Research lies at the core of our Institute's mission to effectively combat corruption and improve public governance. We dig deep into questions of what drives corrupt behaviour in individuals and why anti-corruption laws are often ineffective.

Time and again, our work reveals that anti-corruption practice must be evidence-based and tailored to each context. What works in one place and time does not necessarily work elsewhere.

Through deep and detailed research in the field, we contribute to current debates and new approaches to tackling public sector corruption in countries around the world. All our research results are freely available to the public.

Scroll down for a quick summary of key lessons learned from our most recent projects.


Claudia Baez Camargo

Head of Public Governance
+41 61 205 55 36

Jacopo Costa

Senior Research Fellow
+41 61 205 56 71

Saba Kassa

Public Governance Specialist
+41 61 205 55 11

Cosimo Stahl

Public Governance Specialist
+41 61 205 55 11

What are key lessons learned from our recent research projects? 

Our research on informal governance and on behavioural drivers of corruption has clearly shown the importance of causes of corruption that are hidden from plain sight. Informal practices that are widely used because they solve problems big and small (be it winning elections or obtaining a driver’s license), as well as social expectations and shared beliefs that shape what we perceive as acceptable behaviours, are linked to the entrenchment of many different types of corrupt acts. 

Such factors have been for the most part overlooked by decision makers. Yet, once accounted for, they help explain why anti-corruption approaches that rely on legal reforms only tend to have limited effectiveness in many contexts.

Social networks are vehicles of informal practices

A salient recurrent finding in our research is the centrality of social networks as effective mechanisms to pursue collective goals. Social networks are key vehicles by means of which informal practices and social norms are enacted, assimilated and perpetuated. 

For instance, in many of the countries where we have conducted research, we found that informal practices among networks of political and business groups play a key role in regulating access to public resources and rent-seeking opportunities. The functions of informal practices are thus to promote elite cohesion, nurture bases of support and weaken opponents, which therefore can be characterised as constitutive of informal governance regimes. 

The values upholding those networks describe the personal relationships of the protagonists and often have to do with loyalty and trust. In turn, these are articulated through shared social norms involving reciprocity and the obligation to look after one’s group. 

The power of social norms to impact behaviour and build stronger networks

At the community level we have observed similar patterns among users of essential public services, such as health and education. Where resources are scarce and accessibility to public services is suboptimal, individuals rely on their social networks to get what they need. They often instrumentally build new networks by means of gift giving (or bribery) to co-opt “useful friends” such as the health worker at the local dispensary. 

Again, social norms involving reciprocity and the obligation to the group underpin these practices. 

Using social networks and norms to improve anti-corruption outcomes

With this as a background, we believe that improving anti-corruption practice will depend on the degree to which we recognise and constructively harness those practices and relationships that are experienced as trusted and valued by key stakeholders in the countries where we work. 

We are therefore continuing to explore these topics in depth in our research. Learn more about how we think that anti-corruption can benefit from working with social norms and social network analysis and our ongoing research in this area.

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