Behavioural insights and anti-corruption: A practitioner-tailored review of the latest evidence (2016–2022)

Donors, governments and anti-corruption practitioners seeking alternative tools to address systemic corruption are increasingly turning to behavioural science. Behavioural anti-corruption approaches appear promising because they respond to a growing body of descriptive evidence on how certain social norms and mental models drive corruption, particularly in fragile contexts. Interventions that target social norms and seek to shift people’s behaviours away from corrupt practices could be more effective and long-lasting than ones that, for example, simply add more regulations and controls.

Yet few large-scale anti-corruption programmes have so far been informed by behavioural insights – in part due to a lack of evidence on where such an approach would be appropriate, what works and what doesn’t. 

That evidence is slowly becoming available, thanks to an increase in the past five years in what can be called Social Norms and Behaviour Change (SNBC) intervention studies. Many have yielded positive effects and demonstrate the potential of SNBC interventions to tackle systemic corruption, but some studies have encountered counterproductive effects of anti-corruption messaging. 

Based on a synthesis of the evidence, this report summarises a set of behavioural explanations (i.e. insights and pitfalls) for why some of these SNBC approaches have failed, while others have been effective. The aim is to provide practitioners designing SNBC interventions with evidence to help them develop effective programmes and avoid common pitfalls.

Acknowledgements and open-access licence

The publication is a technical report published by the Basel Institute on Governance. It is free to share under a Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence.

This review summarises the latest evidence (2016-21) on how SNBC approaches can inform anti-corruption practice. The publication was supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The contents of this publication do not represent the official position of either BMZ or GIZ.

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Basel Institute on Governance