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Read our guidance to developing the overall strategy below. Navigation is via the contents list on the sidebar to the left. Or you can download a complete copy of this Guidance as a pdf document to read separately.


After you have reviewed the specific corruption types in your particular context and identified possible reform measures, you can develop an overall strategy. This is where judgement, political skill, context and sequencing are all important. Curbing corruption is about changing the status quo, so you need to be thinking about how to build support, how to spread the benefits, how to bring opponents on board or how to outflank them.  You also need to think carefully as to which combination of measures and management is likely to result in the most impact within the limited resources and time available. We suggest that you develop your overall strategy – in collaboration with those who can also own it with you – in the following way:-

  1. Think through what impacts you most need to achieve
  2. Test the strategy by considering opposites
  3. The big three: People, politics and context
  4. Programming and implementation
  5. Supportive institutional structures.

and we also provide our thoughts on:

Choices in high corruption environments


The originating author of ‘Develop the overall strategy’ is Mark Pyman. Additional contributions have been made by Paul Heywood; Scott Guggenheim; Yuen Yuen Ang, Michael Johnston.


If ever there was a contest for the most over-used word in language, ‘strategy’ would be on the short list. The word came originally from the Greek word for leadership in a military context: how to conceive and craft a successful strategy against your enemy. It means, in brief, picking the right battles, ignoring lesser objectives and concerns about simplicity: strong determination in carrying through a simple idea is seen as the route to success. (For more about the military origins of strategy, see Freedman (2015) Strategy – a history.

However, since the idea of strategy entered the civilian world in the 1970s, it has become more sanitised. It tends now to mean the overall programme of activities to achieve a formal objective and may consist of little more than a wish-list of measures, without consideration of how to achieve them or how to overcome resistance. This is a pity, because the essence of the original meaning – how to achieve something that will be resisted – is important.

1. Think through what impacts you most need to achieve

Knowing what you want to achieve is important and not obvious

What do you want to achieve with your anti-corruption reforms? The answer might be obvious for a small project, like eliminating the unofficial payments to officials for services that should be free. But on any larger scale, the objective needs some thought and is often not obvious.

The key point is this: Reducing corruption is usually not the main objective. Many would assume this to be the core objective of an anti-corruption strategy. But, reducing corruption is more usually a means towards more widely desired policy objectives, rather than the desired end result in itself. At the ambitious end of the spectrum, the objective might be to raise the trust of the public in the system, or to improve access for all to services, or to ensure that all professionals and officials operate to high ethical standards, or to reduce costs. This is a really important point.

A recent analysis of national-level anti-corruption strategies from 41 countries ranked from 21stto 130thin TI’s Corruption Perception Index reinforces this point. The authors identified the following objectives stated in their strategies: To improve service delivery; to improve national reputation, to improve the nation’s ranking in the CPI, to strengthen democracy/transparency/integrity, to improve economic prosperity, to improve economic competitiveness, to strengthen national security, to be aligned with international anti-corruption standards, and to gain accession to the EU. Taken from Pyman et al (2017).

Example: UK national anti-corruption strategy. A good and recent example of high level vision and strategy objectives comes from the UK government’s national anti-corruption strategy 2017-2022. They see the Anti-Corruption strategy as critical to help ensure national security against insiders, to help build the prosperity of the UK, through building up the UK’s reputation as a partner for overseas trade, and to strengthen the confidence of British citizens in UK institutions.

As you see in this UK example, they then have six priorities, ranging from the key corruption threat (from insiders) to the importance of cooperation with other countries.

However, your objectives don’t have to be ‘grand’ ones like these. You could alternatively have smaller, less tangible objectives. One such would be to ‘Build confidence across the organisation that it is possible to make progress against corruption’. A similar one would be to build a culture where people feel free and empowered to try out many different ways of tackling corruption: you could call this ‘improvisation as strategy’.

