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Corruption is not one phenomenon, but many different issues aggregated together. To make progress, start by focusing on what the specific issues are, their scale, and the problems they are causing in your context.  Doing this also helps build shared understanding, because everyone has a different idea about corruption. Here’s how:

  • Disaggregating the corruption into specific issues.
  • Organising these issues in an easily comprehensible way – a typology
  • Analysing them: their scale, importance, context, avoidability and solubility
  • Building shared understanding of their impact across colleagues/partners & others
  • Drawing on international A-C experience in your sector. 

Disaggregating into 20-40 specific issues

An ‘issue’ is a specific problem. It is not a broad category like grand/petty, need/greed, political/ bureaucratic, institutional/individual.We try to be specific about the corruption type, so that you can start to direct remedial actions against it. So, ‘corruption due to a non-meritocratic civil service’ would not be a corruption type because it is so broad. Instead, we break it down into several more detailed and therefore more manageable corruption types. Similarly, ‘collusion’ is not a corruption type because it is so general.

First, we separate corruption issues that are different from one sector to another by treating each sector differently – this is the basis of CurbingCorruption. For example, in policing, there will be various forms of corruption at a high political level, such as allowing organised crime in specific areas or ensuring that independent oversight is permanently weak; corruption in the management of the police service, such as improperly promoting some officers or permitting officers to stay in lucrative positions; corruption and lack of integrity in personal behaviour, such as evidence tampering or demanding illegal fines; and so on. Similar differentiation exists in every sector: e.g. the corrupt police behaviour examples above are quite different from pharmaceutical-related corruption types within the health sector, which again are very different phenomena from the corruption in relation to passing school exams within the education sector.

Second, whilst some of the corruption issues are clearly sector-specific, as discussed above, others that seem to be generic also have significant differences from one sector to another. For example, the corrupt diversion of salaries en-route from the ministry to the worker or promotions that are driven by corrupt payments not by merit. Whist these look to be similar phenomena, the modalities by which the corruption takes place and is facilitated are usually very different in one sector from another. The reforms are similarly likely to be different from one sector to another. Our experience is that this is true for all the ‘generic’ types of corruption, whether it be corruptly influencing policy, favouritism in appointments and promotions, small-scale facilitation payments, and so forth.

Organising the issues – Typologies

Too much complexity renders a problem much harder to solve. Our experience is that 20-40 different issues is enough to provide granularity, and not so much as to overwhelm with complexity. The, grouping the issues according to who the reforming organisation is helpful. So, we categorise the issues into 5 or 6 groups, such as ‘leadership level’, ‘finance’, ‘procurement’, ‘personnel’ and ‘operations’. Sometimes these can be made more specific, such as ‘corruption at school level’ to distinguish it from ‘corruption at Education Ministry level’.

Examples from six sectors




 Construction project typology (from U4) 

Analysing the issues

Doing this analysis can be a two-hour exercise or it can be a six month one. The quick way is always attractive. Your own staff are usually well aware of the corruption issues, often with extensive experience of working in large, complex, bureaucratic environments. Hence, they are likely to be the best informed about what the corruption problems are, which ones can be tackled, and which ones need to be left for later. You might give them the list of corruption from the relevant sector review in CurbingCorruption and ask a group of them to analyse which are the more relevant ones and their relative importance. This simple approach has the advantage that you can quickly capture the ‘top of mind’ knowledge of your senior professionals. It has some disadvantages, notably that it is likely to focus on the more immediate issues.

In the mid-range, you may have specialist groups with extra knowledge, like internal audit groups, regulatory agencies and professional fraud groups. Together with external groups like community groups, private sector associations and civil society, you can get a more inclusive analysis done, still quite quickly. It has the same disadvantages as above.

At the most thorough end of the spectrum, you can get a detailed analysis done by groups with professional anti-corruption knowledge, if possible combined with sector expertise. These groups might sit within universities, or civil society, or think tanks. Such analyses are likely to take from two months to six months. In large initiatives, there are several analytical techniques you can consider, as mentioned below. There is also an obvious and often sizeable political advantage to having a thorough, independent analysis done of the corruption issues and risks. If you have time and funds, we recommend that you do a thorough analysis.

