Leadership in a Rapidly-Changing World: Rachel Davidson Raycraft (’20) Confronts Corruption with Innovative Technology

The capstone of the Batten MPP is an Applied Policy Project in which students produce a professional study with real-world application. We checked in with recent alum Rachel Davidson Raycraft (MPP/JD ’20) to talk about her work as a 2019-20 World Economic Forum Research Assistant and participation in their ongoing project with the Inter-American Development Bank and Colombian Inspector General’s Office on blockchain-based procurement.  Rachel is preparing to take the bar exam and intends to focus her career on human rights and corporate accountability.

RDR

As part of my Applied Policy Project, I co-authored the World Economic Forum’s recently published report, Exploring Blockchain Technology for Government Transparency: Blockchain-Based Public Procurement to Reduce Corruption, which assesses blockchain’s anti-corruption potential in a government contracts context.  Worldwide, governments spend approximately $9.5 trillion on procurement contracts annually.  This process is often marked by complexity, opacity, and a high degree of human discretion, resulting in a substantial risk for corruption.  The UN and OECD estimate that 10-30 percent of a public contract’s overall value is commonly lost to corruption—diverted to the pockets of self-serving government officials, corporate executives, and other participants in the procurement process.

Our report builds upon a model blockchain-based procurement platform developed by the Forum and its partners for the Programa de Alimentación Escolar, the Colombian public-school meals program which contracts with vendors for meal preparation and delivery throughout the country.  It represents the most comprehensive assessment of blockchain-based public procurement, and blockchain for anti-corruption more generally.  Officially invented in 2008, blockchain has grown from a vehicle for the exchange of electronic or “crypto” currency to a technology that could transform almost every industry and many government functions.  It is a distributed, open-ledger technology that is tamper resistant and radically transparent.  It would allow companies and governments to conduct the procurement process remotely using smart contracts and timestamps, all on a decentralized electronic platform.  Blockchain also enables this process to be entirely and instantaneously auditable by third party actors—including anti-corruption watchdogs, civil society organizations, and the public at large—making it particularly well-suited to address public-sector corruption.

A core feature of the project and report is our multifaceted and multidisciplinary approach to this technological innovation, looking at technical design and limitations, policy, governance, and civic engagement.  While blockchain possesses exciting and unprecedented anti-corruption potential, it is not a panacea.  To fully realize blockchain’s capacity to facilitate effective governance one needs to address the social, political, legal, and economic incentives that shape how people interact with the technology.  Having taken courses at Batten on behavioral economics, social psychology, public policy, and political analysis, I was able to play a central role in developing a menu of complementary policy proposals, drafting an evaluative framework, and proposing additional corruption-prone areas of governance where blockchain solutions may prove beneficial.   

Our ultimate vision is to inspire other governments to leverage our research and analysis in order to assess the utility of blockchain-based procurement solutions and reinvent systems to best fit their own needs.  Particularly with the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the publication of our recommendations and findings could not be more timely.  Countries around the world are exhibiting serious irregularities in procurement processes as governments rush to obtain medical products and services.  Transparency International, a global anti-corruption organization, has already reported various government officials who have exploited this panic for personal gain.  In response, civil society actors are calling on governments to increase the uniformity, accountability, and transparency of their procurement processes in order to improve the quantity and quality of goods and services delivered to people in need and reduce the potential for self-dealing.  Blockchain’s characteristics directly address all three of these core concerns.  While blockchain-based procurement may not be implemented in time to address COVID-related irregularities, heightened procurement corruption in the wake of the pandemic presents yet another compelling case for this type of technologically-driven solution.

I entered Batten in 2016 as a JD/MPP candidate intent on developing tools that would allow me to change pervasive systems of economic and social oppression, to which government and corporate corruption are key contributors.  It feels unreal to harness the skills I have developed over the past four years toward a project that presents such exciting potential to profoundly disrupt these corrosive practices worldwide.

More information on the Exploring Blockchain Technology for Government Transparency project can be found at the Ethereal Summit, World Economic Forum, and Inter-American Development Bank websites.