Going for integrity

Peter Collins


In March 2018, the Australian cricket team became embroiled in scandal as two of its players admitted to ball tampering in a match against South Africa. Both players were subsequently suspended as was the Captain. The team’s coach, Darren Lehmann, later resigned.

As one of the people asked to review the Australian cricket team in the aftermath of this ‘ball cheating scandal’, seeing the thousands of letters written to the head office at Cricket Australia was overwhelming. To use a descriptive term, a ‘bullshit detector’ had gone off, and the world was outraged. A massive failure of integrity had been so publicly exposed within Australia’s most cherished sports team.

Such moments occur not just in sport. The word scandal in the UK is associated with phone hacking or MPs’ expenses.  And we appear to be in an environment where corruption around governments globally is not reducing.

Instances like these demonstrate why a rigorous analysis of a governance concept like ‘public integrity’ is so crucial. And, why as Director of the Centre for Ethical Leadership in Australia, I was glad recently to work with the team at the Blavatnik School of Government, around their research into integrity and corruption.  I see these issues of integrity play out repeatedly across organisations. In this blog post, I share five lessons on integrity from my own experience that make sense of the research, which help address issues that occur all around the world in different forms, not least in government.

1. Go for integrity not merely countering corruption.

Organisations, like people, are moral agents with a moral compass. A small deviation can have a massive effect. Long term integrity has to start with an organisation defining its sense of purpose and its moral compass. In doing so, organisations can put in place an intricate system of measures that ensure the organisation is capable of acting with full integrity.

Go for the intergos, the whole, and from there address corruption as the end point of a longer-term process of deviation and degradation.

2. Start with the organisation

I have never forgotten a workshop with a European headquartered resource company 15 years ago when the news broke that their leaders had lied about the level of reserve oil levels. The silence and shock gave way to a quiet voice at the back who said, ‘we were all in on this.’

Almost always in cases of corruption, collusion lurks. The key is to address the core of the organisation – to review governance, the capability of the leaders, delegated authorities and the like. It is almost certain that a post mortem on the performance management records of people found to have breached integrity will reveal gaps. Everyone has a story after the event about what they were really like. So, fix the organisation first and correct the ways that the organisation has deviated from its stated purpose in order to restore integrity.

3. Don’t just ‘sheep dip’ the leaders.

I would love a pound for every time I was told to see if I can set up an ‘integrity course’ that would fix the Australian cricketers by next summer. Such a ‘sheep-dip’ approach, if theoretically possible, would only trivialise the real issue. It is better to examine if and how the players were in part the product of a culture that facilitated such behaviours. Hence the thorough review process.

Corruption flourishes when a sense of entitlement creeps in. It is moral psychology at work – as human beings we often ‘rationally-lie’ to ourselves about our own behaviours and then explain away what we did as the right post-fact. Making leaders moral is reliant on ensuring everything around them facilitates them to act with integrity, so they do not rationally-lie.

4. Avoid minimum standards approaches

In this respect, one of the greatest traps in pursuing integrity is the snake and ladders type game of ‘crossing the line’. Usually known as minimum standards approach, this is just an invitation for the well-practised game of ‘almost’ crossing the line. Like one famous episode of Yes Prime Minister, the jug can’t be worth more than 50 Euros, so it is valued at 49.95.

Away from sport, the Catholic Church in Australia historically resisted the option of mandatory reporting to police of those members of its clergy reported to have abused children. Better to stay with the lesser standard of church law and deal in-house. A recent Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse by Religious Authorities found that Australia has the highest rate of sexual abuse of children in the world. The Commission found that since 1950 religious orders had as many as 40 percent of its members involved in paedophile activities.

Minimum standards can lead to maximum damage, especially when public officials accept the same low bar.

5. Make integrity live and real

Pursuing integrity must be done actively. A previous Head of the Department of Education in the state of Victoria in Australia devised a scheme that involved an intricate system of pooled finance across clusters of schools who in each case had relatives looking after the books. The scheme ultimately enabled systemic fraud. While compliance can be part of the answer, it can also breed the virus of passivity that when the systems are fixed, all will be fine.

Focussing on integrity violations belies developing rituals and conversations about ‘values-issues’, a concept borrowed from the safety culture of mines. Members of organisations who have dilemmas or a sense of unease must be able to raise them in their team. Such moves enable individuals to keep the moral compass alive and to help an organisation grapple with what the right thing to do is. Importantly such devices keep an institution true to achieving its purpose through legitimate means.

After all, isn’t that what all those letter writers really want – to watch a cricket game played with integrity and, a lathe Barmy Army, sing and drink the day away, hoping above all else to beat those Australians in a game that is fun and fair!

Peter Collins is the Director of the Centre for Ethical Leadership based at Ormond College at the University of Melbourne.

