Northwestern University

Combatting Corruption Among Civil Servants:

Interdisciplinary Perspectives on What Works

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Principal Investigators:

In 2016, USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance launched its Learning Agenda—a set of research questions designed to address the issues that confront staff in USAID field offices working on the intersection of development and democracy, human rights, and governance. This literature review—produced by a team of economists, political scientists, sociologists, and anthropologists—synthesizes scholarship from diverse research traditions on the following Learning Agenda question:

  • In the context of hiring civil servants and providing positive and negative incentives for their behavior, what kinds of interventions are most effective at reducing the propensity (potential and actual) of civil servants to engage in corruption?

Overall, as summarized in the chart below, there was not a great deal of rigorous academic evidence either for or against the majority of commonly prescribed anti-corruption strategies, with the partial exception of anti-corruption audits and e-governance. These findings are discussed at length in the publication, and contextualized within a broader analysis why the first wave of corruption reforms has generated so few success stories.

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DFG Project Description

Through the USAID-funded Democracy Fellows and Grants (DFG) program, IIE brings research, innovation, and expertise to support USAID’s development work in the sector of democracy, human rights, and governance (DRG). Through the Democracy Fellows component, IIE manages experts in niche DRG disciplines who are embedded within USAID bureaus and offices to provide direct support to USAID’s work in their technical specialties. Through the Research and Innovation Grants component, IIE manages the production and publication of research—including the reports featured here as part of IIE’s democracy research series—that brings new learning, evidence, and knowledge to USAID to influence decisions about program design in the DRG sector.