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Behavioural insights for public integrity

An OECD report – Behavioural insights for public integrity. Harnessing the human factor to counter corruption (2018) – shares insights on the human dimension of integrity and how policymakers may adopt innovative approaches to reduce corruption. The report is mainly addressed at 'OECD' states but parts of it may also apply to countries in the Global South.

Ethical choices that individuals make based on moral reflection, and those influenced by society, peers, neighbours and colleagues, represent dynamics and pitfalls that policymakers have often overlooked. Integrating these aspects into policy design may help reduce corruption.

Central findings

Public policies can affect individuals’ moral choices by emphasising or raising their moral reference points:

  • A small message, a “moral reminder”, can be sufficient to induce ethical reflection. Such moments of ethical reflection can be integrated in many policies.
  • Moral choices can be invoked be by creating commitments and by mentally preparing individuals for ethical temptations.
  • Over-strict control can have adverse effects.

Ways to apply behavioural insights to achieve effective integrity policies include:

  • Identifying the way responsibilities are assigned in an integrity system. Structures that diffuse responsibility (e.g. involving many actors, ensuring integrity merely through formal requirements) could create integrity risks.
  • Integrating ethical reflections in certain procedures, especially those that carry a high risk of corruption. This could ensure that integrity is not overlooked in a public official’s everyday routine. Requiring a personal signature on paperwork, for example, can invoke stronger personal ethical engagement.
  • Include "nudging" that subtly changes the way a decision presents itself, to help individuals make a better choice for their own benefit: eg request a conflict of interest declaration from each team member at the beginning of a new project by default.

Behavioural insights for public integrity. Harnessing the human factor to counter corruption. 2018. OECD