PublicationsThe U4 Blog

U4 Issue

Tackling petty corruption through social norms theory: lessons from Rwanda

Despite Rwanda’s implementation of a ‘zero tolerance for corruption’ strategy, taxi motorcyclists working in Kigali continue to deal with corrupt security officers and police officers. Yet, the use of social norms theory can be a very effective tool in analysing collective action problems, and defining strategies to modify behaviours or interactions. It reveals how power games, structural aspects, or interdependencies may perpetuate corrupt practices.

5 February 2021
Download PDFRead short version
Tackling petty corruption through social norms theory: lessons from Rwanda

Main points

  • Outsourcing or decentralising the implementation of national policies may increase the potential for corrupt practices, as the co-production of norms by non-state actors may also increase the potential for a co-production of corruption.
  • A multi-levelled administrative structure may present new opportunities for petty corruption, especially when few or no checks and balances are put in place to control corruption.
  • The implementation gap for anti-corruption policies tackling petty corruption is wider when formal and informal governance is interlinked, unless the elements of informal governance are also considered during policy design.
  • Power imbalances prevailing before project or policy implementation may hamper outcomes. Standard ‘political economy analysis’ at the stages of project design and inception do not sufficiently consider the impact of actors’ capacities and practices.
  • Social mapping, which considers margins of freedom among actors at each stage of the implementation process, may help to reduce the implementation gap.
  • During development aid project design, social norms theory could help development practitioners to consider the multiplicity of influences already identified, and to map out and align the various actors, entry points, pathways, and possible risks to consider in anti-corruption initiatives.

Cite this publication

Nicaise, G.; (2021) Tackling petty corruption through social norms theory: lessons from Rwanda. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2021:2)

Download PDFRead short version

About the author

Guillaume Nicaise is a senior adviser at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute. He leads the work on corruption risk management, organisational integrity, and the private sector. Guillaume has a doctorate in socio-anthropology, specialising in norms transfer and norms implementation, with a special focus on good governance mechanisms (transparency, accountability, and civic participation).


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)