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U4 Practitioner Experience Note

Twenty years with anti-corruption. Part 4

Evidence on anti-corruption – the struggle to understand what works

The evidence base for donors’ anti-corruption work points to some inconvenient truths about the prospects for success. We are far from possessing a coherent understanding of what should be done to combat corruption. Problems with how we frame the corruption question influence our choice of actions – which have mostly been ineffective. Despite – or because of – increasing pressure to show results, the current, scattered nature of donor programming seems unlikely to change any time soon. But it has been hard to show good results from this work. Reflections on the methods typically favoured highlight traps to avoid and steps still worth pursuing.

25 April 2020
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Main points

  • The way in which donors organise themselves and programme their responses to corruption actually shapes, often in adverse ways, how corruption is conceptualised and approached. This has huge implications for the chances of success, and may explain the paucity of results so far from donor efforts.
  • Analysis of anti-corruption evidence to date reveals few insights into how corruption has been successfully tackled, especially through direct interventions. Some successes appear to have come about ‘indirectly,’ as a result of other social changes.
  • Many of the interventions continually favoured by donors show clear deficiencies that should bring into question future use.
  • There remains a long way to go to reach an understanding of how societies repel corruption. This journey may need to escape the tramlines laid by aid donors.

Cite this publication

Mason OBE, P.; (2020) Twenty years with anti-corruption. Part 4. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Practitioner Experience Note 2020:4)

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About the author

Phil Mason OBE

Phil Mason OBE was senior anti-corruption adviser in DFID from 2000 until March 2019. He formally retired from the UK public service after 35 years, 31 of which were with ODA/DFID. He continues in the anti-corruption field in an independent capacity.


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)


Juan Salmoral