EXPERIMENTING WITH ‘LEARNING LABS’ TO SUPPORT INITIATIVES AROUND ETHICS AND INTEGRITY IN THE PUBLIC SERVICE OF NAMIBIA:
September 7, 2022
Our journey on strengthening accountability and strong institutions takes place in Windhoek, Namibia where there have been a number of renewed efforts from the public service to support good governance and accountability. In particular, we ask whether the performance of the public service matters for the country to meet the 17 sustainable development goals? UNDP strongly believes that it does and defines good governance as “governing systems that are capable, responsive, inclusive, and transparent. UNDP does this by working in partnership with governments to strengthen public institutions, help fight corruption and support inclusive participation”.
Relating this to our work with our key partner, the Namibian government, the Public Service Staff Rules and Code of Conduct, Integrity and Ethics states, “Ethics management in the public sector has come a long way as part of the Government’s good governance and anti-corruption initiatives. By this, it is implied that ethics is the cornerstone in the management of public institutions, particularly as part of the preventative component of the fight against corruption. It therefore requires that ethics be championed more vigorously than before”
With this as context, the UNDP Accelerator Lab Namibia embarked on an ambitious experiment to work with the newly established Ethics and Integrity Division under the Office of the Prime Minister. We had hoped to strengthen the role of the division to give effect to the public service code of conduct through the use of the Accelerator Lab’s approaches and methods.
Although our work with the Division had started in 2021, the pandemic upended many of the initial plans which were in place and as a result could only materialize in 2022. The first part of our experiment entailed a three-day sensemaking exercise in March 2021. The exercise included understanding the current challenges of the Division as well as those of the newly appointed Chairpersons of the Integrity Committee members who were appointed by their respective public institutions. The engagement also included an introduction to the concepts and principles of sensemaking, collective intelligence, exploration, solutions mapping, experimentation and generally embedded the key methods of utilizing data as useful tools to inform policy making and administrative processes. Using the Accelerator Lab’s principle of ‘working out loud” and ensuring that communication was consistently provided by the Ethics Division, the Lab introduced and proposed the creation of two WhatsApp groups to ensure that each member would receive relevant content and messages on activities focusing on integrity as well as reminders on timelines and reporting.
Unfortunately, the second wave of the pandemic which ushered in the Delta variant in the second quarter of 2021 halted whatever activities we had planned, forcing us to migrate to using online platforms and meeting our partners from the Office of the Prime Minister and the Integrity Committees on Zoom. Our sessions highlighted a glaring gap in terms of the access and use of technology and online collaboration platforms which were not always well attended. To illustrate, the expected attendance of 150 members on the monthly Zoom calls usually fell short of the 20 regular members who attended these, called for a different approach. The use of WhatsApp was also challenging for various reasons. While set up to encourage information sharing and learning exchange, the platforms remained unutilized but served to facilitate nudges in reminding people to either attend the check-in meetings or to submit the quarterly reports on time. A typical solution to address these challenges in public service circles is usually a request for some capacity development intervention (usually in-person training) from UNDP. In this case, the request was the same, with the caveat being that the training was to be explicitly recognized and developed by the United Nations.
We used this ‘ask’ as an opportunity to reach out to the UNDP Ethics Office for Advice as well as the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) on the use of the ready made Toolkit on Ethics and Integrity. The toolkit itself is a fully fledged, 5-day course with a curriculum, syllabus and presentation slides which is free for use under certain terms and conditions. After a series of e-mail exchanges and requests to and from UNDESA, the Lab was given the permission to utilize and adapt the materials for local use and contextualization in November 2021.
Enter 2022, a new breath of hope, fewer serious cases, lower infections and deaths, the Accelerator Lab continued the conversations with the Ethics Division of the Office of the Prime Minister to contextualize the UNDESA toolkit and at the same time introduce a number of Accelerator Lab methodologies such as the practical use of collective intelligence, issue and systems mapping, ‘pitching’ ideas, experimenting, use of data and visualization and embedding innovation and creativity in the activities. The discussions led to a collective ownership and commitment to roll out two (2) four-day Learning Labs based on the UNDESA core curriculum and syllabus.
The Head of Experimentation and Solutions Mapper of the Accelerator Lab invested the standard 90-day learning timeframe for the two Learning Labs starting with a brief learning needs assessment which was created on Free On Line Surveys due to its ease of use and accessibility compared to the standard propriety software or google which requires either licensing or an institutional e-mail address. The needs assessment further refined the focus of the learning labs was for the integrity champions to understand their role in promoting greater collaboration across the public service to strengthen accountability and good governance practices.
The first Learning Lab, which was essentially a prototype, took place in Swakopmund from the 22nd to the 25th of February 2022. This informed the second iteration and development of the second prototype which took place in Gobabis from the 8th to the 11th of March 2022.
Our objective was to build on the UNDESA Toolkit while at the same time ensuring that the principles and approaches of the Accelerator Lab in promoting systems thinking, collective intelligence and experimentation to enhance and amplify the content to promote public servants' ethical awareness and aid in transforming mindsets for ethical behaviour and decision-making, enabling them to become change agents and to lead on integrity transformations. Hence, the approach of the Learning Lab on integrity would address and seek to mitigate anti-corruption risks in the public sector as the result of three interlinking factors:
(1) Transparency of government, which enables citizens and civil society to hold governments to account,
(2) Accountability, which can be enhanced by strengthening oversight institutions, and
(3) Transforming mindsets to adopt ethical standards for public servants, who play an enabling role in upholding good governance and anti-corruption.
The learning Labs, through the use of the Accelerator Lab’s tools, techniques and learning methodologies, aimed at testing the undertake and pass an assessment before signing the Public Service Integrity Pledge in particular, the Learning Lab outcomes were to:
• Apply concepts, use practical examples and mechanisms for integrity and anti-corruption, focusing on regional, continental and international frameworks and standards, laws and institutions at the national level, organizational tools and processes, as well as behavioral insights to translate formal rules into desired behaviours.
• Map and engage key stakeholders in implementing an ethics and integrity strategy.
• Develop a roadmap and an action plan to incorporate relevant knowledge into public servants' day-to-daywork which will include quarterly reporting, communication, and training.
While we have started seeing some positive results, not only from the reaction evaluation forms administered at the end of each Learning Lab session we are curious about the sustainability of our interventions. What would success look like for us? How would our partners – the Ethics Unit at the Office of the Prime Minister define success, given the limited uptake by institutions and the trained people themselves? What would the Ethics and Integrity Members define as success?
While we might anticipate the answers to these questions, we know that our Ethics Unit and partner would like to see an improvement in terms of the reporting of the Integrity Champions and the quality of conversations across the WhatsApp groups which now focus on activities, sharing thought pieces and videos on integrity and accountability.
The Accelerator Lab, as well as across UNDP, would ultimately like to see an improvement in the quality of governance, as well as improved service delivery. Could this be a new area to explore and focus on in terms of developing new portfolios focusing on governance?