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The effectiveness of anti-corruption policy: what has worked, what hasn't, and what we don't know: a systematic review

What do we want to know? 

How effective have micro-level anti-corruption policies been at reducing public sector corruption in developing countries? As corruption continues to be an issue, which strategies should be promoted and implemented?

Who wants to know and why?

Public sector corruption is a key barrier to effective service delivery and an impediment to economic growth and development. Therefore, the results of this systematic review will be of interest to practitioners, policy makers and leaders who work in public sector service delivery and economic growth initiatives, and in general, to individuals or groups involved in corruption reduction efforts.  

What did we find? 

The review focuses on the distinction between interventions that used monitoring and incentives mechanisms and those that changed the underlying rules of the system. We find convincing evidence that monitoring and incentive-based interventions (both financial and non-financial) have the potential to reduce corruption, at least in the short term, by increasing the risk and cost of corruption involvement. More limited evidence supports a system change that allows communities to set priorities and monitor officials in order to reduce corruption in certain settings. Strategies that change the rules are thought to be more sustainable in the long term, as they attempt to reduce the opportunities for engaging in corrupt behaviour. However, additional research is needed to better understand the long-term effects of changing the rules and monitoring, and incentives interventions. 

What are the implications?

Corruption levels remain high in developing countries. The implementation of strategies that successfully reduce corruption can improve service delivery and economic growth. We find that strictly implemented monitoring and incentives schemes can successfully reduce corruption when all involved parties have their incentives properly aligned. In addition to financial incentives, employing media sources to publicise corruption activity can also be a useful incentive to reduce corruption.

A system change that allows communities to set priorities and monitor officials may be particularly successful among communities with high levels of participation and local capacity, and when decision makers and service providers are held directly accountable by programme recipients. Collaborating with local non-governmental organisations that have established relationships with the community can also be a useful tool for implementing successful programmes.

Our systematic review provides evidence supporting the success of these strategies in reducing corruption. Nevertheless, our findings are based on programmes that were implemented within a specific context (e.g. population, public sector, rural/urban, etc.). The body of high-quality, micro-level empirical studies on anti-corruption interventions is extremely small at this point and further research is needed before more concrete policy advice can be offered.  

How did we get these results?

We employed systematic review procedures and techniques to obtain and synthesise the studies included in our report. This process revealed over 6,000 articles related to corruption and corruption reduction. After applying our detailed exclusion criteria, we included 14 articles that focus on measuring the effectiveness of a micro-level anti-corruption strategy in a developing country.

For the purposes of this report, we have defined corruption as ‘an incident where a bureaucrat (or an elected official) breaks a rule for private gain’. This definition translates to the inclusion of strategies that target not only the most obvious forms of corruption (i.e. asking for bribes, stealing public goods), but also the more nuanced forms, such as nepotism and ‘stealing time’, or not attending work but receiving paychecks (i.e. absenteeism).

The EPPI-Centre reference number for this report is 1909.

This report should be cited as: Hanna R, Bishop S, Nadel S, Scheffler G, Durlacher K (2011) The effectiveness of anti-corruption policy: what has worked, what hasn't, and what we don't know: a systematic review. Technical report. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

ISBN: 978-1-907345-14-2

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