HSE University Anti-Corruption Portal
A Report on the Fight against Corruption Addressing Social Norms Released

The Basel Institute on Governance has published guidance on addressing social norms to counter corruption.

The paper entitled Developing Anti-Corruption Interventions Addressing Social Norms: Lessons from a Field Pilot in Tanzania provides recommendations on how to implement anti-corruption measures to affect existing social norms and change citizens’ behaviour (Social Norms and Behaviour Change, hereinafter referred to as an SNBC approach)*.

The recommendations are based on a pilot project on eradication of gift giving in health facilities in Tanzania by changing the behaviours of health care providers and users. In the course of the project:

  • anti-corruption champions amongst health workers disseminated messages against receiving gifts;
  • posters and desk signs alerting users that the hospital staff does not accept bribes (messages for users) and reminders appealing to professional ethics and on how to tactfully reject gifts and the like (messages directed at health service providers) were placed in the hospital.

The project concluded with considerable reduction (by 14-44%) of the level of intent to offer gifts to the health service providers.

1. Discerning when an SNBC approach is appropriate

The report highlights that before the SNBC approach is employed it is necessary to decide whether it is relevant for achieving the objectives and can be in principle used in those circumstances.

In order to assess whether the approach is relevant the authors of the paper suggest responding to the following questions:

  • Whether the pattern of corruption in question is incentivised and/or perpetuated through social mechanisms in the country such as peer pressure, social punishments or rewards?

In order to answer this question, the paper provides a text framework which allows defining whether a SNBC approach is relevant by replacing the variables that depend on the current circumstances: “X people are expected to do Y behaviour; if they do not, Q negative sanction, or if they do, R positive social response will occur”. For instance, in the case of the pilot project in Tanzania this text was formulated as follows: “Public health facility workers are expected to accept gifts and bribes from users, if they do not, they are criticised by users, if they do they are regarded as trustworthy and get recommended across the users’ social networks”.

  • Whether the desired change in behaviour can be encouraged by appealing to social mechanisms such as peer pressure and social punishments and rewards?

With a view to creating the circumstances where an SNBC approach would be appropriate, social norm should not necessarily have an important role in disseminating corrupt practices: the paper stresses that it is useful to address social norms with this approach also where they can be used to counter corruption.

In order to define the feasibility of an SNBC approach the authors of the paper recommend making sure that there are elements of intolerance of corrupt practices. For example, throughout the project, some health service providers stressed that they had negative personal attitude to the practice of gift giving or reject it altogether as it allows the gift givers to fill that they are entitled to demand special services and treatment from the person who accepts the gift.

​2. Background research

In an early stage of application of the SNBC approach, it is recommended in the first place to scrutinise the behaviour that leads to corrupt practices, and potential limitations and opportunities of implementation of anti-corruption measures based on the SNBC approach by responding to the following questions:

  • Where does misconduct take place? (e.g. in the provider’s office, in the hallways, in a private setting etc.);
  • When does it take place? (e.g. before the service has been provided, immediately after or at a later time etc.);
  • Who partakes in it? (in the pilot project these could be doctors, nurses or administrative staff; patients, family of patients or escorts; brokers etc.);
  • How is the behaviour understood and justified? (e.g. the offering of gifts is linked to feelings of gratitude, gifts are part of the culture etc.);
  • What are the local language expressions and terms used to refer to the behaviour? (e.g. the research revealed that the local term to refer to the behaviour of interest was “zawadi”).

Additionally, the preliminary analysis should be aimed at defining the scope of undue behaviour at different levels of governance/organisational structure and selecting the most appropriate level/structural unit where an SNBC approach should be employed.

The final step at this stage consists in testing the instruments for data gathering, potential anti-corruption measures etc., aimed at detecting risks and preventing unintended negative side effects.

3. Theory of change

The paper states that an SNBC approach is based on a theory of change** whose main elements are in this case:

  • personal beliefs of the persons engaged in a interaction where the behaviour takes place;
  • descriptive social norms, i.e. the norms defining the dominant behavioral models in a group;
  • injunctive social norms, or the norms that define the acceptability of behaviour;
  • behaviours of the persons engaged in the interaction.

In the case of Tanzania, under each of these elements, the researchers promoted negative attitude of health service providers and users (personal beliefs) by disseminating information through peers and managers (descriptive social norms) and by placing posters and desk signs prohibiting gift giving (descriptive social norms) and instructions (behaviours).

4. Anti-corruption intervention

The authors provide a list of possible anti-corruption measures that can be implemented to address social norms. It includes:

  • Intervening where “hot states” happen (for example where a bribe would be offered), when social pressures or other triggers unleash strong visceral emotions that prevent individuals from acting in what they rationally know to be the right manner;
  • Defining the most effective tools for raising awareness about the unacceptability of certain behaviours and further awareness-raising activities with the use of the tools whose effectiveness was proven at the stage of background research;
  • Detection of double standards with respect to misbehaviour and their discussion with the persons involved in the interaction where such misbehaviour takes place in order to make them realise the contradictions between their own beliefs and actions etc.

5. Further observations

The report provides some additional observations based on the findings of the pilot project.

Firstly, the paper stresses that if an SNBC approach is used it is particularly important to draw the attention of the persons involved in the interaction that the implementation of anti-corruption measures has increased the probability of detection of corruption offences and subsequent sanctions; the study showed that this can be a deterrent to corruption.

Secondly, the fight against corrupt practices addressing social norms is feasible without directly mentioning “corruption” and can be considered as a means to achieve results and objectives recognised as useful and beneficial for certain target groups. As a consequence, the authors of the papers recommend developing anti-corruption measures, taking account of their appropriateness for these target groups and providing the latter with the possibility to act as active participants independent in developing their own approaches to the definition and implementation of solutions of identified problems.

Finally, the authors of the study recommend getting prepared to prolonged work that would include not only the development of a set of measures and its testing, but also careful measurement of the findings to create the evidence base and understand which of the measures adopted produced an effect in changing behaviours related to different forms of corruption. Additionally, the paper stresses that it is important to pay attention to unsuccessful anti-corruption measures: exchange of relevant data will allow avoiding detected errors, which can be quite useful given the high cost and uncertain effectiveness of the SNBC approach.

*For the purpose of the study, social norms are informal rules regulating social behaviour.

**Theory of change is an approach to drafting and assessing documents of strategic planning, public policy measures or specific projects and programmes aimed at getting and visualizing most comprehensive and consistent list of actions necessary to achieve a final result (effect).

Social context

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