Understanding Social Norms: A Reference Guide for Policy and Practice

Social Norms and Corruption

By Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church and Diana Chigas

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The Understanding Social Norms: A reference guide for policy and practice is a comprehensive exploration of what social norms are, why they should matter to anyone working to diminish corruption in fragile, and conflict-affected states, and an explanation of how social norms influence corruption in these contexts.


Social norms are the mutual expectations held by members of a group about the right way to behave in a particular situation. Social norms can often be more influential than personal attitudes, and even morals, when it comes to an individual’s decisions about how to act. This in part comes from people’s innate desire to fit in, opening the door for the group to exert pressure through social rewards and punishments.


In endemically corrupt contexts, meaning places where corruption is not the exception but rather the rule, social norms can be especially influential. Even if all other aspects of a robust integrity system are in place, the system of corruption will endure if the social norms affecting people’s decisions to engage in corruption are not addressed.


This guide dives into these topics and provides guidance for practitioners working to diminish corruption in these contexts. For condensed versions of the reference guide, see our Short Guide Series linked below. Each Short Guide offers a key piece of information on the connection between social norms and corruption.


Short Guides

·  Short Guide 1: Why Social Norms Matter to Anti-Corruption

·  Short Guide 2: How are Social Norms Different

·  Short Guide 3: Social Norms in Practice