About informal governance

Informal governance regimes are enacted by networks of actors at all levels. The practices of these networks are associated with high levels of corruption because they entail an informal redistribution of resources.

This research project looked at informality, and its relationship with governance and corruption, in seven countries in Africa and Eurasia:

  • Georgia
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kenya
  • Kyrgyzstan 
  • Rwanda
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda

It sought to understand how corruption works in practice, and to establish a framework for understanding informal governance and identifying patterns in which it operates.

The research found a number of key concepts that tend to recur in informal governance regimes. Watch the short video to learn more – or read on to learn more and access the research publications.

Network-based governance

The research uncovered the centrality of informal social networks that operate at all levels, linking up political elites, business interests and ordinary citizens. The practices of the networks are associated with the prevalence of high levels of corruption but are also useful to “get things done” and as a result become entrenched.

From the perspective of citizens – in contexts where resources are scarce and the state is weak – building strong personal connections helps gain access to public services or career opportunities. For example, the research shows that citizens resort to bribery to solve immediate problems – e.g. get medical treatment – but also as a means to grow and cultivate their social networks. The reason for this is that the bribe is not intended as a one-off transaction; rather, it is about building relationships, for instance, with a useful health worker.

For political elites, networks can help win and maintain political power. Cultivating informal networks helps to reward supporters, sanction dissidents, and demobilise opponents, thus promoting regime survival. The usefulness of networks is evident, for example, during elections, when links to business interests can be mobilised to finance campaign costs and patronage networks activated to secure votes. 

For business interests, informal networks involving powerful political figures provide access to profitable government contracts, “special” tax exemptions and other financial benefits. Sometimes entrepreneurs build their networks by sponsoring aspiring politicians who, when successful, are obliged to use their decision-making authority to look after the interests of their benefactors.

Adopting an informality lens helps to shed light upon the resilience of corruption. Network-based behaviours are persistent because they tend to outlive any particular individual member. In this regard, the research has identified three distinct informal governance practices that networks use to pursue their goals namely Co-optation, Control and Camouflage (or “the 3 Cs”). These patterns, with particular context-related peculiarities, can be found across the seven countries studied. To learn more about the 3Cs here.

What distinguishes network from rule-based governance? 

In contexts where formal rules are consistently enforced, the criteria for allocating public resources are universalistic and impersonal, whereas where informal networks prevail, the criteria are particularistic and personal. This means that informal governance typically generates networks of “insiders” who benefit unduly at the expense of network “outsiders”, who invariably bear the costs of corruption.

An experiment conducted in the course of the research explored how network insiders and outsiders make decisions involving ethical standards differently. To learn more click here.

Networks operate on the basis of particular norms, such as the obligation to share with one’s group (identified on the basis of considerations such as ethnicity, lineage or political affiliation) and to reciprocate favours or gifts received. Therefore, aspects such as trust and loyalty become the main criteria for inclusion into informal networks rather than competence, merit or skills.

Informal governance regimes

How does it work? Are there similarities across cultures and borders? Watch this video to find out:

Further reading