Qualitative Action Experiment tackles professional integrity in the Zambian planning sector

From the 8 to 10 October 2019, the Cities of Integrity project – in partnership with the Centre for Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Zambia and the Zambian Institute of Planners (ZIP) – conducted a Qualitative Action Experiment (QAE) in Lusaka.

In this article, researchers Dorothy Ndhlovu, Gilbert Siame and Laura Nkula-Wenz, reflect on the experiment.

The QAE, comprising a public panel discussion and two and half days of training for practicing planners, presented an exciting research opportunity to share insights on common corruption challenges in Zambian cities and towns and discuss the role professional planning can play in fostering transparency and furthering public accountability. The aim was to jointly explore the potential of and avenues for activating the professional integrity of urban planners through a targeted training and community building intervention that could help address the high and consequential corruption risks in local urban development.

The public panel discussion featured prominent personalities involved in anti-corruption activism, local governance improvement, planning practice in Zambia and social advocacy for slum dwellers. Chaired by Cities of Integrity’s Co-PI Dr. Gilbert Siame, the panel consisted of Reuben Lifuka, Transparency International’s Vice Chair of the Board and president of the Zambian chapter, alongside ZIP president Cooper Chibomba. Representatives from the Local Government Association of Zambia and the Peoples Process on Housing and Poverty in Zambia (PPHPZ) organisation completed the panel. During the discussion, community members from the Zambian Homeless and Poor People’s Federation stressed the need to actively fight corruption in urban development. PPHPZ and the Federation of Slum Dwellers passionately reflected on the grave effects of corruption on the urban poor who cannot afford hefty bribes and are frequently excluded from accessing urban land and services. Other incisive submissions honing in on the multi-faceted challenges of corruption were also made by UNZA’s Dean of the School of Natural Sciences, a former Minister of Environmental Affairs, as well as environmental activists in attendance.

The panel confirmed, that tackling corruption in urban development is a key policy challenge of our time. Yet it has largely gone unnoticed in broader urban research and policy debates. To address this gap and test the potential of professional communities to act as custodians of integrity, the panel discussion was followed by an intensive 2-day training for 40 planners from across Zambia. In an interactive mix of short presentations, media inputs, group discussions and role play, we covered topics ranging from the basics of corruption and their manifestations in Zambia’s cities and towns to how to grapple with ethical dilemmas and personal morals in everyday planning practice. On Day 1, participants candidly shared their lived experiences with corruption and the ethical dilemmas they are facing on a regular basis. As many participants highlighted the need for action, Day 2 invited the group to think about concrete practical tools that could help them to activate, build and consolidate integrity in their professional community. To this end, it was invaluable to have the leadership of the Zambian Institute of Planners present over the course of the workshop, as ideas for possible interventions and systematic support could be immediately broached and put on ZIP’s institutional action agenda. In addition, Mr. Lifuka – himself a former architect and urban development practitioner – also provided important insights into Zambia’s current fight against corruption and highlighted some existing tools that planners can use to support their ethical practice.

During the final session, participants made personal commitments in the form of tangible ‘integrity pledges’. Here, participants promised to actively invoke integrity in their daily work through various strategies, e.g. sharing key messages from the training with colleagues, using integrity stickers as visual reminders in their offices, formally declaring conflicts of interest, drafting and reviewing local service charter as well as helping to improve reporting mechanisms together with ZIP. The project team has already started following up with some participants on selected commitments in in-depth personal interviews and focus group discussions. Furthermore, quarterly online surveys will be used to check in with participants on a regular basis and the group will reconvene in October 2020 for an in-depth reflection workshop.

After three days of intensive dialogue and mutual learning, participants were awarded a certificate of participation. The sense of personal accomplishment was tangible, as was the sentiment that more planners should have the opportunity to take advantage of similar interventions going forward. To this end, ZIP’s president Cooper Chibomba reiterated the organisation’s commitment to institutionalise integrity trainings and support Zambia’s planning community to act as champions of urban integrity going forward.