Informal governance

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.

Claudia Baez Camargo

Head of Public Governance
+41 61 205 55 36


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 is it and why does it matter?


Learn more about informality.


Informal governance

How does it work? Are there similarities across cultures and borders?


Learn more about informal governance.


Country findings

Explore the key findings from the seven countries studied


See all country findings.


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.



This research was led by the Basel Institute on Governance, UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies and SOAS University of London with support from a multidisciplinary team of collaborators.


Dr Claudia Baez Camargo
Project Principal Investigator
Head of Governance Research
Basel Institute on Governance

Prof Alena Ledeneva
Project Co-Investigator
Professor of Politics and Society
UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies

Dr Scott Newton
Project Co-Investigator
Reader in Laws of Central Asia
SOAS University of London

Dr Lucy Koechlin
Regional Expert East Africa
Senior Lecturer 
Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Basel

Prof Maral Muratbekova-Touron
Regional Expert Central Asia
Professor at the Department of Management
ESCP Europe, Paris Campus

Dr Fredrik Galtung
Research Contributor
Founder and Activist
Integrity Action
Twitter: @galtung

Integrity Action
Dissemination Partner
Integrity Action
Twitter: @Act4Integrity

Prof Tharcisse Gatwa
Researcher Rwanda
Director of Research
Protestant Institute of Art and Social Sciences

Dr Frederick Golooba-Mutebi
Researcher Uganda
Kampala - and Kigali-based Independent Researcher & Analyst
Research Associate 
Overseas Development Institute

Dr Aksana Ismailbekova
Researcher Kyrgyzstan
Research Partner
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

Dr Alexander Kupatadze
Researcher Georgia
King's College London 

Ms Jessica Musila
Researcher Kenya
Executive Director
Mzalendo Trust
Corporate twitter: @mzalendowatch

Dr Richard Sambaiga
Researcher Tanzania
Lecturer in Sociology and Anthropology
University of Dar es Salaam

Ms Tolganay Umbetalijeva
Researcher Kazakhstan
General Director
The Central Asia Foundation for Developing Democracy


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This research has been funded by the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the British Academy through the British Academy/DFID Anti-Corruption Evidence Programme. However, the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the British Academy or DFID.