Broad Framing

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This is the political, judgemental and strategic part of the strategy formulation exercise. How to best navigate the local circumstances, so as to have the best chance of helping to deliver the overall objectives. Progress is always political, partial, and part of the political contestation process (for more, see Heywood (2017), Johnston and Fritzen (2021)). SFRA helps by enabling a positive, pragmatic mindset that could, in time, become embedded in the DNA and professional training of each sector. It starts with how to shape the overall approach.

For example:

  • Might it be most effective to keep the anti-corruption measures below the internal or external political radar, by addressing them incrementally, not all at the same time?
  • Or to mainstream the anti-corruption improvements within an existing, larger improvement initiative?
  • Or to go all-out to address the corruption issues before those wedded to the status quo have time to organise against the changes?
  • Or to tackle just one vital aspect of the corruption issues, even if they are many, so as to concentrate efforts and have a visible result?
  • Or be better to make a large emphasis on the corruption aspect, as a possible way to develop support?
  • Or would the result be better if the overall anti-corruption approach was reframed as an integrity-building exercise, or as confidence-building, rather than explicitly confronting the corruption?

Consideration of the both the politics and possible opposition are relevant to the choice of broad approach. This is less commonly national politics as it is ‘politics with a small p’–- the internal politics of the organisation, the politics of the local environment, the politics of special interests within your sector.

The objective of having this stand-back moment is about how the local political circumstances can be navigated so as to have the best chance of delivering the desired change. (For more on how progress in reducing corruption is part of the political contestation process, see Heywood (2017) and Johnston and Fritzen (2021)).

Besides opponents of the status quo, you will also have passive supporters among those who will not speak out in your support. Many senior figures don’t like the situation they find themselves in, forced to participate in corrupt activities because of how the system they work in operates. So, whilst they will probably not actively support you, they may be ready to quietly support, or at least not to oppose you, depending on the rest of the group. It is worth seeking their input on what sorts of measures could be put in place without precipitating opposition.

Furthermore, it is valuable to remember that there are always honest, integrity-minded people in organisations, even in the most corrupt environments. Pyman was involved for over a decade in Afghanistan in various anti-corruption efforts – one of the hardest countries to make progress against corruption – yet was regularly astonished at how much substantive progress it was possible to make. See, for example, Pyman and Kaakar (2017) on the creation of the Afghan National Procurement Authority, or Brooks and Trebilcock (2017) on the establishment of the Afghan Anti-Corruption Justice Centre – both, of course, prior to the fall of the country to the Taliban in 2021.


We set out below a range of broad framings that have been used. This list is not comprehensive – circumstances will always be too complex for that – but they indicate options that you can adapt and extrapolate from.

Single issue

The first option is that you may choose not to have a broad approach at all, but to focus all your actions on addressing a single corruption issue that is of concern.

Example. Danish shipping company Maersk. Maersk had the problem, a common one among shipping companies, that captains had to bribe port personnel for their ships to enter and leave port in a timely manner, seemingly a small cost in comparison with the far greater costs incurred by any delay.

Maersk developed an active strategy for how to curb this single issue. It comprised technology — a global IT application for recording on the bridge of each ship what gifts were being asked for and given from each ship at each port; stakeholder engagement — working with the port authorities in a sustained effort in the ports to gain their support; and training and culture change to alter the thinking of the ships’ captains. This latter element was the key to success. Captains have a lot of autonomy, and it was much easier for them to hand over some small gifts to ensure swift passage through the port than to run any risk of delay, which is disproportionately more expensive. The captains were the key authority group within the company who needed to see the possibilities and the benefits of a change. The change was enabled through training: educating the captains in how they could refuse such requests face-to-face without giving offense.

The Figure below shows the results of the initiative. The horizontal axis is time, the vertical access is the number of gifts given out each month as the ships entered ports around the world. As the initiative is implemented, the number of cartons of cigarettes and bottles of whiskey that captains had to give out plummeted. The outcome is better business as well as a stronger corporate culture for Maersk, better reputations for these ports, and a global reputational gain for Maersk (Pyman 2019b).

Broad front

Broad front framing is when a wide range of detailed anti-corruption measures are enacted. This may be because a given organisation (or the public more generally) may be clamouring for action against corruption, or when the leadership believes that a multi-pronged approach is necessary. Downsides include that such drives are hard to manage because they rely on motivating a diverse group of actors, and they are prone to run out of energy.

