Guest Post: When and How Will We Learn How To Curb Corruption?

GAB is pleased to welcome Finn Heinrich, Research Director at Transparency International, who contributes the following guest post:

Listening to conversations about corruption among global policy-makers, corruption researchers, and anticorruption activists alike, I can’t help but notice that the focus of anticorruption research and policy is changing. The 1990s focused mainly on demonstrating that corruption exists and finding ways to measure it (largely through perception-based indicators), and the early 2000s were about assessing corruption risks in specific countries, sectors, or communities, and assessing the performance of anticorruption institutions. More recently, researchers (and their funders and clients) are shifting from the “Where is corruption?” question toward the “How can we fight corruption?” question. They ask: Do we know what works, when, where, and under which circumstances in curbing a specific type of corrupt behavior?

Answering such questions is extremely challenging. Corruption’s clandestine nature makes it difficult to measure, data is often of low quality or simply not available for time-series or cross-sectional analysis beyond aggregate country-level indicators. Furthermore, anticorruption interventions often lack an underlying theory of change which would be needed to design robust research evaluations to find out whether they worked and if so, how (and if not, why not). And we lack realistic but parsimonious causal models which can take account of contextual factors, which are so important to understand and tackle corruption, as corruption is an integral part of broader social and political power structures and relationships which differ across contexts. Similarly, there is a lack of exchange between micro-level approaches focusing on specific, usually local anticorruption interventions, on the one hand, and the macro-level literature on anti-corruption strategies and theories, on the other.

While we at Transparency International certainly do not have any ready-made solutions for these extremely tricky methodological and conceptual issues, we are committed to joining others in making headway on them and have therefore put the “what works” question at the heart of our organizational learning agenda by engaging in reviews of the existing evidence as well as ramping up impact reviews of some of our own key interventions. For example, we have just released a first rapid evidence review on how to curb political corruption, written by David Jackson and Daniel Salgado Moreno, which showcases some fascinating evidence from the vibrant field of political anticorruption research. We are also working with colleagues from Global Integrity on a more thorough evidence review on corruption grievance as a motivator for anti-corruption engagement and are planning further evidence reviews and impact evaluations.

As we start to get our feet wet and figure out how to best go about generating and making sense of the existing evidence on what works in anti-corruption, we are keen to engage with the broader anticorruption research community. Maybe there are others out there who have some ideas about how to go about learning about what works in fighting corruption? If so, please use the comment box on this blog or get in touch directly at