Strategy: Linking open data to anti-corruption strategies

Last updated 5 months ago

What should be taken into account?

To understand the role open data can play within anti-corruption strategies, as well as to identify the relevant data at the right time, it is necessary to acknowledge the existence of two different but simultaneous policy cycles. The first one is the public policy cycle, which can run from the moment a problem or a need is defined, through the planning, resource allocation, implementation and evaluation of the policy (see table 1). The second one is the anti-corruption cycle, identifying different stages involved in tackling corruption (see table 2). Both cycles are intrinsically interconnected since any public policy can be affected by corruption.

Ideally, every public policy should be accompanied by clear anti-corruption policies and mechanisms. In considering how open data can enhance these two policy cycles, it will be important to consider the data, and methods for its use, that are most relevant at each stage of the policy in question and the corruption risks identified.

The Public Policy Cycle

There are different versions of the public-policy cycle in the literature. Taking different models into account, we divide it broadly into five stages: problem identification, policy development, resource allocation, implementation and evaluation. Different policy areas will face different corruption risks at each stage. In the table below we present a number of examples of potential risks and strategies that respond to them.

Table 1. The public policy cycle

Cycle stage

Example Corruption risks

Example Anti-corruption strategies

Problem identification: when an issue becomes the focus of resources and new policy.

Defining unnecessary needs, or defining needs in a way that could only be met by a particular actor.

Mandatory asset declarations, registers of interests, lobbying registers and political finance transparency.

Policy development: when objectives, methodologies and rules for delivering the policy are set.

Designing policies to benefit particular firms. Adopting approaches that minimise open competition, or increase discretionary resource allocation.

Standard procurement processes and rules. Independent oversight of decisions.

Resource allocation: when budgets are set, and decisions about their distribution are made (e.g. through contracts).

Deliberate overestimation and padding of budgets. Awarding contracts to phantom firms, or selecting firms in return for kickbacks.

Budget and spend transparency. Use of e-procurement systems and civic oversight mechanisms (for example, Social Witness).

Implementation: when the policy is being executed.

Delivering substandard goods and services. Biased choice of subcontractors. Modifying plans or contracts to increase payments. Failing to enforce penalty clauses.

Whistleblowing policies. Social Audits. Mechanisms for feedback public redress.

Evaluation: when the effects and integrity of the policy are evaluated.

Covering up failures of delivery.

Government audits. Blacklisting.

The Anti-Corruption Open Up Guide

The Anti-Corruption Cycle

The anti-corruption cycle can be broadly divided into four stages: prevention, detection, investigation and sanction. The use of these four stages gives room for analyzing different policies despite governmental differences, which is essential for keeping a global perspective. Some countries may have more developed institutional frameworks in some stages of the anti-corruption cycle. For example, the UK has strong prevention processes, for instance, whereas emphasis in the United States or Brazil is often in terms of enforcement. However, all countries share these four stages of anti-corruption action. Even when the organizational arrangements of governmental institutions are different, this cycle allows to identify the potential users of this resource in each stage based on their anti-corruption functions or activities.

Table 2. The Anti-Corruption Cycle

Stages of the anti-corruption cycle


Potential actors involved


Actions, mechanisms and tools that reduce risks or increase the barriers and costs of corruption within a policy or procedure.

Policy makers (government agencies), parliamentarians, regulatory bodies, civil society organizations (CSO’s), international agencies.

Integrity breach: commitment of an act of corruption


Actions, mechanisms and tools that identify an illicit behaviour as a result of corruption.

Policy implementers (government agencies and internal control bodies), CSO’s, investigative journalists, oversight institutions (auditors, comptrollers, parliament).


Actions, mechanisms and tools intended to expose (Investigation of corruption cases may imply certain degree of secrecy according to the type of crime committed. Certain data should be held temporarily to avoid affecting investigation and enforcement) and compile information about the illicit behaviour detected and the parties involved.

CSO’s, investigative journalists, oversight institutions (auditors, comptrollers, parliament), national and foreign law enforcement and prosecuting institutions.


Actions, mechanisms and tools intended to prosecute and penalize corruption crimes, as well as to recover illegal rents stolen or generated by a corruption crime.

Oversight institutions (auditors, comptrollers), national and foreign prosecuting institutions, judiciary, asset recovery agencies.