They are also a favourite tool for those who wish to appear active, but in reality aim to subvert the initiative, expecting precisely that it will either collapse under its own weight or run out of steam.

Example. The Bulgarian government of 2009–2013, led by the centre-right GERB party, was focused on anti-corruption, Bulgaria having just had some of its EU funding cut off due to lack of progress on tackling corruption. The focus was especially strong in the Ministry of Defence, whose senior leadership had already developed an anti-corruption strategy in 2008, whilst in opposition, ready to implement in 2009 were they to be elected. Besides large-scale staff changes, the new leadership strategy was broad reform across a wide range of areas which included:

  • Immediately establishing an anti-corruption council in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as the key leadership change body.
  • Introducing transparency into the decision-making process as a basic weapon against hidden practices related to abuse of position-in-office for personal gain.
  • Developing the strategic documents of the defence policy and the modernisation of the armed forces under the condition of clear accountability to the citizens regarding the ways of spending the defence budget.
  • Putting into law that any contract over €50 million should be approved by the parliament.
  • Developing an Ethical Code of Conductfor military and civilian personnel.
  • Introducing specialised trainingin anti-corruption practices.
  • Implementing rules on preventing and determining conflicts of interest.
  • Changing the internal rules on publication because everything was confidentialor secret and nothing was published on the MoD website.
  • Changing the rules for so-called ‘special procurement’ for secret tenders.
  • Creating a strategy for the management of surplus property and publishing on the webpage the complete list of MoD and military real estate.

Though positive evidence of the impact of these changes was found in the relatively good scoring of Bulgaria in the Transparency International Government Defence index in 2013 and 2015 (TI-DS 2015), the reforms failed in the end, being reversed by the government that followed in 2013. The successes and failures of the initiative have been described in some detail by the former Bulgarian Deputy Defence Minister (Pyman and Tzvetkova, 2013).

A broad approach is when a wide set of anti-corruption measures are to be adopted. This may be because the organisation, or the public may be clamouring for action against corruption; or when the leadership believes that a strong and broad anti-corruption drive is necessary. The downside is that they are hard to manage, hard to motivate diverse groups of actors, and prone to run out of energy. They are also a favourite tool for those who wish to appear active but actually desire to subvert the initiative; their insight being exactly that the initiative will either collapse under its own weight, or run out of steam.

Narrow front

The narrow front framing seeks to avoid the above problems. In the public sector, this approach is safer, given the frequency with which government ministers can be replaced. Limited time in office does not stop ministers from working hard to have a positive impact against corruption in their ministry: either from a genuine desire to see improvement, or because they were being pressed hard by their president, prime minister, or chief executive to deliver promised improvement. Pyman’s observation from Afghanistan from the period 2014-2018 was that the reform-minded ministers had thought hard about how to reduce corruption in their ministry/sector and were implementing well-chosen narrow strategies (Pyman 2019c, 2018).

Example. Improvement of electricity access in Kenya and Ghana. Both countries’ electricity companies are perceived by the public as being systemically corrupt, yet the electricity access rate has risen spectacularly, as shown in the figure below, following a series of ‘problem-solving’ measures, focused on improving access to electricity through reducing corruption constraints.

Figure: Percentage national access by citizens to electricity in Kenya and Ghana; year 2000 vs 2018. Global Integrity. From Pyman and Boamah 2019 Usain Bolt meters: reform successes in the electricity sector can go fast, but only the failures are reported. At

In Ghana, led by a new Minister for Energy, the measures included the frequent monitoring of electricity infrastructure, introduction of pre-paid metering systems, improved revenue collection/tariff payment mechanisms, establishment of legal frameworks to punish criminals involved in power thefts, effective oversight roles of civil society organisations (CSOs) and vibrant media engagement in the procurement of electricity infrastructure. The success was not just the purview of the Minister but was pressured by a series of fierce anti-corruption campaigns by CSOs and the media. For more information, see Pyman and Boamah (2019) and Boamah (2020).

Radical change

We know that radical change often fails; indeed, it’s why we talked in the introduction about tackling molehills not mountains.  But there are sometimes arguments in its favour.

