TNRC Blog Part I: Supporting the Implementers of TNRC’s Pilots and Associate Awards

TNRC Project-Based Learning Blog

Part I: Supporting the Implementers of TNRC’s Pilots and Associate Awards

In addition to the anti-corruption knowledge assembled in TNRC’s Knowledge Hub, we have an exciting portfolio of activities around the world comprised of pilot projects and Associate Awards. From this innovative work, our project is learning about impactful, context-informed, adaptive solutions to corruption challenges in forests, fisheries, and wildlife. This blog post, part of a three-part series based on the first year of these projects, describes the on-the-ground practitioners and experts leading this work and how they are going about tackling these persistent issues in their land and seascapes.

Conservation practitioners aren’t starting from zero with anti-corruption

From survey responses and comments from participants, we know that some practitioners are skeptical about whether they can, or should, engage in “governance” work like anti-corruption. Many feel it is outside of their training and should be left to experts. But we (meaning the TNRC team, too, not just our colleagues in the offices implementing these activities) have come to realize there are at least three strong pre-existing entry points available.

  1. The backgrounds of staff on the implementing teams may not be corruption-specific, but they’re often corruption-relevant. The staff leading projects in the WWF offices are largely conservationists, with some exceptions for political scientists, human rights advocates, and international business managers. But all have had training or work experience with social change, data transparency, community-based conservation, and civic engagement; and they gained that experience via previous work in non-profits, academia, large multi-lateral institutions, government, and the private sector. Some have developed policy reforms for local government in their country, and many have worked with communities to achieve change. This experience provides an entry point to anti-corruption work, which might otherwise feel poles apart to physical scientists. Indeed, one project implementer told us that initially her supervisor was reluctant to respond to TNRC’s call for proposals, but the list of possible approaches included in the instructions made it easy for her to show they were already engaging in relevant work.
  2. Much of the needed corruption background knowledge is already in peoples’ heads. It just needs a structured process to bring it out. In conducting political economy analyses (PEAs) with four pilot projects, we observed consistently that practitioners, steeped in the context in which they work, already have both personal and professional perceptions about corruption, its drivers, and the general dynamics of politics related to their work. Our PEA facilitation just provided a process to structure that complex knowledge for program decision making (and perhaps even a limitation – all four had vibrant discussions that could have lasted for double the allotted time!). While there were a few moments when participants learned something new about their context from a colleague, much of the knowledge about issues, actors, and political dynamics were implicitly known. It was also common for participants to comment at the end on the complexity of the analysis results.
  3. Practitioners are already thinking and working politically to some degree. While they tended to use terms like “informal engagement” rather than “thinking and working politically,” the practitioners we interviewed have personal and professional contacts with other NGOs and long-term connections with government staff from previous work experience. Some utilize social media groups and others have routinized activities for ensuring the continuance of strong government engagement in contexts of high political volatility. Especially from the perspective of an external funder or supporter, one of the most valuable ways our practitioners mentioned thinking and working politically was in maintaining an intense awareness of what can and cannot be said, to whom (mostly government officials), and when. Multiple people cited relationships with individuals in government agencies as key to moving their work forward. As they progressed in their TNRC work, many discovered simply avoiding the term “corruption” altogether was effective for keeping conversations moving (see this Principles Guide for some alternative language practitioners found helpful).

But external support was still helpful!

Of course, the above were just entry points. Participants generally reported the support the TNRC team provided, like in the facilitated PEA workshops, to be helpful. Even more concretely, however, all the projects required an external consultant or new staff person to bring in expertise specific to anti-corruption and/or governance, largely to complete context assessments or other analyses.

This constitutes one of the top pieces of learning in the early stages of these projects: Conservation practitioners will require support in understanding and framing the potential scope of any assessments, the specific skills a consultant should have, the risks and ethical considerations in conducting assessments, and how to develop terms of reference sufficient for their needs.

It has been difficult for some project teams to find consultants with the necessary skills at the intersection of corruption and biodiversity and sufficient local knowledge to conduct analyses. It has caused delays and required some teams to broaden their search. In the end, however, all the pilots and Associate Awards are completing their analyses and beginning their work. In this way, TNRC hopes it has made some contribution to the pool of expertise that can support future projects in this space.

On-the-ground practitioners and experts

© Vecteezy / Naki-Sama

Image attribution: © / Jen Guyton / WWF; © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF; © Georgina Goodwin / Shoot The Earth / WWF-UK; © Hkun Lat / WWF-Aus