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 Exploring How Social Pressures Affect Corruption 


CJL believes social norms should be considered a key element of programs that tackle corruption, accountability and transparency, or governance.


Toward this goal, we are collaborating with practitioners to co-develop approaches and materials to address social norms that influence corrupt behavior. We are also convening to advance the field's understanding of the role of social norms in the anti-corruption field. 


Interested in our growing collection of social norms resources? 

We have made a clickable, linked social norms roadmap to aid your social norms journey.


Gender and Faith Norms in Contexts of Corruption


CJL is working in Nigeria to conduct research on how gender and faith norms interact with social norms driving corrupt behaviors in service sectors in Nigeria. Based on the research, CJL will convene practitioners working on social norms within anti-corruption programming to explore the practical implications of the findings for their programming.  The project, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, will develop a methodology for analyzing intersectional aspects of social norms driving corruption, and guidance on how to adapt social norms change programming to take into account the cross-cutting impact of gender and other norms. 


Testing the effectiveness of tools and approaches to change social norms is key to identifying more effective approaches to anti-corruption/governance work.  CJL is collaborating with RTI International, a nonprofit research and global development institute, to pilot effective responses to corrupt patterns of behavior and their supporting social norms in natural resource management. The collaboration will refine a methodology to help the USAID-funded Sustainable Interventions for Biodiversity, Oceans and Landscape (SIBOL) project, implemented by RTI, to identify, prioritize, and test ways to shift social norms and behavior in the Philippines. 


To investigate the connection between social norms and corruption, CJL, RTI and the SIBOL project team conducted a context analysis, summarized existing research, and will develop a causal loop map as a basis to understand what drives and enables natural resources decision making in a test site in the Philippines.  


An initial social norms scoping will be done based on the Understanding Social Norms: A Reference Guide for Policy and Practice process (Section D), which is an initial exploration of the role social norms play in endemic corruption in fragile states.  If typical behaviors are identified that are held in place through norms, the partnership will use a social norms diagnostic to dig deeper to develop effective programming.  The partners are committed to sharing lessons and processes as the research progresses.


The resulting process, tools and learning of the pilot will benefit not only governance and anti-corruption programming but also wildlife, health, education and other sectors

  • One-off, pattern, or corrupted system: our Co-Director, Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church, and RTI International's Senior Governance and Anti-Corruption Advisor, Richard Nash, wrote a blog on the Philippines research trip that provide tips on how-to unpack corruption to aid social norms programming: 'Unpacking corruption paves the way for social norms analysis'

  • The field of social norms differentiates between direct, indirect and meta norms. Our 2023 publication in partnership with RTI, marks our first effort to examine the role of indirect social norms in driving corrupt patterns of behavior. The case study offers a systems-based understanding of the corruption dynamics in the Philippines and a deep dive into the role of indirect social norms there. 

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CJL is collaborating with Accountability Lab South Africa to explore the overarching question “What shapes the quality and efficacy of fire response service by and in the city of Johannesburg?”


Several incidents in recent years in Johannesburg such as the fire breakouts in the Bank of Lisbon Building (2018), the shack settlement adjacent the disused Kaserne parking Garage (2021) and Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital (2021) have led to catastrophic injuries and loss to not only the residents of Johannesburg led to catastrophic injuries and losses for residents, properties, and communities in Johannesburg. With an increasing number of such incidents in the last few months in Johannesburg, we believe that if the issues surrounding fire safety provisions are not swiftly addressed,, the city of Johannesburg could see more such incidents happening, leading to loss of lives, injuries and damage to property.​


This collaboration will adopt a systems thinking approach to understanding what is driving and enabling the current state of fire protection in Johannesburg. This approach will include identifying critical stakeholders and explore the role of social norms in the system of fire safety in Johannesburg. This collaboration is intended to eventually identify key ‘entry points’ for Accountability Lab and develop promising theories of change for future programs.

