Reform measures will always be specific to the particular circumstances: context is all important. Nevertheless, it helps to group the measures into a limited number of types, or categories. In CurbingCorruption we define eight of them:
- Functional reforms: improving institutions, public financial management, systems and controls
- People-centred measures: working directly with affected communities; building networks and coalitions of supporters
- Monitoring measures: strengthen oversight groups and their independence, whistleblowing
- Justice & rule of law measures: prosecuting, raising confidence, improving laws
- Transparency reforms: making visible what others wish to keep hidden
- Integrity reforms: motivating, instilling pride and commitment
- Civil society and media measures: creating space for external voices
- Incentives, economic theory and nudge measures: aligning stakeholders, economics, small changes
We use these eight categories across all sectors, though of course the examples are sector-specific.
1. Functional reform measures
Improving institutions, processes, public financial management, systems and controls
Technical, administrative, financial, system & institutional reforms tend to be the largest set of measures and to get the most attention; they are often – beneficially – mainstreamed within broader reform initiatives. Functional reforms make sense, especially when they involve systematising something that previously relied on many human-to-human interactions. However, exclusive attention to technical measures alone is a high-risk strategy: technical solutions often fail, they can be slow , they can be deliberately slowed down, and sometimes they are used by political leaders as an impressive-sounding excuse for making little real change. So, use functional reforms, but in combination with other approaches, and with sufficient prior analysis. Here are some examples:
- Improve the administrative processes
- Improve Public Financial Management (PFM)
- Improve the Management Information Systems (MIS)
- Organisation reform or splitting of the Ministry
- Mainstream functional reforms within the broader Ministry reform efforts
Improve the administrative processes closest to service delivery
Improve Public Financial Management (PFM)
Improve financial management processes
Improve the Management Information Systems (MIS)
Consider whether organisation reform of a particular Ministry is required
Consider how new technology might help or might enable the problem to be re-defined
Look to mainstream your functional reforms within the broader Ministry reform efforts
2. People-centred measures
Working directly with affected communities; building networks and coalitions of supporters
Networks and coalitions come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Creating one could be as simple as building up a team of committed people around you in your area of responsibility. Or it could be on a larger scale, collaborating with groups in the private sector or professional associations, such as doctors or engineers. Or it could be working with civil society organisations or in collaboration with relevant international initiatives.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. This might be as simple as building up a team of committed people around you in your area of responsibility. Or it could be on a larger scale, collaborating with groups in the private sector or professional associations, such as doctors or engineers. Or it could be working with civil society or in collaboration with relevant international initiatives.Eight measures you can consider:
Build your initiative around the people that live around the affected area or are involved in the relevant sector
Build a critical mass of committed supporters inside your Ministry or organisation
Set up one or more forums where people can discuss tackling the corruption issues and demonstrate their commitment to your plans
Bring national civic groups on board and collaborate with civil society organisations
Bring in experts in trans-national initiatives specific to this sector/corruption problem
Bring in enthusiasts from the private sector
Actively search out possible coalitions
Enlist the international development community to help with this problem
3. Monitoring measures
Strengthening oversight groups and their independence
Monitoring and oversight mechanisms are important for controlling corrruption in a lasting, sustainable way, such as through auditors, regulatory agencies or through independent organisations within civil society. But these reforms have a disappointing history, often quickly becoming ineffective. The reasons are all well known: lack of budget, staffed by people unchanged from predecessor organisations, institutional neglect, deliberate marginalisation, being subverted in the political environment, denied access to key people and records, bribed or threatened. Finding ways to get multiple forms of independent scrutiny into action is therefore a core part of anti-corruption strategies.
Ten measures you can consider:
Review and strengthen core operational and financial controls
Demand more from your internal audit function
Commission some focused audits and reviews
Demand more from the external auditors
Consider pressing for a formal Commission of Inquiry
Set up monitoring by citizen groups and NGOs
Citizen Report Cards
Strengthen the regulators and the relevant professional agencies
Actively exploit the international peer review mechanisms
Actively exploit sectoral country-comparison mechanisms and indexes
Finding safe ways for people to speak up is vital: it may be worth setting up a custom mechanism
Whistleblowing is now recognised as an important mechanism to support integrity in organisations. However, in reality these mechanisms are usually weak, or may exist on paper only, and the whistleblowers usually end up suffering.
