Guest Post: The British Academy/DFID Anti-Corruption Evidence Programme

Paul M. Heywood, the Sir Francis Hill Professor of European Politics at the University of Nottingman, contributes the following guest post:

In a recent post, Matthew recommended a speech by Robert Barrington, Executive Director of Transparency International UK, on the relationship between academics and advocates in the fight against corruption. I was very pleased to read the post, as Robert had given the speech at my invitation during the inaugural meeting of research projects funded under an exciting new initiative being jointly run by the British Academy and the Department for International Development (DFID). The Anti-Corruption Evidence (ACE) Programme, which I serve in the capacity of Academic Leader, is designed explicitly to address the interface between researchers and practitioners, with a fundamental focus on what actually works when it comes to fighting corruption.

Prompted in part by a highly critical report of DFID’s anticorruption approach by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) – itself reproached for poor use of evidence (including on this blog) – and in part by its own commissioned evidence papers into corruption (here and here), DFID has partnered with the British Academy to launch a £3.6m programme aimed at helping us understand better exactly how and why specific interventions succeed or fail in particular contexts. Some may wonder why we need yet more research on corruption; indeed, that is precisely the question I was recently asked by Jeremy Lefroy MP when giving evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on International Development inquiry into tackling corruption overseas: “I would have thought there was plenty of evidence around. In what way do you think the evidence base needs to be strengthened, or is this just creating extra work for people who look at these things?”

The question is a reasonable one, especially given the exponential rise in the number of books and articles on corruption published over the last quarter century (as reflected in Matthew’s ever-expanding bibliography on the topic). There are many answers that could be given, but one key factor is that much of the existing research on corruption has simply been too generic to produce specific recommendations on which policymakers can act. Although it is widely recognized that corruption is not just one thing, such recognition has often not been translated into research design. Notably, many large-n studies have used an undifferentiated concept of corruption to serve as either a dependent or independent variable, seeking to explain a host of specific failings across a very wide canvas. Where there have been attempts to disaggregate corruption, these have often proposed bipartite, rather than graded, classifications (grand/petty, political/bureaucratic, need/greed, and so forth). In practice, corruption is a much more complex phenomenon than such dichotomous approaches can conceivably capture. Four observations follow from this: Continue reading