Read more about our learnings and methodological insights from this collaboration 'Big reveals from stakeholder analysis can be central to effective change'

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At CJL, we have travelled a long path to grasp the complexities of social norms and corruption. We have seen how challenging it has been for various actors — from development workers to local anti-corruption practitioners (ourselves included) to allocate the time and energy to engage in the labyrinth of materials and then apply it to their programming.

To support those working against corruption, and in collaboration with the Lebanon’s Youth Against Corruption (YAC) team, we have developed a learning module on Values and Social Norms. This acts as module 2 for YAC’s youth-focused, online course to raise awareness on corruption across sectors. This module looks at:​

  • What individuals can do to shift social norms that drive corrupt behavior; and

  • How social norms influence corrupt behavior.

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CJL collaborated with CARE Netherland’s Every Voice Counts (EVC) program, The Hague Academy, and CARE country offices in Burundi, Rwanda, and Sudan to explore practical know-how around social norms change on issues related to transparency and accountability – specifically among public authorities.


The collaboration was guided by a few core questions:

  • How do social norms intersect with or impact official duty-bearers?

  • Do they differ from broader societal norms or simply mirror them?

  • How would practitioners or policymakers identify and change negative norms associated with transparency and accountability in public authorities?


CARE Netherland’s Every Voice Counts (EVC) program, through programming and research, has identified social norms as a key component to building effective and inclusive governance efforts in fragile and post-conflict settings, primarily targeting increased engagement and inclusion of women and youth. Lending our expertise in social norms change theory, CJL guided CARE through a reflective learning process to explore their existing know-how in order to better inform EVC programming. In turn, this collaboration offered SNAC the opportunity to not only learn from the breadth of experience across CARE, but also grow and refine the theory and tools laid out in our Social Norms Reference Guide for Policy and Practice. 

The outcomes from this collaboration are also discussed in our blog post Orders from Above: Curated Resources Exploring Social Norms and Public Authorities

The collaboration catalyzed a longer-term interest in the role of social norms amongst civil servants in contexts of endemic corruption.  Check out our recent blogs 'Civil Servants, Social Norms, and Corruption – What do we know and what do we do?' and 'Addressing Bureaucratic Corruption: Advice from and for Practitioners'.

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CJL collaborated with Accountability Lab's signature program - Integrity Icon, to understand how best to effectively monitor and evaluate change in social norms related to corruption. As part of this collaboration, CJL conducted a comprehensive literature review of existing wisdom on M&E of social norms across different fields. Based on our findings from the literature review, CJL sought to determine if these approaches would work for interventions seeking to change norms related to corrupt behaviors. 


In other fields, it is clear that the trend is to conduct an initial assessment of the existence of social norms. Next, a thorough diagnostic is conducted to gain greater specificity on all the norm’s components, which then doubles as a baseline. From there, much of the evaluation is dominated by a measurement or research lens more so than a programmatic evaluation orientation.

Read more for learnings related to this collaboration on our blog post 'M&E of the Intangible: Resources on Social Norms'

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CJL collaborated with Strengthening Uganda’s Anti-Corruption and Accountability Response Technical Assistance Facility (SUGAR) to develop an inquiry into the underlying norms and values that drive the resistance to the removal of public servants convicted of corruption in accordance with Section 46 of the Anti-Corruption Act. The inquiry used participatory processes with public servants to develop a visual representation of the problem using causal loop mapping. This approach is based on systems thinking and is uniquely effective at analyzing complex problems in a way that helps identify potential responses.


The work found that the challenges to implementing Section 46 are a complex web of interconnected factors. Some are related specifically to Section 46, while others are more general challenges within the public service as a whole that manifest in behaviors that undermine implementation of Section 46. It is the interaction of the social norms with institutional factors, values, and incentives that lead to the lack of consistent implementation of Section 46.