Yet they are vital in identifying and calling out corruption: the challenge is to find a way in your context to make them effective, and to publicise this.
Interestingly, the oldest whistleblower defence organisation is based in the USA. The Government Accountability Project has advised thousands of whistleblowers in every sector and industry since it was established in 1978 after the release of the Pentagon Papers. They provide tools and resources for whistleblowers and the wider public. Their website is hereand or contact them at email@example.com. There is also an NGO called the National Whistleblowers Centre’ who can give you information on which organisations in your country work with whistleblowing. You can find their website hereor contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
The good news:In a few countries, the whistleblowing law is seen to work well
The usual reality: For most people in most sectors, the reality is that the government-wide system is poor and/or mistrusted and is anyway outside of their control. So, what can you do that will be helpful to your situation?
Here are four things you can do:
Examine if there is a part of your organisation/directorate/ministry is already doing something good, and build on it
Consider contracting a civil society whistleblowing group to operate an independent sector-specific whistleblowing system
Call the NGOs PROTECT and Whistleblowers International Network (WIN) to ask for advice
Use the UNODC best practice guide to improve your current system
4. Justice and Rule of Law (ROL) measures
Prosecuting, raising confidence, improving laws, using civil discipline options
Routine prosecution of corruption cases is one of the hallmarks of a state that has control of corruption, and some experts describe routine prosecution as the definition of success against corruption: ‘Reducing corruption to the status of exception in a sustainable way thus defines a successful evolution’ (Mungiu-Pippidi and Johnston 2017 p9).
However, prosecutions are high risk: they can be very slow, often many years, to come to court; they can be unpredictable, as powerful individuals find ways to escape prosecution or conviction. Worse, in countries where the judiciary are corrupt, this tends to mean that corruption reform will take decades (World Bank Development Report 2011, p109). Perhaps only Sicily, in Italy, has had success against corruption by a prosecution-led strategy.
Whilst prosecution may be a tactical response to public pressure, it is unlikely to be a major part of the strategy. Here are eight measures you can consider:
Exert pressure via discipline, sanctions and penalties
Calling out corruption
Investigation and prosecution
Carry out a legal and constitutional review
Encourage broad reviews by academics
Search out policy capture cases
Consider what changes in policy, even small ones, might change the corrupt dynamics
‘Corruption-proofing’ statutes and regulations
5. Transparency measures
Making visible what others wish to keep hidden
Along with independent review and monitoring, transparency is one of the important tools in reducing corruption. Corruption problems naturally thrive when the relevant data is not going to be made public. Five measures you can consider:
Identify public service data that needs to be transparent
Require that engagements with public officials & public bodies be public
Require that national, regional and project budgets, and the spending against those budgets, are transparent.
Consider making all internal and external audit reports public
Watch out for when transparency does not work as intended
6. Integrity measures
Instilling pride is the most motivating way to curb corruption
Integrity is a magical word. Coming from Latin (integritas) and then French (integrité) in the Middle Ages, its meaning combines good moral character of the individual and wholeness of a larger entity in one single word. The Oxford Dictionary definition gives this in full. Strengthening integrity is a positive emotion and one that strikes a strong chord of pride in people.
However, the word ‘integrity’ does not always translate well. For example, there is no equivalent word for integrity in Slavic languages. Some countries and sectors naturally focus on ‘building integrity’ as a base for building a more trusting and less corrupt society. Rwanda is one such country (See Heywood et al 2017), and the Military is one such sector. For examples, see the Defence Integrity Framework of the Canadian military approach, or a critical analysis of the decline of US army integrity in Wong and Gerras 2015, or NATO’s initiative Building Integrity and the NATO publication ‘Building integrity and reducing corruption in defence’, available in multiple languages.