The ESRC-funded Building Integrity Workshop, in collaboration with Transparency International UK

3rd-4th May 2018, Blavatnik School of Government

The Building Integrity programme convened a two-day workshop for high-level practitioners from the OECD, World Bank, UK Cabinet Office, DFID, Integrity Action, and Transparency International. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss our work to date and to help orientate future work towards practitioner needs.

Cake and Corruption

24th April, 1st & 5th May 2018, Blavatnik School of Government

‘Cake and Corruption’ is the name of the Building Integrity Programme’s student discussion sessions. We have held three sessions this terms, with the conversation focused on topics such as: kleptocracy, state capture, institutional features that correlate with higher measures of corruption, procurement and the integrity of institutions. (We have also consumed many types of cake, including banana, apple, carrot, chocolate, toffee…)


A Practitioner Training Course: Integrity and Values in Government

Anna Petherick

This January the Blavatnik School of Government welcomed 31 Lemann Fellows and four MPP alumni to its ‘Integrity and Values in Government’ executive training course. The first of its kind at the School, the three-day course comprised seminars and lectures discussing the concepts of integrity and corruption, as well as case studies of countries fighting high levels of corruption or dealing with prominent scandals.

The Lemann Fellows were all Brazilian, identified by the Lemann Foundation as promising young leaders who intend to run for public office in the October elections this year. Many had flown from states located thousands of kilometres from the centre of national government in Brazil. Some had never been abroad before. All arrived, however, having shared with the School their views on how best to define corruption, the kind of threats that it poses, and how institutions and political systems might be protected from it.

Jody LaPorte, Gonticas Fellow in Politics and International Relations at Lincoln College, University of Oxford.

“The course reminded me a lot of situations I had with my team. I feel grateful—and I feel that being aware that we are not alone gives us motivation and support to go through the difficult journey of participating in the construction of a better world.” — Cristina Lopes Afonso, city councillor in Goiânia since 2013.

These interpretations formed the raw material of the first session, led by philosopher Jo Wolff, on the relationship between integrity and corruption. To start the discussion, Professor Wolff asked the group, “If those in a public institution are not acting corruptly because they are focused on obeying rules, what confidence should we have that they won’t engage in corruption when the opportunity arises—when the rules are weakened, or cease to be enforced?” How exactly public institutions might build integrity, by promoting new norms or by being structured more strategically, was the subject of Prof Wolff’s second lecture.

Other speakers delved into the distinction between individual integrity and institutional integrity. Tom Simpson explained how it is possible for public organisations to lack integrity if they fail to fulfil a legitimate purpose, even if every member of the organisation possesses a strong moral code. This prompted a discussion about the value of government audits, and the tendencies of public accountability institutions to seek to detect instances of corruption, but to leave the question of whether an institution is achieving what it was set out to do open to interpretation.

Dr Stewart Wood, a Fellow of Practice at the School and member of the UK House of Lords.

Between lectures the participants split into small seminar groups to debate and clarify issues as they arose—and to apply them to Brazil. One seminar group run in Portuguese applied Professor Wolff’s analogy of three guards protecting a safe—which he described in a recent blog post—to the structure of Brazil’s web of accountability institutions.

“As an activist and academic, about to become a politician, I’ll go back to Brazil more prepared and aware of the challenges to come.” Pedro Henrique de Cristo, creator of Digital Agora, an initiative to bring together representative and direct democracy in Rio de Janeiro.

The course featured a lecture devoted to the 2009 MP’s expenses scandal in the UK (delivered by Dr Stewart Wood, a Fellow of Practice at the School and member of the UK House of Lords); a lecture about fighting against kleptocratic state capture in Russia (by associate faculty member Dr  Jody LaPorte); and one on dilemmas that practitioners commonly face in government procurement, delivered as a bottom-up case-study discussion by Karthik Ramanna, professor of business and public policy. Professor Ngaire Woods, the School’s dean, linked the concepts of corruption, public integrity and low trust in government, to the rise in popularism currently sweeping many countries around the world—in Brazil’s case this is exemplified by the substantial support enjoyed by Jair Bolsonaro, pre-candidate in the 2018 presidential election.

On the final day, the Lemann Fellows toured Oxford’s historical delights. They then left ready, the Building Integrity team hopes, to infuse the intense political debates expected later this year with sound reasoning and practical ideas about how to raise the integrity of Brazil’s public institutions.

Lemann Fellows and Blavatnik staff.


A Practitioner Training Course: Integrity and Values in Government

5-7th January 2018, Blavatnik School of Government.

The Blavatnik School of Government and its Building Integrity program are committed to promoting excellence in government through professional training. We delivered a three-day program–‘Integrity and Values in Government’–for young leaders from Brazil who intend to run for office in October’s elections. The participants were Lemann Fellows, who travelled to Oxford from all corners of Brazil. Read more about the course here.