Many of these helpful contributions are based on empirical cases that illustrate how social norms may intersect with corruption.To add to that body of knowledge, this U4 Issue takes a step forward to think about how the design of anti-corruption and integrity-building policies and interventions can incorporate and benefit from a social norms perspective.Although hypothetical, the situation resonates with many real-world cases where corrupt practices, occurring either between a citizen and an official or between officials, afflict administrative processes.
And there may be social sanctions for violating these norms.
The importance of social norms in sustaining corrupt practices is increasingly recognised in the literature.
Shocked by these reports of extortion and embezzlement, the government is pressed into action.
Deeming the corrupt behaviour a result of deficiencies in the “integrity framework,” the government focuses on strengthening accountability procedures and monitoring processes.
A social norms approach can help practitioners design effective anti-corruption reforms.
Social norms in communities, families, and organisations help explain why corruption persists.The threat of social sanctions for norm violations creates pressures on officials and citizens to sustain corrupt practices.Practitioners can use various methods to diagnose normative pressures in a given context, then use social norms strategies to relieve these pressures so that collective behaviour can change. A new programme providing cash assistance to the poorest households in a society, predominantly in rural areas, is rolled out.The practice has become so widespread that curbing the abuse is no longer simply a matter of disciplining a few deviant officials.To make matters worse, an external audit reveals the exploitation of financial transfer processes within the programme, with municipal officials skimming cash intended for the beneficiaries.Further investigation reveals that beneficiaries have been told that to receive the assistance to which they are entitled, they should “show some gratitude” in return.Based on reports indicating that public officials indeed demand such “gifts” as a condition of providing the cash assistance, journalists have started to label the administration of the system as “extortive.” The practice contradicts the programme’s intended purpose of providing a basic safety net – indeed, extracting precious foodstuffs would seem to exacerbate the poverty of the beneficiaries.Across academic disciplines, studies have identified two main types of social norms.First, there are norms based on the perceived frequency of a given behaviour.One reason is that people simultaneously belong to multiple social networks in which different, and at times contradictory, norms prevail.We introduce a framework that traces the four most relevant sources of social normative pressures that sustain corruption: sociability, kinship, horizontal, and vertical pressures.