Integrity Icon

Approaches to corruption are generally negative and ineffective- focusing on the problems and the wrong-doers rather than the solutions and the do-gooders. Integrity Icon is a global campaign run by the Accountability Lab organisation to "name and fame" honest government officials, change the narrative around graft and rebuild trust in government through lifting up role-models. It is innovative not just in the citizen and media driven campaign itself, but in the creative ways the campaign then supports the winners to shift norms.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Efforts to fight corruption are not working- the problem is growing and evolving but our approaches to change remain wedded to traditional notions of how to support reforms. We tend to focus on the problem (corruption) rather than the solution (integrity); on institutions rather than the norms that underpin them; and on compliance and enforcement when all of the evidence indicates that positive reinforcement is what changes behavior. We seek to "name and shame" through measuring poor performers and calling people out; rather than efforts to "name and fame" and lift up those doing the right thing.

Integrity Icon is a global campaign to find, celebrate and support honest government officials. From policemen who refuse bribes to health officials that fight counterfeit drugs to teachers that stamp out corruption- the goal is to lift up these heroes and make them celebrities; and in this way rebuild trust, inspire a new generation of public servants, and shift norms within our societies. This focus on individuals as norm shifters is very different to traditional anti-corruption approaches; and creates huge amounts of positive energy both within governments and with citizens for a different kind of future that they can build together.

Every year (now in 10 countries- Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Nigeria, Liberia, Mali, Niger and Mexico, and now the United States) the Accountability Lab asks citizens to nominate their Integrity Icons. They receive thousands of nominees in each country and with the support of an expert panel of judges, pick the top five. These Icons are filmed and their stories are disseminated widely on TV, radio and social media; with citizens voting for their favorites through WhatsApp, SMS and online. The winners are crowned in front of the media at large national ceremonies.

The campaign itself is different in several ways- first it is driven from the outset by citizens. There are other prizes for public servants, but none than bring in citizens in such a large-scale, objective way, and therefore feel owned en mass by the country. Second, it is driven by creative narratives- organisers deploy creative story-telling techniques to make sure the campaign resonates with citizens and with government officials, generating energy for the process. And third, they build national conversations- with events from dinner table discussions to galas at schools to public sector agency workshops about the kind of behavior that is acceptable within society. The overall effect is a very different set of entry points for reform.

The campaign is just the starting point- organisers then work to support the Icons and their teams to translate individual integrity into collective norms shifts within government- through integrity retreats and team-building activities, for example. Accountability Lab also work with them to inspire the next generation of public servants. For example, they have created an Integrity Fellowship through which young people can serve as interns with the Icons to learn about building accountability; and they host "Meet the Icon" events across these countries to engage the next generation in conversations about the issues. Finally, they work with the Icons to push for reforms in a variety of ways and to highlight their good work- from building coalitions across institutions, to working with civil service training schools to rethink curricula and redesign training for government recruits.

In the future organisers see Integrity Icon evolving in a variety of ways- first, it continues to grow. They have synthesized and codified the process and are now licensing it to other organizations to run with their support (such as Transparency International in Sri Lanka). In 2020 they expect the campaign to launch in an additional 3 countries including the United States. Second, they are now seeing some fascinating impacts- for example a former Icon was made a Minister of Justice explicitly because he won the campaign; another was drafted into an ethics committee to help oversee the way an entire government reforms ethics rules. Others have been promoted and asked in various ways to initiate larger-scale changes. Accountability Lab are documenting all of this and will share this learning as part of a much larger process to encourage integrity innovation dissemination within the Icons group and beyond. Third, they are now adapting the campaign in a variety of ways- including through a Global Integrity Icon campaign (in partnership with a large global media company) to find and support the world's most honest government officials.

The campaign's organisers have been inspired by other prizes- but other prizes tend to be driven by experts and do not engage citizens nearly actively enough to make those prizes truly meaningful. The Icons themselves continue to inspire through the incredible work they do- at the front lines of public service. It is clear- if we want to shift the way government functions we have to catch people doing the right thing- and celebrate them for it.

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Year: 2014
Level of government: National/Federal government


  • Developing Proposals - turning ideas into business cases that can be assessed and acted on
  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways

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