Unwritten rules, special favours, “reaching an understanding”. Informality is what happens outside the formal, rules-based system - and the study of informality has big implications for the fight against corruption.
From 2016-2018, the Basel Institute on Governance, in partnership with University College London and SOAS researched informality and its relationship with corruption and governance. A multidisciplinary team of researchers explored how corruption really works in seven countries in East Africa and Eurasia.
Their findings shed light on why "conventional" anti-corruption practices have been so unsuccessful to date, and on the kinds of policies and interventions that could have a bigger impact in the fight against corruption.
Feel free to explore the research and watch our short videos below.
In many of the countries most affected by high levels of corruption it is often the case that formal laws and structures of governance found in developed countries exist but with little of their function. In contrast, other rules and practices (that are mostly unwritten and rarely openly articulated) are widely adhered to and the social penalties for breaking them can be severe.
Corruption often takes place according to these informal, unwritten rules. Whether it involves giving or soliciting a bribe, exchanging favours, or persecuting one's opponents through selective application of the law, informality dictates how power is exercised and who gains access to public resources.
Adopting the informality lens helps us transcend some assumptions that have not proven helpful in advancing our understanding of the conditions and motivations that fuel corruption. An example is the presumption about the existence of a clear distinction between the public and the private spheres that influences the manner in which individuals behave in different contexts.
The picture emerging from the research challenges conventional wisdoms and invites us to move away from stereotypes such as those of the abusive public official and the citizens as helpless victims.
What does it mean for anti-corruption?
Does this research point the way to “smarter” anti-corruption interventions?
Learn more about the practical implications of this research and the follow-on project.
Dr Lucy Koechlin
Regional Expert East Africa
Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Basel
Dr Alexander Kupatadze
King's College London
Ms Tolganay Umbetalijeva
The Central Asia Foundation for Developing Democracy