Islands of Integrity: Understanding the politics of corruption reduction

Research on corruption tends to focus on the failure of attempts to counter it in systemically corrupt countries. Instead this DLP project – one of 16 selected by the British Academy in late 2016 to be part of its Sustainable Development Programme work – focuses on ‘positive outliers’. 

It identifies institutions or services that have been able to buck the trend – the ‘islands of integrity’ of the research title – and significantly reduce corruption in their own organisations, despite being surrounded by endemic corruption. The aim is to find out what these success stories can tell us about how corruption can be reduced, even in the most challenging contexts. These lessons may be able to inspire new and effective anti-corruption interventions in other countries.

The research asks whether successful corruption reduction can be attributed to improved institutional operation or better enforcement; whether the role of key players and coalitions is more important; or whether a combination of all these elements is essential. It also considers what the international community can do to support these processes.

The project is co-led by DLP Director Dr Heather Marquette and Research Fellow Dr Caryn Peiffer. It is modelled on an earlier study by Dr Peiffer that used statistical analysis of TI’s Global Corruption Barometer to identify potential case studies suitable for in-depth research. In the first phase of this project, fresh analyses will identify potential case studies. In subsequent phases, the research will drill down into the detailed political and historical processes of two cases, and will generate hypotheses on when, why and how corruption can be effectively countered.

This emphasis on empirical and policy-relevant research goals speaks to the Sustainable Development Programme’s goal of amassing stronger evidence about how sustainable governance can be encouraged in developing countries.

Islands of Integrity was among 16 major research projects from a range of disciplines selected in December 2016 by the British Academy for grants from the UK government’s £1.5bn Global Challenges Research Fund. Findings will ultimately feed into the UK’s Aid Strategy and its contribution to the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The project will maintain the researchers’ already close connections with experts from Transparency International, Global Integrity and the British Academy/DFID Anti-Corruption Evidence Partnership.

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About DLP

The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) is an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development.

DLP focuses on the crucial role of home-grown leaderships and coalitions in forging legitimate political settlements and institutions that promote developmental outcomes, such as sustainable growth, political stability and inclusive social development.

Find out more


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