Defence sector example – Poland

At a time when it was recognised that there was considerable corruption within the Polish military and defence forces, the Polish MoD team identified eight high-risk corruption areas: defence procurement, R&D projects, development projects , disposal of surplus property, conscript procedures, lack of meriticracy in appointments and promotions, and defence investments. The mInistry decided to focus on just one aspect of one problem: bribery involving top officials in high-value defence procurements. The chosen solution was a preventive monitoring reform measure, in which the minister established a small but full-time task force of four people inside the Defence Minsitry with the remit to review and reject tenders and technical specifications where there was a suspicion of bias. This was a low profile reform, but with a chance of success because the Defence Minister was supportive of greater integrity as one way of improving the reputation of Polish defence forces in NATO. The reform was largely successful and the task force has been an established feature of the MoD for ten years now.

Formal analysis methodologies

There are lots of different methodologies and names for corruption analysis tools, but they all do much the same thing. They aim to develop concrete insights regarding forms of corruption, the extent of each, and the vulnerabilities in the particular sector or agencies or functions. The purpose is to focus the application of practical prevention measures. They use a simple methodology. First, they identify the underlying laws, regulations, and guidelines governing the target agency or function.

Then, they identify the main processes; Identify key steps (both formal and informal) for each business process; Assess strengths and vulnerabilities to corruption of each step (based on weaknesses in the formal system and weaknesses in the capacity/ incentives to implement the formal system).

Then they make some estimation of the scale of each one, usually through survey information. They might be able to access existing surveys that provide information on the perceived scale of the corruption types, or they may commission a survey, or they may do their own. These can be small – a ‘straw poll’ of 50 people – or they can be large. One analysis that I have been involved in, of Education corruption in Afghanistan, developed its own survey data from 550 interviews.

Here are three such analysis techniques: Vulnerability to Corruption Analysis (VCA), Public expenditure tracking surveys (PETS) and Quantitative Service Delivery Surveys (QSDS).  There are others that are more community based, such as citizen report cards.

Three formal corruption analysis techniques – Read more

Doing a Political Economy analysis

Regarding the factors driving the corruption in each sector, you and your colleagues are likely to know the political and power context. It is valuable to consider this more formally. Who is gaining from each corruption type and why?  Who might gain, who might lose from reducing corruption in this specific area? For each corruption type, who are your supporters are and who are the possible spoilers.

Doing such a ‘Political Economy Analysis’ means that these issues are laid out in a structured way and can help decide which corruption types you should address. Here are three simple guides to doing a political economy analysis. You can commission someone to do the analysis formally, or you can follow the steps yourself for an informal analysis.

If you want to go into more detail, look at the following:

  •  OECD 2015 A governance practitioner’s notebook: alternative ideas and approaches (on politics, public sector reform and stakeholder engagement); Tools for political economy analysis from the EU(2008).
  • Hudson and Leftwich 2014 From political economy to political analysis; and 
  • World Bank 2008 The political economy of policy reform: Issues and implications for policy dialogue and development operations.

Khan et al (2016) Anti-corruption in adverse contexts: a strategic approach.

Building shared understanding

The team can now pause at the point where the preparatory work has been done – disaggregation and analysis of the corrruption problems – to have a substantive, informed discussion of what corruption means in their context.One of the eternal difficulties of anti-corrruption efforts is that the term corruption is so easily recognised, yet people have quite different personal models of what it means. The simple tool of the one-page typology presented above is an extremely helpful entry into it. Comprehensible and relevant for anyone working in the sector, it legitimises the reality that corruption is a common problem without the need for euphemisms or skirting round the subject.

The underlying concept here is ‘sense-making’, the process by which people develop a shared understanding of their collective experiences. The concept was introduced in the 1970s by Weick (2001), among others, as part of a movement that shifted thinking about organisations away from decision-making and towards how peoples’ understanding drives organisation behaviour.

