New book chapter on approaches to tackling corruption

DLP Director Heather Marquette and Research Fellow Caryn Peiffer have contributed a chapter to Ethics in Public Policy and Management: A Global Research Companion. The book offers an overview of the latest research on ethical issues in the field of public policy and its management. It examines the profound changes of the last 25 years, including the rise of New Public Management, New Public Governance and Public Value, and how these have altered practitioners' delivery of public services.
 
Heather and Caryn discuss 'Theoretical (Mis)understanding? Applying Principal-Agent and Collective Action Theories to the Problem of Corruption in Systemically Corrupt Countries'. They draw on their DLP research paper, Corruption and Collective Action, which was published in collaboration with the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre. They suggest the failure of much anti-corruption work could be partly attributable to an inadequate theoretical understanding of the problem. 
 
Principal-agent theory, at one time dominant in anti-corruption work, highlights the role of individuals' calculations about whether or not to engage in or oppose corruption. Corruption is now also viewed as a collective action problem, suggesting that where corruption is seen as normal, group dynamics will make individuals less inclined to oppose it or abstain from using it to get what they want.
 
Heather and Caryn argue that both theoretical approaches are valuable and, in fact, complementary rather than posing an either-or view of the problem. However, both approaches miss an important third perspective: corruption can serve an important problem-solving function, especially in weak institutional environments. 
 
More importantly, however, they suggest that effective anti-corruption initiatives will be driven by the context, not the theory. For example, principal-agent theory inspired interventions such as monitoring, transparency and sanctions may have a big impact in contexts where corruption is relatively isolated. However, they could backfire in other contexts by increasing public perceptions that corruption is pervasive and inducing a sense of 'corruption fatigue' among potential challengers and reformers. 
 
Where corruption is driven by group dynamics, the most pressing collective action problem may be not corruption itself; instead it might be helpful to consider how a reform coalition to oppose corruption might arise. Finally, they suggest, it is important to understand the functions that corruption performs for those who engage in it, and to try to provide alternatives.
 

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