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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.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

Integrity Icon is innovative in three key ways:

i) Positivity not negativity- it draws on evidence that the way to shift norms and behaviors is through positive reinforcement. Other prizes try to do the same but are not driven by citizens; tend to highlight already recognized individuals (rather than the unknown heroes they focus upon); and do not include sustained support to the winners over time;
ii) Unlikely networks not usual suspects- they bring in a variety of different stakeholders to make the campaigns a success- moving well away from the traditional organizations in this space. From film-makers to youth activists to musicians (who make the theme tunes) Integrity Icon opens up the conversation about accountability to different audiences.
iii) Intersectionality not isolation- organisers can use the campaign to tie into other key issues that are relevant for citizens. On gender for example, organisers lift up female Icons working in non-traditional roles to create a discourse around gender equality.

What is the current status of your innovation?

Integrity Icon began 7 years ago in Nepal and has now spread to 9 countries with three more in 2020- it is actively in a variety of the stages outlined above, depending on the context. In Mexico for example, they have just begun and are designing and implementing the campaign for the 1st time; where as in Nepal the campaign is now 7 years old and they are now gathering deep insights into how it works and diffusing these both in Nepal and beyond to inform governance approaches more broadly.

There are also potential innovations underway in terms of the next steps with the campaign- for example, they are looking at how a version of Integrity Icon might work if focused on the private sector; and how it might work focused on specific sectors (such as education or health) within specific contexts. From an evaluation perspective they are also piloting some new scientific techniques to understand the shifts in norms it is creating and the value it is bringing for the Icons over time.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

Citizens are at the heart of Integrity Icon and have acted as a sounding board for the process throughout. They have also innovated around and through the campaign with a variety of partners including: public sector innovation hubs, civil society groups, cutting-edge media companies, innovation and co-working spaces (several of which they have set up such as iCampus in Liberia:, the World Economic Forum anti-corruption working group and the private sector.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

Citizens- nominators and voters, and the ultimate beneficiaries when honest government officials are recognized and more able to do their jobs
Government officials- the Icons themselves, their colleagues and superiors and others within public service who are inspired by their examples.
Civil society organizations- who are partners for the campaign and can use the collateral to support their own efforts to create change.
Companies- who benefit from more accountable governance.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

Results include:
- Promotion of the Icons explicitly because of their recognition through the campaign including to positions as ministers and heads of departments;
- Icons are able to push through a variety of reforms in their agencies as a result of the trust and credibility generated through the campaign (see here for example for more details:
- Through the youth engagement efforts of the campaign, young people are far more inspired to join public service and serve with integrity;
- Civil servants in the countries in which the campaign runs are more inspired to work with integrity and push for reforms within their agencies.

Organisers have used a variety of means to measure these results- including surveys, mixed-methods evaluations and feedback mechanisms. In the future organisers expect to see even more of these kinds of impacts as the campaign grows and improves.

Challenges and Failures

The campaign has faced numerous challenges from the outset- from the common refrain "you'll never find honest government officials" to lack of interest from possible partners to lack of support from funders. But the Accountability ab have managed to overcome them all one way or another- although they still face significant problems, of course. Key failures have included:
i) Jealously of the winners- from colleagues or superiors which has made the process difficult. Organisers have overcome this through bringing them into the process at every step and making them feel like the award is collectively owned;
ii) Closing civic space- in some places where they run the campaign which has hindered our ability to talk about some of the issues involved. In response, organisers have worked to generate political buy-in and emphasized the positive nature of the campaign;
iii) Media costs- organisers have often not been able to pay for the media coverage needed. To overcome this they have worked hard to find pro-bono air time and earned media.

Conditions for Success

Three conditions are essential for success of Integrity Icon:

i) Collective action- this is a campaign that organisers have found works best when it is owned by a group of core partners. They can use it and adapt it to their own objectives, meaning it can add to what they are already doing and act to amplify existing initiatives;
ii) Long-term engagement- the campaign works only when it is repeated over time, which they have now done every year for the past 7 years. This builds momentum and allows for longitudinal analysis of the impact as the Icons grow, collaborate and push for reforms.
iii) Ongoing adaptation- Integrity Icon requires continual creativity to ensure longevity, both in terms of form and function. As described, it is now evolving in a variety of directions that harness the energy of the campaign to rethink governance and reform government more broadly, particularly with the younger generation.


As mentioned, Integrity Icon is growing rapidly- and has now been replicated in 9 countries since it began in Nepal 7 years ago. They are particularly excited about its potential in the "Global North" and the lessons Europe and North America can learn from the campaign in Africa, South Asia and Latin America. It can now be replicated within specific sectors, potentially; and across types of organizations, such as the private sector and even civil society. One clear lesson from their work is also that youth are essential to shifting norms- and organisers could even take Integrity Icon down to mini-versions in schools to build understandings of ethics even from a young age.

The organisers feel there is huge potential for the innovation to be replicated in other contexts going forwards- in partnership with other organizations across government, media business and civil society- and the Accountability Lab are investing a big part of our time and energy into making sure this is the case.

Lessons Learned

Organisers have learned three key lessons from Integrity Icon:

i) Individuals shape institutions- generally aid-driven anti-corruption approaches have focused on institutions- such as building out anti-corruption commissions. But if these organizations and rules do not correspond to relationships and incentives that exist in society, people will simply work around them. This is why a focus on individuals is key- it is through them that they will ultimately be able to create the environment for effective public policy. Corruption is a collective action problem, not a principal-agent problem- so the solution has to be working to shift norms.

ii) Governance programming is not disaggregated- traditional approaches to governance can treat the topic monolithically. For example, reforms do not differentiate between men and women in public service and the kinds of pressures and challenges they might face differently within bureaucratic institutions. Through Integrity Icon some of these kinds of challenges have begun to emerge and they are building coalitions to draw out the kind of support needed. The female Icons are coming together, for instance, to develop criteria for support for women in public service.

iii) Inside-outside coalitions are key- generally, public sector reform has focused either on the supply side or the demand side. But organisers learned that it has to be both- and creating the connections between the two. Integrity Icon, for example, allows reformers within government to connect with civil society of all kinds (activists, film-makers, media experts) to share ideas, innovate together and find ways to push for collective change. It is these inside-outside coalitions that are critical to sustained reforms as individuals move across institutions and sectors.

All of this, combined with a relentlessly positive approach to the issues ("naming and faming"), fills the governance discourse with constructive, solutions-oriented conversations and ideas.

Anything Else?

Organisers recently changed the name of this innovation from Integrity Idol to Integrity Icon- as they were launching in the US and did not want to be confused with the American Idol TV show.

Project Pitch

Supporting Videos

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

Innovation provided by:

Date Published:

4 January 2021

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