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U4 Practitioner Experience Note

Twenty years with anti-corruption. Part 8

Working with other parts of government … when they don’t want to work with you

Within two years of starting its anti-corruption drive, the UK Department for International Development had secured a number of successes. This was despite having to work with other departments in the government bureaucracy that not only did not share its objectives, but often strongly resisted change. DFID learned to navigate these obstructions, devising seven key stratagems that helped smooth the way.

23 July 2020
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Twenty years with anti-corruption. Part 8

Main points

  • Succeeding in a bureaucratic environment is as much about understanding the politics as the policies. Avoid the temptation to see the pathway to achieving one’s objectives as simply having the stronger arguments. They may make sense to you in your situation; they probably don’t for someone else sitting in a different one. ‘Where you stand depends on where you sit’.
  • No single approach fits all. Often a combination of stratagems will be needed. Knowing which means taking time to know the terrain you are operating in.
  • Building personal relationships will, in the long run, be the most valuable tactic – but it is often the one most quickly dropped because of daily time pressures. Resist the temptation to let this go.
  • ‘Challenge not confrontation’. There are big advantages in the indirect approach. Probing inconsistencies in other departments’ positions is more likely to win gains than stressing the logicality of your own.

Cite this publication

Mason OBE, P.; (2020) Twenty years with anti-corruption. Part 8. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Practitioner Experience Note 2020:8)

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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)