Public Governance

Our Public Governance team connects corruption research with anti-corruption practice. Often working with other Basel Institute teams and partners, we analyse existing and emerging approaches to address corruption. We also test if and how they can work in practice in different contexts.

This is because corruption and governance are complex phenomena which vary in shape, intensity and root causes. Off-the-shelf interventions don’t work: only by building a bridge between research and practice can we find sustainable, feasible and pragmatic ways to reduce corruption and improve governance in different contexts.

With our research, and through piloting new intervention methods, we help find smarter ways or new tools to prevent corruption. These inform our technical assistance and training services for partner agencies and donors, helping these succeed in their anti-corruption goals.

We also share our findings from the field at global policy forums on governance and anti-corruption, in university teaching halls, and globally through our fully open-access research publications.

Frequently asked questions

What are your key thematic areas of work?

Our research incorporates a variety of novel approaches and methodologies, but our aim is consistent: to generate evidence on drivers of corruption and anti-corruption interventions and to translate such insights into practice. Key thematic areas are:

  1. Social norms and behavioural drivers of corruption
  2. Social network analysis and network-based anti-corruption interventions
  3. Informality and informal governance
  4. Translating research findings into strategic corruption prevention approaches
  5. Monitoring and evaluation frameworks and development of indicators of anti-corruption progress
  6. Applying our anti-corruption tools and approaches to concrete issue areas such as health governance and environmental crime and degradation
What does your research show about informal governance and corruption?

In a nutshell, that corruption is often linked to informal practices and hidden behaviours.

Our research on informal governance and behavioural drivers of corruption has shown the importance of causes of corruption that are hidden from plain sight. Corrupt behaviour is often linked to informal practices that are widely used because they solve problems, from obtaining a driver’s license to winning elections.

Decision makers often overlook such factors. Yet these indicators can help explain why traditional anti-corruption approaches that rely on legal reforms or law enforcement only tend to have limited effectiveness in many contexts.

What do informal social networks have to do with corruption?

A salient recurrent finding in our research is the centrality of informal networks as effective mechanisms to achieve particular goals by undermining or side-lining formal laws and public-sector regulations. Corruption takes place through these networks, not by individuals acting in isolation.

Specifically, we have found that these informal social networks often work to connect the demand and supply sides of corruption. Furthermore, such informal social networks are resilient and become entrenched because they are bound together by locally accepted informal practices and social norms.

How are social norms relevant to anti-corruption practice?

Through our research, we explore the power of social norms to impact attitudes and behaviours and to build stronger anti-corruption networks.

Many patterns of corrupt behaviour are reinforced by locally relevant social norms. For instance, social norms around reciprocating gifts and favours, and the obligation to share with one’s group, translate into practices of embezzlement, bribery and favouritism in the realm of public service delivery.

We thus believe that improving anti-corruption practice will depend on the degree to which we recognise and constructively harness social norms and networks in local contexts. Therefore, we test pilot approaches to address social norms of bribery in order to expand and boost the anti-corruption practitioners’ toolbox.

What are some current and past research projects?

Here is a flavour of the type of deep, detailed research project that we undertake. You can find all our research outputs in our Publications database.

Addressing bribery and favouritism in the Tanzanian health sector: a behavioural approach

Funded by the UK-funded Global Integrity Anti-Corruption Evidence Programme (GI-ACE), this project uses a rigorous experimental approach to implement and test the impact of anti-corruption behavioural interventions aimed at addressing bribery and favouritism in the Tanzanian health sector. The project builds on previous research findings about the crucial role played by informal social networks and social norms of reciprocity in driving bribery and favouritism in the Tanzanian health sector.

Harnessing informality: Designing anti-corruption network interventions and strategic use of legal instruments

Our second GI-ACE project aims to help anti-corruption practitioners design more effective interventions by taking into account – and in fact leveraging – the informal relationships and social networks that underlie people's behaviour. The research, in Tanzania and Uganda, will contribute to enhanced social accountability interventions, Collective Action initiatives and public-sector capacity-building efforts.

Informal governance and corruption: Transcending the principal-agent and collective action paradigms

From 2016–2018, the Basel Institute on Governance, in partnership with University College London and SOAS University of London, researched informality and its relationship with corruption and governance in East Africa and Eurasia. The 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.

