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Researchers must sometimes go against existing prejudices and established interests. Why do they set out on this path, how do they stay motivated and who do they work together with to focus on positive change?

In this article, Oksana Nesterenko tells Vice Versa and WOTRO Science for Global Development about Anti-Corruption Research and Education Centre and anti-corruption research in Ukraine.

Oksana Nesterenko never intended to become an anti-corruption specialist, but it was inevitable the way she sees it now.

‘I was teaching constitutional law at a university. I spoke about human rights, freedom of information, the protection of whistle blowers. Whatever I wanted to fight for, whether it was human rights, the environment or better education, I suddenly realized that corruption is the root of all Ukrainian problems’, – she says.

In February 2014 there was a revolution in Ukraine and the most important goal was to stop corruption in the country.

‘However, we hardly had any expertise on how to achieve that goal,’ explains Nesterenko. ‘And there were no study programmes at universities to train people to change that. So a centre for anti-corruption research was founded. The Dutch researcher Max Bader played an essential role in this. He suggested mapping out which anti-corruption methods were effective and which ones were not. What could local governments and communities do, what criteria should donors meet? These questions did not even have a beginning of an answer’, – Oksana Nesterenko adds.

With the aid of foreign donors, the centre for anti-corruption research was founded in 2015. Nesterenko is the head of the NAUKMA centre – Anti-Corruption Research and Education Centre.

Nesterenko: ‘The methodology for the major research project that we started with was developed by a Dutch research institute. An important part of it was interviewing people and organisations that described themselves as ‘anti-corruption. Not only large organisations but also small ones that were not very well-known; everyone who said that they were fighting corruption, also on a local level. Out of the more than 350 people we interviewed, it turned out that 250 were not anti-corruption activists at all. They were lawyers who had dubious motives, only using anti-corruption as an alibi, as a useful cover to operate under. Because of the method we used – the interviews were not recorded in any way – everyone had the courage to speak freely and openly. This is how we could separate the wheat from the chaff in anti-corruption activism. We started to see what the most effective organisations have in common and which methods work best.’   

‘We have only just started, and we have already noticed that we have achieved some important improvements in the fight against corruption. We are better able to understand the weaknesses of local anti-corruption organisations, and we have developed tools to help them become more professional’, – she says. 

In February 2014 there was a revolution in Ukraine and the most important goal was to stop corruption in the country. ‘However, we hardly had any expertise on how to achieve that goal,’ explains Nesterenko. ‘And there were no study programmes at universities to train people to change that. So a centre for anti-corruption research was founded.

Change

How does Nesterenko stay motivated? Does she see enough progress?  

Nesterenko: ‘Absolutely. We are the only independent research organisation in Ukraine, partly thanks to foreign donors and rich Ukrainians who support us from other parts of the world in the hope of changing their country for the better. We have only just started, and we have already noticed that we have achieved some important improvements in the fight against corruption. We are better able to understand the weaknesses of local anti-corruption organisations, and we have developed tools to help them become more professional. This is having a major impact, as donors abroad know which local organisations are the best to support to strengthen democracy.’

Connections with the Dutch Research Council

Oksana Nesterenko took part in the research programme ‘Assumptions – Supporting new roles of civil society organisations for inclusive development’. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs focused on addressing the root causes of poverty and inequality within the policy framework ‘Dialogue and Dissent’. The projects in this programme studied the Theory of Change on which this policy is based, and specifically on the underlying assumptions.

The original source: https://www.nwo.nl/en/cases/contributing-science-against-backdrop-murder