  1. When there is a political opening, you may have one chance to make a significant change; perhaps following an election; or after the disgrace of a major political figure; or after a national disaster aggravated by corruption. Such openings rarely stay open for long.
  2. In similar vein, if your anti-corruption programme is part of the reason for claiming power or being in power, you have to show rapid change – even if not on fundamental issues – before the electorate becomes too disappointed.
  • There can also be reasons for large-scale change even when there is no major political angle. Staff in large organisations can become expert at subverting change initiatives, whether in a top-flight multinational commercial organisation or in an under-performing ministry. They know how the changes are supposed to work and they know how to seem to cooperate, how to delay, how to sow the seeds of internal dissent, how to ensure the first few steps fail, and other ways to kill an initiative. Making a large-scale change, such as cutting off large pieces of a Ministry so that each can be tackled as smaller fiefdoms, can be a way to pre-empt such subversion.

Such an approach was used, for instance, in Georgia in relation to land sector, police sector and education sector reforms (see Pyman and Heywood 2020, Pyman 2017b).

Example. Land sector reform in Georgia, 2004. After the peaceful ‘Rose Revolution’ and the change of government in Georgia in late 2003, democratic and legal reforms developed, especially in the Land Sector. Many public sector bodies were rapidly rebuilt and reformed, and the effects were immediate: corrupt practices, once endemic, quickly declined. The 2004 ‘Law on State Registry’ was the starting point for many of these changes, as it dismissed the old state registries. The National Agency of Public Registry (NAPR), which handled property transactions and land rights, was reformed into a self-financing body with a digital repository and streamlined processes of registering land and transactions. A similar change was made to the Civil Registry, which handled birth certificates, passports, and personal identities. Georgia digitised the land ownership registry, the cadastre, and its paper maps. Registration processes were simplified to increase efficiency, but also to reduce the risk of corruption. Several tasks, such as managing sales of state properties, were distributed to different institutions.

A 2012 World Bank report highlighted Georgia’s pragmatic approach to reform, noting, ‘In some cases, processes that used to involve bribes were simply formalized and made legal’. Previously, for example, paying a bribe could speed up the processing of documents. The new system still offered rapid processing for a higher fee, only now the fees went to the agency rather than filling the pockets of corrupt civil servants. Further detail about this example is available at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre (2022).


There are many environments where it can be counter-productive to emphasise corruption issues, or to draw attention to the fact that the reform measures are aimed at tackling corruption. This might be because the organisation is dominated by people unwilling to discuss corruption, or countries where the word ‘corruption’ is too loaded with cultural meaning, or hostile political regimes, where low-profile (or incremental) reforms are likely to be the only ones that will be tolerated or be safe to implement.

Example. Defence sector corporate reform in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabian defence company AEC, with a turnover of $500 million, was determined to show the country and its international partners that Saudi companies can work successfully without corruption. Whilst hardly mentioning corruption, because in Saudi Arabia it is more accepted to speak of building integrity than countering corruption, they implemented tough measures that would be categorised as anti-corruption in most other contexts.

They had the common Saudi problem that hiring decisions were often influenced by the princely relatives of applicants pulling strings with the Royal family. Their solution was in two parts. First, they set up a training academy, in which applicants learnt maths, English and business management. Applicants knew from the beginning that the final course exams would be entirely meritocratic, and that most applicants would not get through. Second, the chief executive spoke with the King, to gain his advance agreement that special pleading from royal relatives of applicants would not be accepted. Once Saudi society realised that this company would work only on a meritocratic basis, the princely complaints stopped. Corporate morale and business performance rose, and international customers were convinced (Pyman 2019b).

Many corruption problems are more complex to solve than you expect, involving a range of stakeholders and often some difficult political choices. Choosing an incremental or low-profile framing softens this risk. It enables you to see how one reform measure turns out before you move on to the next; it enables you and your team to learn the mechanics of implementing corruption reforms with an ‘easy’ first few tasks before taking on larger challenges; if you work within a ministry and there is no major political angle to the changes, then the corruption reforms will probably best happen the same way that most improvement reforms happen inside large organisations – slowly and steadily.

Multilateral organisations usually advise that you should choose incremental change. Here, for example, is a comment in a European Commission-led toolbox for practitioners engaged in public administration reform: ‘An incremental approach, with provision for feedback and adjustment along the way, may reduce uncertainty and thus opposition. This process of
continual change tallies with the concept of ‘obliquity’, which recognises that
goals are often achieved indirectly, not as intended. Senior public servants, either elected or appointed, set out the reform objectives as the overall direction of travel, the administration makes steps towards the desired destination, and takes the most appropriate paths on the way, learning from experience: there is no precise road map to the future’ (European Commission 2017: 211).

