Measuring corruption through evidence vs perception
There has been some misunderstanding about what an evidence-based index is versus a perception-based index. UNODC develops methodologies that measure social phenomena such as corruption using evidence or experience-based surveys and helps countries, including Malaysia, develop their own evidence-based surveys with the aim of understand the phenomenon in the country and formulate an effective intervention and action plan. .
Whenever we measure a social phenomenon such as corruption, we must be aware that there is no neutral system or approach. We must be aware of the objective of the measurement. Is it to raise awareness? Is it to defend something? If the goal is simply to raise awareness and get attention, it’s fine to design a survey that isn’t as vigorous.
But if the goal is to really understand the deeper problem in society and to find ways to activate and develop policies and measures, then it is necessary to find the appropriate way to measure corruption.
What we develop at UNODC is to understand what the real problem is, for example, what type of corruption or bribery is affecting the population, the public sector or the business sector. The objective of the choice of the measurement method is then to intervene, to act and to be proactive on this question.
Limitations of perception-based indicators
If we want to know what the real situation of a country or a sector is, we need a reliable instrument. For example, these days it is very hot in Europe, but if we ask an older person or a younger person what the temperature is, we can get very different answers.
The older person will probably suffer more than the younger one at the same time. It is important to know what the perception of an older person or a younger person is regarding the temperature, so that we can make the decision to do something for the older person.
However, this is different from knowing what the actual temperature is in a particular city, country or time. Similarly in corruption, if you ask questions only to a certain group of people, for example, a certain population, or only to companies, or so-called experts, what is their perception of corruption, you will obtain different answers.
There is a lot of research and literature on this. It is a fact that perceptions are influenced by different factors, for example, social expectations, public debates and the media. While it is interesting to know perceptions, it is different to measure the true scope and extent of corruption in the country.
Indicators based on experience and evidence
When measuring corruption through experience or evidence-based indicators, it is first necessary to develop a matrix based on sound methodologies. This is all the more the case when measuring a social phenomenon, admittedly very difficult to measure. This is simply because it is a hidden phenomenon and those who commit corruption generally have no incentive to disclose or report to authorities.
However, it is possible, using certain methodologies, to develop precise measures and results that can be compared between countries. We can also get results that can be compared over time and understand when there is an increase or decrease in corruption. We can understand which sectors are most affected by corruption, whether the people involved are men or women, as bribe payers or takers, and whether they are public officials, and what are their different behavior when involved in corruption. There are many things we can infer from the data and many other things we can figure out. These are consolidated and transparent methods, and anyone can replicate the methodology. From then on, these methods become a common good.
Unlike perception-based indices, evidence-based surveys and indicators are not produced by a certain group of individuals or organizations using highly subjective and very often not very transparent methods, where only a number or ranking is published. Information on how they are developed is often unknown or cannot be replicated.
Therefore, it is important to produce a high-quality, transparent matrix based on large-scale surveys of populations, the business sector or the public sector. This is why, at UNODC, we support and promote methods based on experience and evidence to measure corruption on the basis of transparent and direct methods.
Enrico Bisogno is Chief of the Data and Statistics Section of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.