Fifteen measures you can consider:
Improve the quality of your civil service cadre
Consider how the national religious authorities can have a useful impact
Establish a small Integrity Unit or a Transparency Unit within your Ministry/organisation
Set up an ad-hoc ‘Integrity Committee’ or ‘Integrity Advisory Group’ in your Ministry
Set out an Integrity Framework for your Ministry/organisation
Train your leadership team in integrity and anti-corruption
Conduct ethics/integrity surveys of staff and use the results
Consider radical change to personnel to raise integrity
Initiate or extend integrity/anti-corruption awareness raising and training
Introduce integrity into your community via social media
Initiate long-term societal change through education
Review the effectiveness of Integrity standards and Codes of Conduct and improve them
Review and call out Conflicts of Interest
Ask stakeholders about ‘fairness’ as a basis for solving a corruption issue
Make Building integrity one third of your strategy along with fighting corruption
7. Civil society and media measures
Creating space for external voices
Both civil society and media are seen to be important to reducing corruption. In the case of civil society, this has been the orthodox view since it was proclaimed by the World Bank back in 1997. However, civil society projects often have no discernible impact. As recorded by Mungiu-Pippidi in her 2015 book, p174, out of some 471 civil society projects in Eastern Europe in the period 2000-2010, only about a third of these projects had any traceable impact. These projects were the ones that targeted corruption directly and concretely, they were done in collaboration with journalists, and they were set up by grass roots organisations rather than by donors.
A similar analysis by the Partnership for Transparency Fund (PTF) of 200 projects that they sponsored came to similar conclusions. Successful projects needed to i) Focus on a single set of problems and not be ambitious; ii) Do not start until you well understand the problem; iii) be non-confrontational and patient; iv) work with key champions of reform within the power structure; and v) seek to reform the official accountability system with the evidence you have gained from the project (Landell Mills (2013) p230-231).
Media are clearly important, as the Eastern Europe example quoted above shows. In the case of investigative journalism, their role and value are self-evident. The problem in recent years has been twofold: the increasing antagonism towards them in many countries, and the declining appetite or ability for news corporations to employ them.
The lesson is to bring civil society and media on board as collaborators, NOT as after-thoughts or add-ons. You can consider using a civil society organisation to monitor your overall progress. You could create a policy advisory body, or a progress discussion body into which you could bring civil society and media.
8. Incentives, economic theory & nudge measures
Aligning stakeholders and economics
Economists have long argued that successful implementation of any policy requires that the preferences of all those involved be appropriately aligned with achieving the goals of that scheme. In tackling corruption, for example, experts consider the criminal law measures that can act as incentives not to be corrupt, such as legalisation of payments, reform of public programs or procurement systems or privatisation. See Rose-Ackerman and Palifka (2016), p126.
8.1 Incentive measures
However, in its application to tackling corruption, the incentive approach has had a mixed reception, as it is often unclear who is the agent and who is the principal. Furthermore, monitoring agent behaviour and holding agents accountable is particularly difficult in the public sector. This has led to other sorts of approaches being preferred, such as ‘collective action’ by all the involved stakeholders. Nonetheless, once we are down at sector level – as opposed to national-level measures like criminal law reform – it becomes easier to see how specific incentives can help to re-align policies so as to promote less corruption.
There is also some analysis that is helpful in distinguishing between sectors where it may be easier to improve performance through incentives, and sectors where it will always be difficult. In an analysis by Fukayama 2004 he suggests looking at public sectors on a matrix that plots ‘transaction intensity’ against ‘specificity’. Transaction intensity is a simple concept – it is simply the number of decisions that need to be made by organisations. Thus, for example, a central bank makes very few decisions, such as making changes to interest rates, whilst a health system makes millions of decisions every day. Specificity refers to the ability to monitor a service output. For example, jet engine maintenance is a highly specific service output: it is very hard to fake. By contrast, early years school education classes are very easy to fake and are hard to measure reliably. If you set up this matrix of Specificity versus Transaction intensity for public sector services, Fukuyama suggest that it looks like the chart opposite.
One current example of the application of incentives to reduce corruption in particular sectors is from the work of Khan et al 2016, 2017 at the School or Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. They have examined in detail mechanisms for reducing corruption in the Bangladesh energy sector, the Bangladesh garments sector, and the Nigerian power sector. Another example is from corruption reduction efforts in the forestry sector, for example in Ecuador, where they combined a new government decree with the ability to monitor logging activities on the basis of verifiable indicators. See Kishor and Damania (2004) Improving governance and reducing corruption in the Forestry Sector. In these cases, the objective of the incentives is not to ‘reduce corruption’, but to make the sector more productive: This is in line with guidance elsewhere in this website that your objective is rarely to ‘reduce corruption’, but more likely to make the sector more productive (See here).
8.2 Other economic measures
There is a raft of economic measures that have a place in reducing corruption. Examples include more competition, more consumer choice, better information, fewer layers, firm incentives, better banking rules, the role for technology, spillover and demonstration effects, and so on. These measures can all have significant impact on corruption, but there is little written up about their specific anti-corruption impact.