The Anti-Corruption Open Up Guide

Increasing responsiveness

Although in theory anti-corruption and policy cycles should coexist, both oriented towards the effective use of public resources to guarantee the rights of citizens or deliver public goods or services, in practice there can be tensions between them. Whilst public policy aims to deliver solutions to concrete problems in the most effective and efficient way possible, anti-corruption strategies place emphasis on compliance with rules and procedures to ensure the integrity of the policy process.

A specific public policy, considered against the goals that were set out for it, may be efficient and effective, and yet at the same time be affected by vested interests or even by corruption. For example, when analyzing a corruption case, an investigative journalist may focus on the budgetary stage of a public policy, revealing information that is crucial for illustrating misconduct of a public official, but not essential for securing the effectiveness of the public policy in which the integrity breach occurred. Alternatively, an anti-corruption policy may reduce the risk of corruption or prosecute a case effectively, while suspending the expected outcomes of a concrete public policy or delaying its implementation. A feeling that anti-corruption requirements can create additional bureaucracy and delays to processes can create challenges when governments are facing demands to become more responsive.

It is crucial then to explore how open data can be introduced and integrated into the policy processes in ways that protect and promote the responsiveness of policy to citizen need, whilst also increasing responsiveness to corruption risks and incidences. In line with it, the Anti-Corruption Open Up Guide will mainly focus on the ways open data can strengthen the effectiveness of the anti-corruption policy cycle. In other words, it will review how governments, law enforcement, civil society or journalists can use open data to become more responsive to corruption risks and cases.

Image 1. The link between the public policy cycle and the anti-corruption cycle

The role of open data in the anti-corruption policy cycle

Data generated by government is a key resource to prevent, detect, investigate or sanction corruption. Almost every act of governments today can leave a trace in documents and data, and governments impose legal obligations on many of the other individuals and organisations who may be involved in corruption networks, requiring them to register or disclose key information. These records can be organized and stored in many different ways. With increasing government use of technology, records are frequently generated and stored through the use of information systems, organized and structured in state held databases. Some of the information systems governments used are known by the public, such as public procurement systems. But there are many more out of sight of the public that are used regularly, for example, to keep track of budget expenditure or monitor security in cities.

When data is open by default the possibilities of involving a higher number of different actors in anti-corruption efforts increase, allowing them to also form anti-corruption task forces. Depending on the available data, who is using it and the anti-corruption objective set, a wide range of uses can be designed (see table 3). Moreover, when the available data is structured in open formats, is free, accessible across borders and possible to archive, the probabilities of being effectively used for anti-corruption purposes increase.

Table 3. Main uses of data along the anti-corruption cycle

Stage of the anti-corruption cycle

Potential data user

Main data use



Policy makers, regulatory bodies, oversight institutions (auditors, comptrollers) and CSO’s

Release and publication of open data / Identify potential corruption risks

Increase transparency, openness and oversight / Mitigate potential corruption risks and amend or improve public policies or regulation

Integrity breach: commitment of an act of corruption


Policy implementers, CSO’s, investigative journalists, oversight institutions (auditors, comptrollers, parliament)

Generate alerts about corruption acts. Identify corruption networks

Activate investigative anti-corruption institutions and mechanisms


CSO’s, investigative journalists

Expose a corruption cases increasing public understanding of a corruption scheme

Increase social demand for formal investigation, sanction, legal or policy reform


Oversight institutions (auditors, comptrollers, parliament), prosecuting institutions.

Gather evidence about a corruption network, its arrangements and schemes.

Strengthen prosecution process and activation of administrative or penal prosecuting channels


Integration of legal records and court documents

Achieve effective sanctioning and asset recovery.

Punishment of corruption and the recovery of assets to be spent on government priorities

Identifying which government databases can be related to corruption is not easy. As forms of corruption vary across countries and legal frameworks, also government systems and databases vary. Take as an example, budgetary datasets. Accounting standards set by law, or by the Ministry of Finance of a country, affect how budget data is structured. Also, disclosure obligations for interests or company registers vary widely across countries. Taking into account that corruption operates through complex networks, which leave data footprints throughout different databases, it must be acknowledged that the greatest power of data comes when users are able to combine datasets. The adherence to global data standards is a valuable tool to reduce variations across datasets and to allow cross-references between databases, cross-country comparisons and more complex anti-corruption investigations.