- Advertisement -

Measuring corruption through evidence vs perception

Whenever we measure social phenomenon such as corruption, we have to be aware that there is no neutral system or approach.

Enrico Bisogno
3 minute read

There has been some misunderstanding over what is an evidence-based index versus a perception-based index. The UNODC develops methodologies that measure social phenomenon such as corruption using evidence or experience-based surveys and help countries, including Malaysia, to develop their own evidence-based surveys for the purpose of understanding the phenomenon in the country and formulating effective intervention plan and action.

Whenever we measure social phenomenon such as corruption, we have to be aware that there is no neutral system or approach. We have to be aware of the objective of the measurement. Is it to raise awareness? Is it to advocate for something? If the objective is just to raise awareness and draw attention, it is fine to design a survey that is not so vigorous.

But if the objective is to really understand the deeper issue 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 are developing in UNODC is to understand what is the real problem, for example, what is the type of corruption or bribery that is affecting the population, the public sector or the business sector. The objective of the choice of measurement method then is to intervene, to act and be proactive on this issue.

Limitations of perception-based indicators

If we want to know what is the real situation in a country or sector, we need to have 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 may get very different answers.

The older person will probably suffer more than the young person in the same weather. It is important to know what is the perception of an older person or a younger person with regards to the temperature, so we can make a decision to do something for the older person.

However, this is different from knowing what is the real temperature in a given city, a country or time. Similarly in corruption, if you ask the questions only to a certain group of people, for example, a certain population, or only to businesses, or so-called experts, what their perception of corruption is, you will get 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 the perceptions, it is different to measure the real extent and scope of corruption in the country.

Experience and evidence-based indicators

When measuring corruption through experience or evidence-based indicators, first of all, it is necessary to develop a matrix that is based on solid methodologies. This is especially so when we measure social phenomenon, which admittedly is very difficult to measure. This is simply because it is a hidden phenomenon and those who commit corruption usually do not have incentives to divulge or report to the authorities.

However, it is possible by using certain methodologies, we can develop measures that are accurate and results that can be compared across countries. We can also obtain results that can be compared across time and understand when there is an increase or decrease in corruption. We can understand which sectors are more affected by bribery, if those affected are men or women, as bribe payers or takers, and if they are officials, and what are their different behaviours when they are involved in corruption. There are many things we can derive from the data and many more things we can understand. These are consolidated and transparent methods, and everybody can replicate the methodology. Therefore, these methods become a common good.

In contrast with perception-based indexes, evidence-based surveys and indicators are not produced by a certain group of individuals or organisations through methods that are highly subjective and very often are not as transparent, where only a number or ranking is released. The information on how they are developed is often not known or cannnot be replicated.

Therefore, it is important to produce high quality, transparent matrix that is based on large scale surveys on populations, or the business sector or the public sector. This is why we at UNODC supports and promotes experience and evidence-based methods to measure corruption based on transparent and direct methods.

Enrico Bisogno is chief of the Data and Statistics Section of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.