The dedicated Informal Governance website for this UK-funded project provides access to multimedia material synthesising the research findings, including videos, country-by-country reports and comparative summaries, policy implications as well as all project-related publications.

Corruption, social norms and behaviours in East Africa

This UK-funded project focused on identifying the behavioural factors that influence the propensity of citizens and public service providers to engage in, resist and report corrupt transactions in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

Guidance towards a social norms approach to anti-corruption – review of state-of-the-art evidence and its implications

In 2021, with funding from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), we started updating a literature review on the influence of behavioural factors on corruption.

The update will summarise the “state of the art” evidence of the five years from 2017–22 and tease out critical entry points for anti-corruption policymaking using behavioural insights. This will also help to formulate practical guidelines for practitioners interested in this particular approach and novel “branch” of anti-corruption practice.

Stop corruption from fueling wildlife trafficking between East Africa and Southeast Asia

The research and community engagement component of this cross-divisional project of the Basel Institute’s Green Corruption programme focused on understanding the context-specific drivers of wildlife trafficking and the role of informal social networks and their associated corrupt practices in facilitating it. The project was funded by PMI Impact.

Behavioural drivers of corruption facilitating illegal wildlife trade

In 2021, as part of a cross-divisional research programme for the Targeting Natural Resource Corruption (TNRC) project, we began collaborating with wildlife specialists TRAFFIC on a joint problem analysis and “state of the field” review on behavioural drivers of corruption facilitating illegal wildlife trade (IWT).

An April 2021 webinar presented initial insights on the topic. We also conducted political economy analyses of the political context of IWT investigations and prosecutions in Malawi, Uganda and Peru, in support of the Green Corruption team’s work with partner law enforcement agencies in the region.

Do you offer technical assistance in designing corruption prevention interventions?

Certainly. Based on the latest research and tools, our technical assistance services help donors and practitioners to develop feasible and sustainable strategies that strengthen governance, prevent corruption and are acceptable to all stakeholders.

Our services are flexible, so please contact us to discuss your needs.

  • Anti-corruption strategy development. Examples of our work in this area include our support to the SDC’s development of new strategic anti-corruption guidelines, our contribution to the development of Malawi’s 2019 National Anti-Corruption Strategy II, and our work with the Swiss Embassy in North Macedonia to identify new anti-corruption interventions supporting local democratic governance.
  • Political Economy Assessments (PEAs). We have developed an approach to analyse the political economy environment that decisively impacts the effectiveness of anti-corruption efforts. Our PEAs take into account trends in the political settlement and regime trajectory of countries in order to map out trends and forward looking scenarios that help practitioners Think and Work Politically. We thereby identify entry points to anti-corruption work on the basis of relevance, feasibility and sustainability.
  • Technical backstopping of donor organisations on anti-corruption and governance. For instance, we have provided demand driven support to the Decentralisation, Democratisation and Local Governance Network of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
  • Leading on-the-ground corruption prevention projects as part of cross-divisional programmes of work with the International Centre for Asset Recovery (ICAR). Law enforcement and prevention approaches to anti-corruption are not independent but rather complementary. We acknowledge and cultivate this insight in our work, working with our ICAR teams to identify and cultivate synergies between strengthening public governance and law enforcement systems.
  • Power and influence analysis. An analysis of corruption risks and potential areas for intervention, taking into account informal social networks and practices that affect policy making and public administration. View a case study of our power and influence analysis for the Ugandan drug supply chain.
  • Social accountability assessment. An analysis to guide the design and implementation of successful social accountability interventions, focused on getting the basic project components right and taking into account the local context. View a sample assessment on harnessing the power of communities against corruption.
Do you offer training courses?

Yes. Our training workshops support practitioners and interested stakeholders in sharpening their skills to better understand the drivers of corruption and to develop evidence-based anti-corruption approaches.

Through interactive sessions and real-life tasks, participants learn how to develop a research plan, conduct corruption risk assessments, develop social accountability initiatives and translate research findings into tailored interventions.

Over 250 practitioners, researchers, students and other stakeholders have benefited from our tailored country workshops and university courses, from Basel to Kigali.

Please see this flyer detailing our current courses or contact us directly for more information.

"Interested in our research, training and technical assistance services to increase the effectiveness of anti-corruption interventions? Contact us at any time."

Claudia Baez Camargo

Head of Public Governance
+41 61 205 55 36

With thanks to our donors