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Civil Servants, Social Norms, and Corruption: What do we know? What do we do?

Social Norms and Corruption

By Corruption, Justice and Legitimacy program


This literature review explores what is known about social norms that drive corrupt practices among civil servants in endemically corrupt contexts and how to address those social norms. It presents findings relevant to practitioners and policymakers who are working on anti-corruption, public sector reform, and improving the provision of public goods and services in endemically corrupt environments.  In the scholarship, there is growing recognition of how social norms influence corrupt behaviors, though to date there has not been a comprehensive review of the research on the civil servants, social norms, corruption nexus. This report seeks to address this gap by answering two key questions:

  1. What do we know about the social norms that drive corrupt behaviors among civil servants in contexts of endemic corruption?

  2. In these contexts, what do we know about how to change the social norms that drive corruption among civil servants?

The review finds that there is robust evidence of how social norms can drive corrupt behaviors among civil servants and why anti-corruption strategies that do not incorporate social norms are likely to be ineffective. However, there are significant gaps in the evidence base regarding how to effectively address the social norms driving corruption among civil servants. As praxis using these strategies expands, it should be matched with robust monitoring and evaluation efforts to better understand what works and why. This report presents the state of the literature on the above two questions, identifies key lessons, and outlines a future research-to-practice agenda for these issues.

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