Multi-party collaboration

It is almost a cliché today that corruption reforms must involve several parties, but we also know that it is difficult to get different groups to work together efficiently because of problems of free riding on the efforts of others, potential differences in or conflicts of interests and perspectives, and other issues. It thus becomes important to try to build trust and collaboration to promote collective action, as argued by the Basel Institute of Governance (2020a). A framing that starts from the concept of multi-party action may be the best route to success. This means a directly political approach that aligns the competing interests, as expressed by Khan (2016, 1): ‘In societies that have widespread rule violations, high-impact anti-corruption is only likely to be feasible if the overall strategy succeeds in aligning the interests and capabilities of powerful organizations at the sectoral level to support the enforcement of particular sets of rules’.

Example: Health sector in the Philippines: the Sin tax.  A diverse range of partners, including doctors and health-related organisations, led reform against tobacco, via the so-called ‘Sin tax’, which addressed corruption issues in tobacco as well as the health issues (Sidel 2014).

It was a classic coalition of parties with different interests. The reform coalition included diverse components, namely:

  • Reform champions within the administration, in departments, agencies, and the Office of the President.
  • Reform champions within Congress.
  • Reform entrepreneurs: activists, experts, policy wonks, NGOs, and academe.
  • Advocacy groups, allied associations, organizations, and pressure groups.
  • Media outlets: investigative journalists, reporters, social media, and Internet websites.

Plus, the coalition made ‘allies of convenience’ with groups who were mostly hostile to reform and anti-corruption efforts, such as British American Tobacco (BAT) and San Miguel Corporation, which openly sought to ‘reform’ a tiered tax classification scheme which inhibited the entry of their products into a market monopolised by others. In the event, the passage of the bill secured billions of pesos in annual new tax revenue for the government and contributed to growing investor confidence in the Philippines. The Sin Tax reforms had significant health implications as well. The passage of the bill has also helped to strengthen political capacities, knowledge, and connections among a network of ‘reform entrepreneurs’ within the administration, in Congress, and in civil society. More detail on this example can be found in Development Leadership Programme (2018).


This framing, described in more detail in Heywood and Pyman (2020), is a deliberate bundling of specific reform measures where some of the individual measures will be seen through a polarised political lens and face resistance. Well understood by politicians, such a framing may allow the broad package of reform measures to be approved even whilst individual ones are strongly opposed by particular groups.

Example. USA state ballots on anti-corruption 2018. There has been surprising progress with anti-corruption ballots in the US at State level, even during the Presidency of Donald Trump and in strongly Republican states. The bundling strategy included placing a balance of different items on the ballot paper (up to 8), some appealing more to the left, others appealing more to the right. The language varied, depending on the state. In Alaska, the answer was focused on integrity (‘Alaskans for integrity’), but in other states it was best to call the message anti-corruption directly, because conservatives preferred this to ‘campaign reform’, which was seen as left-wing phrasing. Local activist NGOs like the ‘Badass grandmas’ of North Dakota gave the campaign a real sense of being locally owned and non-political ( 2019).


One of the dilemmas of corruption reform is that the more fundamental changes – typically technical, administrative or organisation reforms – take a long time to come to fruition and therefore carry the risk of running out of energy before they are fully achieved or are likely to be sustainable, as well as having little public visibility. Therefore, to maintain public as well as organisational support for change, it can be advantageous to lead with something different, irrespective of whether it is a ‘large’ issue or a small one, and to make this different issue the main lead element of the strategy.

Example. Health sector reform in a European country. In one EU country, the Health Ministry was keen to make better progress against the impact of corruption on heath care for patients. The plan had a substantive part, comprising better management information availability and transparency, more robust stock management, stronger controls over high pricing of medicines, stronger controls over corruption in medical practices, strengthening control over semi-separate health agencies, better clinical auditing and strengthening sanctions. However, the Minister, who was the driver of the change, argued persuasively that substantive changes gained little or no credibility with the public and that the campaign had to be fronted by initiatives that individuals could easily recognise. Two such ‘signature’ issues were under consideration: providing public information outside hospitals regarding waiting lists (patients could bribe their way up the list) and public information showing the presence or absence of doctors in each of the main hospitals (highlighting doctors registered as present in the hospitals, but actually out treating patients in private clients) (Pyman 2017a).


As outlined in Heywood and Pyman (2020), a low-ambition strategy may be the most suitable framing in hostile environments. The purpose is not to have material impact – almost by definition the reforms would be shut down if they did have an impact – but to continue to give hope to those working in the system that change is still being contemplated and that they should not despair.

