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Building anti-corruption resilience to combat entrenched corruption systems

When corruption is part of a system in sectors like health or education, it poses a different challenge compared to more transactional corruption. Corruption systems are characterised by many actors, working through shared codes and rules, that serve broader political and economic purposes. They endanger sectoral institutions, welfare, and democratic life. Corruption systems also constrain, resist and circumvent conventional anti-corruption strategies, prompting an ever-present risk of implementation failure. To overcome these perils, this U4 Issue proposes a three-step approach to building resilience into anti-corruption action: more targeted efforts; more system-sensitive choices; and more emphasis on ‘social empowerment’.

1 December 2022
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Building anti-corruption resilience to combat entrenched corruption systems

Main points

  • Much of the conventional anti-corruption approach has been shaped by the perspective that corruption is an ‘act’ – yet recent empirical work shows how many corrupt acts are nested within broader coordination structures.
  • Understanding when corruption is part of a system, and when it is not, is important for anti-corruption policy design as each corruption problem needs a different approach and policy path.
  • Corruption systems raise the stakes for anti-corruption because of the threat they pose to accountability mechanisms. This is because corruption systems tend to operate through a logic of co-option–impunity–exploitation which can pose relentless harm to the broader institutional framework.
  • Networks within corruption systems will always seek to defend the system. Such ‘systemic resistance’ will often nullify conventional anti-corruption approaches. This typical vulnerability can only be addressed by building more resilience into anti-corruption efforts.
  • Building resilience into anti-corruption is about: enhancing efficiency through targeted approaches; making more informed design choices based on context and sensitivity to how systems operate; and allowing actors in sectors to challenge the power differences that sustain corruption systems.

Cite this publication

Jackson, D.; (2022) Building anti-corruption resilience to combat entrenched corruption systems. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2022:17)

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About the author

Dr. David Jackson leads U4’s thematic work on informal contexts of corruption. His research explores how an understanding of social norms, patron-client politics, and nonstate actors can lead to anti-corruption interventions that are better suited to context. He is the author of various book chapters and journal articles on governance issues and holds degrees from Oxford University, the Hertie School of Governance, and the Freie Universität Berlin.


All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)