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How change happens in anti-corruption

A map of policy perspectives

New thinking around strengthening anti-corruption approaches has focused on questions of agency, that is, who and what is most likely to bring about sustainable reductions in corruption. Five perspectives to emerge – indirect, localisation, nurturing norms, big bang, and transnational (state to state) – are based on alternative theories of change to conventional anti-corruption approaches. Taken together, they suggest additional directions in anti-corruption policy for practitioners.

3 September 2020
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How change happens in anti-corruption

Main points

  • Anti-corruption policy over the past two decades has been influenced by a ‘state modernisation’ approach that has frequently – but not always – been unable to to achieve sustainable pathways out of widespread corruption.
  • The literature suggests five emerging policy perspectives that diverge in some way from the dominant state modernisation paradigm and rest on alternative theories of change.
  • The ‘indirect’ perspective questions the premise that direct anti-corruption reforms spur transitions to integrity, arguing that it is deeper changes to governance and society that allow for sustained progress.
  • The ‘localisation’ perspective holds that the choice of anti-corruption targets should be determined by local conditions and not by preconceived notions of what anti-corruption should look like or by donor preferences.
  • The ‘nurturing norms’ perspective suggests that agency in successful transitions results not from the development of formal institutions, but from informal institutions that uphold anti-corruption as an effective social norm.
  • The ‘big bang’ perspective critiques the incremental approach to anti-corruption and calls for rapid, comprehensive reforms to transform societies stuck in a high-corruption equilibrium.
  • The ‘transnational (state to state)’ perspective emphasises that the policy response to corruption in one state must be linked to policies in other states. These include reforms within aid-giving states as well as use of political leverage against corrupt elites.

Cite this publication

Jackson, D. (2020) Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2020:14)

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About the author

Dr. David Jackson leads U4’s thematic work on informal contexts of corruption. His research explores how an understanding of social norms, patron-client politics, and nonstate actors can lead to anti-corruption interventions that are better suited to context. He is the author of various book chapters and journal articles on governance issues and holds degrees from Oxford University, the Hertie School of Governance, and the Freie Universität Berlin.


All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)