2. Test the strategy by considering opposites 

Avoiding an endless list of desired actions by forcing choices

After you have identified your main objectives and have a range of possible reform measures that you have identified, how do you connect the two, navigating as best as possible among the stakeholders, those with power and with the resources at your disposal? As we said in the introduction in respect of military strategy; this is where you pick the right battles, ignoring lesser objectives. Part of the answer is entirely local to you – every situation is unique and different. But we can help you in identifying the general choices that you have.

We do this in a dialectic form, offering you contradictory choices which you then choose between, knowing your own situation. We take you through ten dialectical choices, so you can firm up your ideas on how to set out a good strategy for your own situation;

2.1 Incremental progress or large-scale change?

2.2 Preventive strategy or disciplining strategy?

2.3 Prioritise fighting corruption or building integrity?

2.4 Focus on daily corruption or high-level corruption?

2.5 Engage the public immediately, or keep public expectations low? Engage closely with the media, or keep them at arm’s length?

2.6 Narrow focus, such as on a single reform, or broad?

2.7 Substantive reforms or giving people hope?

2.8 Substantive reforms or improving monitoring?

2.9 Improving service delivery or on saving money?

2.10 Controlled execution of the plan or permitting multiple paths to reform?

3. The big three: people, politics and context

In curbing corruption, you are changing the status quo twice. Human beings and organisations adapt slowly to change, so asking people to work in a different way is always likely to be resisted. Second, at the same time, the change is not just a change of habit, it is also a change whereby one group of people will lose a benefit to which they have become accustomed. Argument over the gaining, losing and sharing of benefits is the essence of politics. The argument and the resistance is all the greater when the benefits are illicit ones – ‘rent-seeking’, in the language of economists.

Think of your strategy as containing two big pieces:

The ‘hard’ pieces – the technical nature of each reform – that you hope will improve matters. You may have already reviewed your choices for reforms in Step 2 (Review reforms and reform approaches). You now have a list of such  reforms, with some idea of how to implement them.

The ‘soft’ pieces – People, politics and context. Who will support you in implementing each reform, who will hinder you? And how can you best motivate the former and inhibit the latter? What political collaborations might enable you to change opposers into supporters, or to change the dynamics to your advantage? What is the influence of the political regime on the planned reforms and how can you achieve the most within its constraints? More generally, how will the particular features of your particular context – social, economic and political – make some reforms easier to achieve and others harder?

If your reforms are small, or limited in scope, you may not need to work too hard on this. But for most officials and most anti-corruption initiatives, getting this part of the strategy right is the most critical part of it. Here is our guidance on each of them.

3.1 People

Think about these aspects of human behaviour and motivation for your strategy:

3.1.1 Building a common sense of purpose among people implicated by the reforms

3.1.2 Building collaborations and coalitions of parties with different interests

3.1.3 Maximising the political skills of you, your colleagues and your team

3.1.4 More down to earth people matters - using influencing skills to persuade

3.2 Politics

Even though this website is concerned with corruption at sector level rather than at national level, some national issues – above all the political framework – will usually play a crucial part. If your initiative involves only small reforms, or affects only a limited number of people, then you may not need to be too concerned with the broader political dimension. However, for any sizeable initiative, you need to consider the political regime that you live in.

It is usually useful to prepare for this by doing a ‘Political Economy Analysis’ (PEA). There are several guides you can read to become familiar with this for of analysis, and many groups can do such an analysis if you commission one. Doing a PEA is described in Step 1 – Analyse the corruption types, Section 1.6.

3.2.1 The Influence of national regime type

3.2.2 The different influence of national regime type in different sectors

3.2.3 Political will

3.3 Context

‘Context’ is an umbrella word for all the things that characterises your specific environment. It is all-important in corruption reform. One part of your skill is judging how your particular context favours certain reforms or tactics over others.

One major part of ‘context’ is, of course, politics and the political regime, as already discussed above. But there are more elements to context than the political.

