In the past years, several reviews of donor-financed interventions in the field of governance and anti-corruption have shown a pessimistic picture of how much change has been in fact achieved by programmes in this field. This has raised questions about the adequacy of current approaches and how programmes can be improved in the future. Recent papers published by researchers from the Norwegian think-tank Chr. Michelsen Institute on the U4 platform contribute to this debate by identifying important weaknesses in the design, implementation and evaluation of anti-corruption interventions, and by suggesting some solutions to these problems.
The paper “Theories of change in anti-corruption work: a tool for programme design and evaluation”, authored by Jesper Johnsøn, discusses the need for clearer analytical frameworks in the design phase of anti-corruption programmes, which allow for a better understanding of the processes through which such programmes are expected to bring about positive change in controlling corruption. The author points out that this has been largely missing in many of the projects implemented in the last years, and highlights that such a framework is fundamental not only for the implementation of a programme itself, but also for a more comprehensive view of important pre-conditions that must be taken into account for a programme to succeed.
Targeted at policy makers and practitioners in the field of anti-corruption, the paper offers a framework and a methodology for the implementation of the theory-of-change approach, which has been applied more and more often in the past few years by the donor community, and stresses the usefulness of such an approach for improvements in the evaluation phase of programmes as well.
The second paper, “Mapping evidence gaps in anti-corruption: assessing the state of the operationally relevant evidence on donors’ actions and approaches to reducing corruption”, is authored by Jesper Johnsøn, Nils Taxell and Dominik Zaum and focuses rather on the evaluation of anti-corruption policies. The paper points out that, despite the increasing need for evidence on the effectiveness of anti-corruption interventions, systematic evaluations are rare, and the availability of evidence to orient future policy making is not only limited, but the methodological quality of existing assessments is often questionable.
In their review of the literature dealing with this topic, the authors focus on six intervention areas: public sector reform, oversight institutions, civil society support, general budget support, donors’ own systems, and multilateral agreements on international anti-corruption standards. For most of the policies assessed in the literature, strong evidence either for the positive results, or the lack thereof, of anti-corruption policies is generally lacking. The study finds sufficient reliable evidence only regarding the impact of public financial management reforms and supreme audit institutions, showing generally a positive impact in the case of the former, but inconclusive results in the case of the latter.
The two studies complement one another in offering policy-makers and practitioners an overview of what (and how little) we know on the impact of various anti-corruption reforms, and in proposing an approach to help overcome this deficiency with better design and evaluation of future anti-corruption programmes. Although they are not so enlightening in terms of new conclusive evidence on the impact of anti-corruption interventions, the effort to take stock of what has been achieved in the past decades and what can be improved next is a necessary exercise if weaknesses are to be addressed and more effective results to be achieved in the future.
(The picture featured above is from exposeghana.com.)