Practical implications

How do we counter informal systems of governance that generate corruption but are essential to the ruling elites for staying in power?

The field of anti-corruption needs new and effective approaches. What can this research on informal governance tell us?

Insights into the workings of informal governance regimes suggest there are at least two things formal anti-corruption strategies don’t do: uncover hidden agendas and tackle the habits of corruption.

What's next?

Find out more about our follow-on project.

Some implications

1. Formal approaches to corruption will likely fail

An institutional or legalistic approach to tackling corruption – i.e. one aimed at the formal level – carries a significant risk of failure, because the informal system is highly effective at manipulating the formal system.

This means transplanting “best practice” reforms from one context to another may not be effective. However, the formal rules of the game play a key role for informal governance because they provide camouflage and define room to manoeuvre.

Thus, formal rules can be entry point for change, but identifying which rules can be game changers hinges on understanding the system. This is one of the areas where we are deepening our research in the ongoing Phase 2 project, so stay tuned for more on this.

2. Informal networks explain why corruption persists

The centrality of informal networks goes a long way in explaining why corrupt practices persist beyond particular leaders.

Functional practices involving the prebendal use of public office and resources are upheld by multiple actors who are embedded in symbiotic relationships. Informal networks are resilient but they can also break down. Major changes in leadership, or democratic structure of a country, can result in powerful networks being swept away.

Thus, practitioners should be sensitive to identifying windows of opportunity for change where their efforts to promote anti-corruption may be more effective.

3. Social networks influence behaviour

Social networks are known to be powerful influences for setting and redefining social norms and expectations and therefore influencing behaviours and decision making.

Harnessing strategically the power of the networks for purposes of advancing anti-corruption goals could involve cultivating support for networks of anti-corruption champions (typically the “outsiders”) and piloting innovative anti-corruption interventions whereby positive messages and behavioural change are promoted through informal social networks.

4. Informal governance can be harnessed for good governance outcomes

When crimes incur enforcing not only a legal penalty, but also a social penalty (such as loss of status) can result in more effective incentives to avoid corruption.

Providing positive, constructive incentives towards behaving without corruption is another way of harnessing informality for positive ends. Integrity Action’s approach, in which citizens constructively solve governance problems at the community level, and publish these solutions openly, is an example of this.

So, what does this mean for anti-corruption?

Watch this video to find out.