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  • Writer's picturePeter Woodrow, CJL

Identifying Leverage Points in Systemic Analysis and Planning for Anti-corruption Action

By Peter Woodrow

Last week CDA Executive Director Peter Woodrow shared a systemic analysis of corruption in the criminal justice system in Lubumbashi. Today, Peter describes the process of working with local partners to develop the analysis. Responding to Peter’s introduction of key concepts in systems thinking and program design, the local stakeholders developed a common understanding of corruption and then identified possible points of intervention for change. In laying out possible initiatives, the group was able to balance priorities for change against what was most feasible for the context.

Our local partners from RCN Justice et Démocratie have spent months knitting together a network of twenty-five local people dedicated to combatting corruption in the criminal justice sector. More than half of the group works in the sector, including judges, magistrates, police, as well as members of civil society in Lubumbashi, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is a dynamic group, quite willing to engage in lively debates and to challenge each other’s thinking about how to generate positive change.

Analysis and planning

The network assembled for three days of intense analysis and planning work aimed at outlining a long-term strategy for decreasing the effects of corruption—and increasing access to justice more generally. In earlier sessions the group had decided to focus on police custody and preventive detention as the parts of the criminal justice system where the most problematic practices take place.

This workshop was dedicated to conducting a systems analysis of those two problems, based primarily on their personal knowledge and experience, and as the first step in developing a strategy for change. My role was to introduce concepts of systems thinking and then to facilitate production of a systems map of corruption at the Lubumbashi level.

There really was not time to teach the local network members how to do systems mapping themselves. Rather, during the first morning session, I presented the concepts and “vocabulary” (elements, symbols, meanings) of systems thinking, including illustrative examples and a simple exercise. The group then spent most of the afternoon in small groups and then in plenary identifying the key drivers of corruption in relation to police custody and preventive detention. The groups addressed the following questions:

  • What are the most important and contributing factors to the use or misuse of custody/detention?

  • Who are the key actors involved?

  • How do the factors and actors interact with each other?

  • What external factors influence the use/abuse of police custody and pretrial detention?

At the end of the day we ended up with a wall full of factors contributing to corruption, grouped according to various subthemes. In the plenary discussion, members of the group commented on the factors suggested by others and discussed how they interact.

We then gave the participants a day off while the RCN Justice et Démocratie Lubumbashi staff and I worked with the information the group had generated to produce a draft systems map. We then presented the provisional map to the group on the second day of the workshop, and they took time to make corrections and add or subtract elements. By the end of the process they expressed satisfaction that the map was a “good enough” to use as a basis for discussing strategies for change.

Identifying key points of intervention

The rest of the second day was devoted to identifying key points of intervention—where in the corruption system the network could make a difference, responding to the following questions:

  • What are possible points of leverage where we can promote change?

  • What alternative strategies and activities for change would be possible?

  • Why would those approaches work—or how might they succeed/fail?

This is often the most difficult part of the process—figuring out what is most urgent to change, balanced against where promoting change might be possible. Small groups were asked to come up with proposed points of leverage for change—and then reported to the full group. In general, they focused on:

a) reinforcing the ability of actors in the system to resist corruption (B1);

b) providing information so the general population would know more about their rights and how the system works;

c) improving the system of inspections of prisons by the prosecutor (parquet) and others; and

d) how to address issues of impunity (R3 and R5).

Theories of change

During the final day, I made a presentation on theories of change, full of lots of examples and exercises. Then small working groups outlined overall approaches to the four programming areas, their underlying theory of change, and an initial set of action steps. In plenary presentations, participants engaged in vigorous debates, especially about the theories of change and how the system would likely push back against efforts to combat corruption. For instance, there was a lively discussion of whether it would be possible to make a difference in the pervasive issue of impunity, given the political realities in the situation.

Each group also discussed the potential unintended negative consequences of their actions, applying a conflict-sensitivity lens. Members of the group expressed concern that those who benefit from corruption may well find ways to push back or even take actions against the efforts of the anti-corruption network.

By the end of the workshop the group had acquired a good grasp of how the corruption system works and made progress in determining their broad strategies for change. Much remains to be done, but it is a dedicated and energetic group!


Read Peter’s blog post which follows his experience from seven months later, when he came back to visit the network in the DRC and facilitate the process of updating this systems map: “Finding My Way Around the Corruption System with a Map: Mapping the Effects of an Intervention and Extending Systems Mapping to New Areas


About the Author

Peter Woodrow joined CDA in 2003 as Co-Director of the Reflecting on Peace Practice Program, and became CDA’s Executive Director in 2013. As RPP Co-Director, he worked with civil society organizations, multilateral agencies and government entities through the Great Lakes Region to apply RPP concepts and frameworks to peacebuilding programming. RPP has been working with systems thinking tools, especially working with causal loop diagrams (systems maps) as an aid in identifying ways to intervene to promote change in a system. He has been supporting the Central Africa Accountable Service Delivery Initiative since CDA became involved in 2012.


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