a negative equilibrium—where there is lack of trust and high levels of corruption—to a positive equilibrium—in which the government practices ethical and fair behaviors and encourages citizens to participate democratically. Taylor also recognizes that there will be transitional periods along the way, and during these times there must be constant re-evaluation as progress is made. Furthermore, he argues that a proactive approach at predicting future obstacles is key to success, and the biggest problems should be attacked first to prevent stagnation and ensure growth.

In summary, Taylor suggests that the most successful attempts at fighting corruption incorporate the accountability formula into policy implementation, institutional changes, and governmental reform, because this approach results in cooperation and trust between society and the state and produces the most lasting change. While these efforts take time and must be constantly re-evaluated, this approach has resulted in the most success in combatting corruption and providing citizens with an accountable and effective government.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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