Resource Highlight: “Social Norms, Corruption & Fragility”

Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church and Diana Chigas take a deep dive into the role of social norms as drivers to widespread corruption in Social Norms, Corruption & Fragility (2019). The report, published by the Henry J. Leir Institute in the Fletcher School, makes an incisive critique of traditional anti-corruption programming, which can lack proper analysis of the drivers of corrupt practices. Scharbatke-Church and Chigas argue that without a deep understanding of why corruption occurs, traditional interventions remain reactionary instead of preventative.

The authors does not go as far to point to social norms as the sole reason for the persistence of corruption, instead they argue that social norms are embedded in a larger system of relational factors. For example, in contexts of fragile and conflict states, the power of social norms is intensified. Instability and weakened governance causes people to adhere to social norms as a means of survival and a way to access support networks. Therefore, if the importance of social norms is not taken into consideration during the design and implementation process of anti-corruption programming, the implementer runs the risk of exacerbating the issue. Given this risky possibility, the report offers helpful guidelines on how to identify social norms relevant to anti-corruption programming.

For us at CIPE’s Anti-Corruption & Governance Center, this report reminds us to always consider social norms during project design and implementation, and it serves as a practical new resource with concrete guidelines and tools for identifying relevant social norms. Scharbatke-Church and Chigas have given anti-corruption practitioners a tool that can improve the long-term impact of anti-corruption programs and mitigate potential unintended consequences caused by ignoring social norms.