Data Disrupts Corruption

Carlos Santiso & Ben Roseth at Stanford Social Innovation Review: “…The Panama Papers scandal demonstrates the power of data analytics to uncover corruption in a world flooded with terabytes needing only the computing capacity to make sense of it all. The Rousse impeachment illustrates how open data can be used to bring leaders to account. Together, these stories show how data, both “big” and “open,” is driving the fight against corruption with fast-paced, evidence-driven, crowd-sourced efforts. Open data can put vast quantities of information into the hands of countless watchdogs and whistleblowers. Big data can turn that information into insight, making corruption easier to identify, trace, and predict. To realize the movement’s full potential, technologists, activists, officials, and citizens must redouble their efforts to integrate data analytics into policy making and government institutions….

Making big data open cannot, in itself, drive anticorruption efforts. “Without analytics,” a 2014 White House report on big data and individual privacy underscored, “big datasets could be stored, and they could be retrieved, wholly or selectively. But what comes out would be exactly what went in.”

In this context, it is useful to distinguish the four main stages of data analytics to illustrate its potential in the global fight against corruption: Descriptive analytics uses data to describe what has happened in analyzing complex policy issues; diagnostic analytics goes a step further by mining and triangulating data to explain why a specific policy problem has happened, identify its root causes, and decipher underlying structural trends; predictive analytics uses data and algorithms to predict what is most likely to occur, by utilizing machine learning; and prescriptive analytics proposes what should be done to cause or prevent something from happening….

Despite the big data movement’s promise for fighting corruption, many challenges remain. The smart use of open and big data should focus not only on uncovering corruption, but also on better understanding its underlying causes and preventing its recurrence. Anticorruption analytics cannot exist in a vacuum; it must fit in a strategic institutional framework that starts with quality information and leads to reform. Even the most sophisticated technologies and data innovations cannot prevent what French novelist Théophile Gautier described as the “inexplicable attraction of corruption, even amongst the most honest souls.” Unless it is harnessed for improvements in governance and institutions, data analytics will not have the impact that it could, nor be sustainable in the long run…(More)”.