Cheri-Leigh Erasmus August 28, 2019

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Integrity Icon, Accountability Lab’s flagship program, has become a global movement – on the ground, online and through the media – to celebrate and encourage honest government officials. Through a competition with open nominations and public voting, the program “names and fames” civil servants with integrity. In 2018, the competition drew millions of viewers and hundreds of thousands of voters from across the globe to select their country’s “Integrity Icon”. Since its inception in Nepal in 2014, the campaign has spread to Liberia, Pakistan, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Mexico, with close attention paid to localization during the implementation process.

Of course, Integrity Icon is more than just a competition to name and fame. The goals of the program are threefold: first, to spark national conversations around what citizens want from the civil service; second, to create role-models and celebrate honest public officials, thereby inspiring young people to consider the civil service as a career path; and third, to connect and support coalitions of reformers who can push for good governance reforms collectively over time. These three core goals are at the front of Accountability Lab’s mind as they expand the Integrity Icon model to the United States market.

The political climate and civil society concerns of the United States present a new challenge for Integrity Icon.

Strategies that worked in other countries, such as Nepal or South Africa, don’t necessarily transfer well to the United States’ civic space. Accountability Lab came to a LabStorm to ask one essential question: How can we bring Integrity Icon to the US?

Attendees had a few ideas and suggestions for how to make it happen.

  1. Beware the politics. The US context is more sensitive politically in terms of special interest groups and the politicization of challenges in the civil service. In terms of service delivery, the challenges in the US are different when compared to the basic needs of communities in developing countries. A good example of that is that in country X, the focus might be on lowering maternal and infant mortality rates. In the United States, the conversation around reproductive health is often tied to a political pro-life vs pro-choice debate. It could be challenging to select Integrity Icons in this divided political landscape, because voters in the competition may perceive candidates as having a political or ideological affiliation and allow that to influence their vote. In order to adapt Integrity Icon to a highly politicized context, Accountability Lab could start with Icons in less controversial roles, such as teachers or primary healthcare workers.
  2. Start small and be focused. The media landscape in the US is large and oversaturated. With so many platforms for receiving information, and so much content, it can be difficult to craft and disseminate messages that inspire individuals to get actively engaged in a campaign. LabStorm attendees suggested that Accountability Lab start at a city or state level in the US, versus a national campaign like they do in other countries. Integrity Icon could take localization a step further by identifying specific areas of interest in a city to capture their target audience. Additionally, they could build partnerships with organizations that are already doing work around responsive cities. This smaller scale would help Integrity Icon tap into pre-existing social networks within the area and involve a greater portion of the population.
  3. Use different language and messaging. LabStorm attendees agreed that Integrity Icon would have to adapt to different language and messaging standards in order to thrive in the United States. Since the core focus of Integrity Icon is to highlight heroes and change-makers, the word “Icon” is stronger in the American vernacular than the word “Integrity” – and marketing materials for the competition should reflect that. Finally, the methods of communication in the United States would be different. With a more tech-literate population, Integrity Icon could use digital communication tools more than they do in other countries.

Expanding to the United States poses unique challenges to Integrity Icon. But equipped with the right partnerships and tools, the program has the potential to bring naming and faming to a large audience, inspire youths and lead to more values-based decision making. Have you ever moved a project to a new country context? We would love to hear from you. Please send us an email at [email protected].

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