Such a framing does have a strategic logic to it, namely that unexpected events can quickly change the dynamics. In the meantime, a well-chosen set of small measures can expose a large number of people to how a non-corrupt working environment may be possible. The example below from Ukraine in 2008 falls into this category.

Example: Anti-corruption training for the Security Sector in Ukraine

In a political regime hostile to anti-corruption reforms, such as Ukraine around 2008, the only way for an organisation to address corruption issues was to choose remedial measures that seemed to be of low importance, and therefore not a threat to vested interests or corrupt political groups. The purpose of such a low-ambition reform measures is mainly just to keep alive hope that there is some pressure for reform, even if subdued. Typically, such measures involve capacity-building and training. These can be a much more powerful approach than some would anticipate.

In Ukraine from 2008 to 2014, there was some desire among senior people in the Ukraine Security Service to improve trust and performance by reducing corruption; but there was zero political will for reform. These senior individuals had a well-developed sense of what reforms they could implement without making their political masters nervous, and without either getting them fired or placing them in deeper danger. Their chosen tools were to implement widespread anti-corruption training (because training is very low-profile politically), organise day-long discussion of the problems among the mid raking leadership, and second senior staff to anti-corruption organisations. See Pyman (2017a).

Approaches in Endemic corruption states

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.

Six thoughts on ways to progress:

1. Passive opposition still allows modest reforms

Most of the leadership cadre may be corrupt, but this does NOT mean that they will actively oppose you. Because anti-corruption is known to be a ‘good’ thing, and so they may just stay quiet, let the reforms take their course, and just act to delay them. That’s OK for you: it is still possible to get some reforms underway, and you can then work on strengthening support from others.

2. Coopted into corruption: Many corrupt leaders don’t like the situation they are in

They have been forced to be corrupt because of the system they work in. So, whilst they will not actively support you, they may be ready to quietly support, or at least not to oppose you, depending on the rest of the group. They may be a good source of advice on what sort of measures could be put in place without precipitating opposition.

3. There are always some reformers, even in the most corrupt environments

I have personally been involved in anti-corruption efforts for over a decade in Afghanistan – one of the hardest countries on earth to make progress against corruption. But I am constantly astonished at how much substantive progress they have made in the last few years. Some of the best developments in anti-corruption are coming out of Kabul. See, for example, Pyman and Sohail (2017) on the Afghan National public Procurement Authority and the establishment of the Afghan Anti-Corruption Justice Centre (eg Brooks and Trebilcock 2017).

4. Choose ‘insubstantial’ reforms

Some anti-corruption reforms are seen as being of low importance, low risk and therefore not a threat by a corrupt leadership. The main examples are capacity building and training. So, you may have scope for extensive training and capacity building, which could be much more powerful than it was expected to be.

Example: Anti-corruption training for Ukraine security services before the revolution. Here is an example from Ukraine, in an anti-corruption effort in the security services: The principal policy lesson from Ukraine is how to make progress when there is no political will for reform, as was the case here from 2008 to 2014. The Ukrainian security and defence leaders were smart: they had a highly developed sense of what reforms they could implement without making their political masters nervous, and which others would get them fired, or in deeper danger. Their chosen tools were mass (anti-corruption) training—training is very low-profile politically—leadership days, and secondments (to anti-corruption organisations). See Pyman (2017).

5. Push for a Commission of Enquiry, but only expect just a little

Commissions can be ‘acceptable’ to corrupt leadership, because they know they have the means to subvert the Commission or control the findings. Whilst this may be regrettable, it does open up room for the topics to be aired and for the public to see and hear the corruption in an open forum. This in turn can allow modest amounts of change to start. There is a realistic analysis of this approach, as employed in Uganda, by Kirya (2011).

6. Build up capacity to operate with integrity whilst hoping for circumstances to change

Unexpected events can quickly change the political dynamics, as in the Ukraine example above. If you have a nascent reform programme, even if it is going very slowly, it can be rejuvenated or expanded in such a situation; this helps people to be seen as responding to the unexpected event. You could choose to deliberately make the programme small, picking just a few reforms that will be seen as unthreatening, whilst using it to expose as many people as possible to how a non-corrupt working environment may be possible and comprehensible. You will be thinking and hoping that these starter reforms might generate supportive momentum that the more corrupt leaders will then go along with.

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