capabilities-agriculturefoodcapabilities-consumer-goodscapabilities-extractivescapabilities-financial-servicescapabilities-healthcarecapabilities-humanitarian-assistancecapabilities-manufacturingcapabilities-pharmaceuticals capabilities-public-sectorcapabilities-technology

How can anti-corruption better Think and Work Politically? 5 priorities for tackling anti-corruption

The Anti-Corruption Summit in London sort to step up global action to expose, punish and drive out corruption in all walks of life -

Following on from the recent UK Anti-Corruption Summit, a group of donor representatives, academics and practitioners met on Friday the 13th of May to discuss how the Thinking and Working Politically agenda can improve the effectiveness of anti-corruption efforts. The event was co-organised by the British Academy and DFID Anti-Corruption Evidence Partnership and the Thinking and Working Politically (TWP) Group.

Palladium’s Craig Mathieson and Taylor Brown participated in the event and outline five key ‘take away’ points:

1. Be specific – Corruption is a term that can be used to describe a wide range of practices. Within a single economic sector or value chain, there is a spectrum of different types of corruption – each with a distinct set of actors engaging in different types of corruption and benefitting in different ways. Broad-brush approaches that singlehandedly aim to address such a range of corrupt practices are unlikely to succeed. Instead, anti-corruption is more likely to be successful when it uses targeted approaches in response to the behaviours, incentives and power relations which underpin specific types of corruption. Political economy analysis can be a powerful tool to reveal such incentives and power relations.

2. Prioritise the sorts of corruption which people and businesses care about – A number of surveys show that corruption is often absent in the lists of top concerns for the citizens and businesses of many Sub-Saharan African countries (e.g the Afrobarometer Survey). At the same time, it is clear that in particular contexts corruption is a top priority – many election campaigns in Sub-Saharan Africa have successfully used corruption as a key campaign issue. Anti-corruption initiatives are more likely to be successful when they use analysis to identify and target corruption that citizens and business really care about. This can help to mobilise genuine constituencies of support which stand to receive tangible gains from reforms.

3. Decide the anti-corruption ‘ends’ before the ‘means’ – Anti-corruption initiatives can have a range of intended ‘ends’ or objectives; from contributing to poverty reduction or economic growth, to more generally reducing the prevalence of corruption because it is normatively considered a bad thing. Different objectives require targeting different forms of corruption using tailored and evidence-based approaches. For example, particular contexts analysis may indicate that corruption is not in fact a key constraint to macro-economic growth – evidence indicates that several countries have simultaneously experienced sustained periods of economic growth and high levels of corruption (see the extensive work of Mushtaq Khan; or a recent article by Alina Rocha Menocal and Heather Marquette). Ensuring clear anti-corruption objectives at the outset will help ensure that anti-corruption is the appropriate means to the desired ends, and that the appropriate anti-corruption strategies are used.

4. Think about the unintended consequences – Anti-corruption can result in a range of outcomes not envisaged at the outset. Support to individual ‘change champions’, for instance, can diminish their effectiveness over time or put reformers at risk. Efforts to build-on the momentum of nationally-led anti-corruption drives can bolster powerful political groups to use anti-corruption measures to target political opponents. Negative unintended consequences can be avoided by starting with multiple small-scale anti-corruption initiatives. This allows you to scale-up support when there is evidence that an initiative works, and scale-down when it is found to be ineffective or resulting in undesired consequences.

5. Combine technical skills and political understanding – Anti-corruption initiatives require both technical and political approaches. Corruption is not a stand-alone activity. It occurs in specific economic and social sectors and in particular political contexts. Strategies to respond to corruption need to be rooted in relevant technical approaches and backstopped with sound political economy analysis. Anti-corruption may also be particularly effective when it is part of a sector-specific programme (health, education, market development) rooted in sector-specific expertise and networks, rather than a stand-alone anti-corruption programme trying to engage in a wide range of sectors.


Craig Mathieson is a Manager in Palladium’s Governance team. He provides political economy support to a number of DFID governance and market development programmes, and is project manager for the Palladium-implemented DFID Rwanda Ikiraro cy’terambere programme.

Taylor Brown is Senior Manager in Governance and a member of the TWP Steering Committee. He is the strategy advisor to a range of DFID programmes including the Pyoe Pin programme in Myanmar.