One specific technique for advancing this discussion is for groups of those involved to rank the specific issues, then to compare and discuss the reasons for differences in ranking. This is a powerful mechanism for bringing out how the different people round the table view the importance of each individual corruption issue. Depending on the culture and the context, such ranking can be done publicly across a group, or privately, with each participant submitting their list their rankings of the issues for anonymised aggregation. Pyman has led or participated in such exercises in many countries, with groups ranging from just the leadership teams up to conference rooms of 100 and more participants (Pyman 2017).

Here is an example from Botswana, widely regarded as one of the success stories in national level corruption reform. Botswana instituted changes decades ago on land reform, good governance, and institutional design (Mungiu-Pippidi 2015, p.144, Sarraf and Jiwanji 2001).

The military, reviewed corruption issues in defence in a day-long discussion in 2014 facilitated  by Transparency International Defence & Security. By ‘voting’ on all the typology corruption issues, the military leadership concluded that the top three concerns were corruption in corrupt use/control of military intelligence, corruption in payroll and promotions, and corruption in contracting. The full voting results, where each leader could cast three votes for their most critical issues, was as follows;

This allowed the Bostwana military authorities to discuss why the particular issues were important and to agree to focus on particular corruption issues in order to frame their anti-corruption reform efforts in the defence sector.

Similar approaches have been used in developing a common approach to corruption reform in the Philippines (see, for example, Johnston 2010). Klitgaard, also advising in the Philippines, uses the term ‘convening’ in place of sense-making (Klitgaard 2019). Sense-making has also come up in the corruption reform literature in the guise of complexity thinking, such as the analysis and understanding of anti-corruption experience in Malawi by Bridges and Woolcock (2017).

Drawing on international experience

Sectors cross national boundaries. The international perspective as it relates to corruption reform may be in one of several forms: knowledge of the corruption issues specific to the sector; experience of addressing those corruption issues in different national and regional environments; specifc initiatives; standards used, aspired to or required in the sector globally; and the sector culture, representing the extent to which sector professionals think alike, tend to work in similar ways, share mental models or have their own language.

There are now several international initiatives for tackling corruption in sectors. Sector organisations include professional sector associations, many of which have an ‘anti-corruption working group’ or similar forums and programmes targeted at integrity measures and transparency measures. Multilateral organisations working in particular sectors, such as the World Health Organisation or the International Customs Organisation, increasingly provide countries with sector-specific support on anti-corrruption. Multi-sectoral international organisations – like the World Economic Forum (WEF), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – also now have a strong focus on public integrity and anti-corruption and are able to assist country initiatives. The table below lists some of the main sector-specific anti-corruption bodies.

Sector Name of initiative
Construction Global Infrastructure Anti-Corruption Centre (GIACC)

CoST Infrastructure Transparency Initiative (CoST)

Defence Transparency International Defence and Security Programme (TI-DSP)
Education IIEP-UNESCO Education for Justice (UNODC)
Fisheries Fisheries Industries Transparency Initiative (FiTI)
Health Transparency International Health Initiative (TI-HI)
Judiciary Judicial Integrity Group
Mining, Oil & Gas Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)
Police services Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF)
Procurement Open Contracting Partnership
Shipping Marine Anti-Corruption network (MACN)
Sub-National Government Council of Europe: Centre of Expertise for Local Government Reform

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) ‘Local’ programme

UN Habitat, the UN organisation for a better urban future

Water Water Integrity Network (WIN)

These international organisations and initiatives are not just sources of knowledge and ideas, but also offer advice on specific reform measures, as well as support and assistance.


Ang, Yuen Yuen (2014) Authoritarian restraints on on-line activism revisited. Why I-paid-a-bribe worked in India but failed in China. Comparative Politics 47(1), 21-40.

Effective States Institute and inclusive Development Research Centre (2015) Making political analysis useful: adjustment and scaling.

European Commission (2008) Tools for political economy analysis. Annex A.

Hudson, David, Marquette, Heather and Waldock, Sam (2016) Everyday political analysis. Development Leadership Program, January 2016.

Khan, Mushtaq, Andreoni, Antonio, Roy, Pallavi (2016) Anti-corruption in adverse contexts: a strategic approach. SOAS Research Online.

Whaites, Alan (2017) The beginners guide to political economy analysis. National School of Government international.

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