View the report 'Understanding the Underlying Values, Norms and Behaviors Constraining the Implementation of Administrative Sanction in the Ugandan Public Service'

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CJL collaborated with Management Systems International (MSI) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to facilitate USAID’s roundtable discussion on lessons learned for social norm change related to organized crime. It brought together over 30 participants from USAID, the interagency, donors, research organizations, and implementing partners. CJL served as resource people for this roundtable discussion to solicit input and experience regarding the role of social norms in corruption and organized crime and how to address them. As part of this collaboration, CJL Co-director, Diana Chigas co-authored a white paper with MSI's Phyllis Dinino that serves as a compilation of strategies borrowed from other fields that could most beneficially be adapted by those working on anti-corruption and organized crime.


View the white paper 'Strengthening Rule of Law Approaches to Address Organized Crime: Social Norms'

Accountability Lab
Social Norms Roadmap

The relationship between social norms and corruption can feel overwhelming when first starting out.  To simplify the process, we’ve created an interactive roadmap to help you on your social norms learning journey.

If you would like an in-depth introduction, we recomend our "Understanding Social Norms: A reference Guide for Policy and Practice" as a great go-to for every practitioner.

New to Social Norms?

Click the boxes for more!

If you prefer an overview of key concepts, start with our Short Guide Series.

Have specific questions? "Understanding Social Norms: A reference Guide for Policy and Practice" is a great go-to for every practitioner.

Interested in learning how social norms inhibit anti-corruption programming?

Get started with "Social Norms and Corruption: An Overview." This Short norms into the essential components that every practitioner working on accountability, corruption or integrity must know before they start to develop programs.

Intrested in how all of this relates to anti-corruption programming? Our short guide, "Why Social Norms Matter to Anti-Corruption" explains why integrating social norms into accountability, corruption or integrity related programming matters.

Want a more practical application? Go from theory to practice with "Social Norms in Practice."

Go a bit deeper into the nuances of social norms with "How are Social Norms different: Not just an Academic Exercise." This guide explains the difference between social norms and attitudes, behaviors, or morals relating to corruption.

Interested in learning how social norms inhibit anti-corruption programming?

Interested in social norms
relating to civil servants?

Interested in how social norms and collective action relate?

Looking for more reading
on social norms change?

To understand social norms and the intersection with corrupt behaviors among civil servants, check out this blog: "Civil Servants, Socila Norms, and Corrupiton - What do we know and what do we do?"

Check out "Addressing Bureaucratic Corruption: Advice from and for Practitioners."

Check out "Walk the Talk: Resources on Tackling Social Norms with Strategic Marketing & Communication Campaigns."

Here is our short list of published and evidence focused must-reads: "Changing Social Norms: What Anti-Corruption Practitioners Should Read."

To understand the role of social norms as inhibitors to anti-corruption practice, read our SUGAR report: "Understanding the Underlying Values, Norms and Behaviors Constraining the Implementation of Administrative Sanction in the Ugandan Public Service."

Or if you are short on time, check out one of our blogs based on the report "The Threat is Real: what it means for civil servants when social norms and the law do not align."

Here is the blog post "Collective Action, Corruption, and Social Norms: A Roadmap." provides practitioners with a roadmap to understanding how to use collective action to strengthen their anti-corruption work.

Connect with us to receive updates from our knowledge bank! 

Advisory Board
SNAC Blog posts
SNAC Publications

The Role of Social Norms in Bureaucratic Corruption: A Research-to-Practice Report

May 2024

By Jared Miller, Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church, and Diana Chigas

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

July, 2023

By Jared Miller, Social Norms and Corruption

Addressing Transparency and Accountability Among Local Authorities: Lessons from an Academic-Practitioner Collaboration

December, 2020

By Diana Chigas, Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church, Freddy Sahinguvu, Katie Whipkey

Social Norms in Practice

February, 2022

By Corruption, Justice and Legitimacy program

Understanding Corruption and Social Norms: A Case Study in Natural Resource Management

October 2023

By Richard Nash, Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church, Zita Toribio, Peter Woodrow, and Derick Brinkerhoff

How Are Social Norms Different: Not Just An Academic Exercise

October, 2021

By Corruption Justice and Legitimacy

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