If you have examples and reports, do let us know. This is an area where more knowledge of the anti-corruption impact of economic reforms is needed.
8.3 Nudge measures
New science shows how small changes can make a big difference
Policy makers are increasingly using ‘nudges’ as a tool for changing behaviour. Instead of controlling how people behave by taking away their freedom to choose, they are changing the decision-making context in a way that leads people to make different choices, thereby ‘nudging’ them towards a desired behaviour.
A ‘nudge’ is a means of encouraging or guiding behaviour, but without mandating or instructing, and ideally without the need for heavy financial incentives or sanctions. We know what it means in everyday life: it’s a gentle hint; a suggestion; a conspicuous glance at a heap of clothes that we’re hoping our kids might clear away. Research in social and cognitive psychology has led to new thinking on how people make decisions. We are not ‘rational choice beings’, as the economists would have it. Rather, we are influenced by our context and our emotions, and our decision-making ability is prone to errors in remembering, predicting and deciding between options. Further, the research has shown that these errors are often not random, but predictable.
This in turn has led to a rapidly growing new discipline, called ‘behavioural science’. Amongst the insights are ways in which small changes in people’s decision-making context can have large impacts on behaviour.
In the UK, for example, in order to increase savings for retirement, the government has instituted a policy where employers automatically enroll their employees in pension schemes. Employees can opt out of the scheme if they want to – that is, they are under no obligation to remain enrolled. However, simply by making having a pension scheme the ‘default’ option, employers have increased uptake of pension schemes significantly.
Nudging is appealing for a number of reasons. First, nudges are often relatively cheap as compared to other policy tools. Changing the default option, for example, may simply entail changing one sentence and one tick box on a form.
Relatedly, nudges can be easy to implement. Implementing them often does not require legislative changes or multiple approvals. In contexts where the bureaucratic processes and inefficient governance slow down change, this can be particularly beneficial.
Third, nudges may work in contexts where increasing the level of control over people’s behaviour can actually backfire. Higher levels of regulation and monitoring do not necessarily lead to reduced corruption. In fact, restricting people further may signal to them that they are not trustworthy or to make them feel resentful, driving them to behave more unethically. Control and punishment may also reduce people’s internal motivation to act ethically.
Finally, the design of nudges is based on an understanding of human psychology. As a result, nudges may be more effective than policies that forget to take the ‘human’ element into consideration. Nudge theory recognises that people are not always rational and that they won’t necessarily act logically, and that information or awareness alone won’t necessarily change behaviour. People do not always carefully weigh up the costs and benefits of acting unethically, factoring in the risk of getting caught and the potential punishment.
The theory also accepts that multiple drivers – the physical context, individual psychology, and those around us, to name a few – impact on behaviour. For example, there are many reasons why people may be dishonest or corrupt, such as feeling social pressure to conform, losing self-control due to exhaustion, or a sense that they deserve the spoils of a corrupt behaviour because they are being treated unfairly. Even well-meaning individuals who are informed about corruption and its consequences may fail to make the right ethical choices sometimes. A nudge-based approach acknowledges these aspects of human psychology and responds to them.
Below are examples of nudges that can be used to reduce corruption – either on their own or as applied alongside other more traditional methods. While based on behavioural science research, nudges by their very nature are highly context specific and should be tested when used in new environments and situations.
If you want to read more generally about this whole new topic, we recommend the original book on the theory by Thaler and Sunstein (2008) and a book about its application in political practice in the UK by Halpern (2015). The application to tackling corruption is well covered in the new publication from the OECD (2018).
Twelve measures you can consider:
Pre-commit to integrity
Use public commitments
Make being dishonest an active choice
Use timely reminders to promote integrity
Have people create a clear plan on how to tackle a high-risk activity
Inform people that the desired behaviour is the norm
Enforce the rules that are easier to enforce first
Use images to prompt honesty
Test different types of messages to increase compliance
Change the timings of major decisions
Full bibliography of sources
[i] In academic writing and research, you will find that this effect of peoples’ actions is rather clumsily called ‘Human agency’. It is used by sociologists to describe the capacity of a human being to act and to effect change personally, arising out of their individual behaviour. It is in contrast to change happening due to social ‘structures’, by which sociologists mean the circumstances that the individual finds themselves in, such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, subculture, etc., which seem to limit or influence the opportunities that individuals have.