3.3.1 The 'sector' is part of the context

3.3.2 Times of major disturbance to the social equilibrium are another important element of context

3.3.3 The strength of family ties distinguishes one context from another

3.3.4 Guidance on context

4. Programming and implementation

Managing the overall initiative, maintaining support, measuring progress

4.1 Flexibility – Prepare for the plan to be wrong

Military generals are very eloquent on the limits of planning. Almost two hundred years ago, the German war thinker Carl von Clausewitz said, in words that could equally apply to anti-corruption: “War is the realm of uncertainty: there quarters of the factors on which actions in war are based are wrapped in a fog of uncertainty. A sensitive and discriminating judgement is called for, a skilled intelligence to accent out the truth.”

Guidance on flexibility

4.2 Programme management

When engineers have a large task, such as building a ship or a power station, they plan the work into many small projects, each of which is individually managed. The engineers then manage the totality of these projects as a single ‘programme’, with one master plan of how all the individual projects fit together, depend on one another, and so on. Each separate project – which for our purposes is an individual reform – might be managed in quite different ways: for example, a project to implement technical changes to IT systems will be managed quite differently from a project to strengthen the values of the organisation. This is ‘Programme management’

Managing a multitude of small projects in a coordinated way is a formal skill in its own right, so do approach this with respect as many programmes fail due to poor execution. There is plenty of guidance available on how to run a good programme, which we summarise only briefly in this section.

A programme management approach can also be used for managing organisational change programmes in government; but with one very big difference. With each move away from the status quo, the combination of objectives, supporters, and feasible measures will change. Compared with engineering programmes, you need to be more attuned to a step-by step progression, re-evaluating as you go along. Nonetheless, the core components of programme management disciplines such as tracking progress in detail, regular progress meetings and so on are unchanged.

4.2.1 A clear definition of the purpose, value and scope of the programme

4.2.2 Full-time project personnel

4.2.3 Programme management and control

4.2.4 Programme Governance

4.2.5 Programme ownership

4.2.6 Engaging with stakeholders

4.2.7 Tracking results and benefits

Two programme implementation tools

4.3 Cautions and common errors

4.3.1 Be explicit that you are tackling corruption

4.3.2 Be clear about your timeframe

4.3.3 Common errors in programme management

5. Supportive institutional structures

Strengthening the initiative using formal mechanisms in government and among stakeholders

You have worked so far on the inner elements of an anti-corruption strategy: being clear about the objectives, pulling together and prioritising feasible reform measures, mobilising support for the initiative, and considering the political and context challenges. This next step is about the more formal and external aspects of an official ministry or government sector strategy. It does not really apply to smaller initiatives within a ministry.

You will normally expect to have a greater chance of success and more sustainability if your efforts are aligned to the wider government effort. This is especially the case if the government has got a broader anti-corruption plan running and is pursuing progress on it across multiple sectors.

A comprehensive government-wide anti-corruption strategy would embrace national, sub-national and sector strategies, as per the diagram opposite. Ideally your sector strategy would fit cleanly into an overall structure along these lines.

But on the whole, government anti-corruption efforts across ministries are not well aligned. In such cases you could also consider setting up an informal coordinating forum across Ministries.

5.1 Decide whether cross-government alignment is a worthwhile effort

5.2 Take advantage of any central cross-government coordination unit

5.3 Strengthen alignment with major government policies

5.4 Strengthen alignment with other stakeholders

6. Strategic choices in high corruption environments

Most of the material and guidance in this website assumes that you have some reasonable degree of freedom to initiate reforms. But, how does this change when you believe that your own leadership cadre – above you or at the same level as you – are all corrupt? There is much experience about the difficulties of addressing corruption in high-corruption environments, but little constructive guidance. Whilst some of the strategic choices may be similar to those above, there are other choices that are more specific to high corruption environments. What sort of strategy do you devise when the corruption is so endemic and so all embracing that there seem to be no avenues for hope at all? We lay out some thoughts and experience for you to consider about making at least some progress against corruption within individual sectors in this environment.

High corruption environments: Six thoughts on ways to progress


Developing an overall strategy: Bibliography

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