TNRC Guide | Researching Social Norms and Behaviors Related to Corruption Affecting Conservation Outcomes

Researching Social Norms and Behaviors Related to Corruption Affecting Conservation Outcomes

These TNRC Guides share practical knowledge for program designers and implementers to reduce corruption’s impact on conservation.

Orientation and Overview

Corruption behaviors are complex, so research to identify ways to address them can be challenging (Schwickerath, Varraich, and Smith 2017). A hypothetical example illustrates the point: Anti-corruption practitioners interested in reducing bribery at border checkpoints known for high volumes of illegal timber trade need to understand where best to invest resources to achieve meaningful impact. Options could include interventions that reduce social expectations and community tolerance of giving bribes, initiatives that promote changed behavior by appealing to professionalism and codes of conduct among potential bribe takers, or interventions that encourage or embolden potential bribe givers not to give money when requested. Each of these responses to a corruption problem focuses on different actors and seeks to influence different social norms (SN) that might motivate a behavior change (BC).

Not every corruption problem may be right for such SNBC approaches, of course, and alternatives or accompaniments could include more transparency, increased scrutiny and oversight, or the introduction of technology (Mgaza 2022). Identifying whether to use SNBC or these more “structural” amendments, and if SNBC is chosen, then where, how, and with whom to engage, will depend on multiple factors. These might include prevailing practices of bribing enforcement officials, along with contextual factors that might influence the demand for bribes (such as low salaries, few rewards or other incentives for better professional standards, or a lack of recognition or pride for protecting community resources and stopping illegal wildlife trade), and the perception of personal risk among community members interested in combatting corruption.

These Resource Guides introduce some foundational principles and common considerations for research into conservation-focused anti-corruption actions. The Guides are not manuals; authoritative material like the “Manual on Corruption Surveys” (UNODC 2018) is already available to support anti-corruption research.


Mahouts riding elephants

Research Guide Part I: Baseline Data & Formative Assessment

Part I introduces three “packages” of research that introduce non-specialists to some of the relevant core approaches and methods for assessing whether, when and how social norms might be targeted to address corrupt behaviors. When combined, the packages provide quantitative measures for pivotal values – e.g., social tolerance of and attitudes towards corruption, or the percent of a sample who have paid a bribe – against which progress with anti-corruption actions can later be measured (the “baseline”). The arising data will also provide qualitative information to help guide choices around the SNBC strategies to adopt (“formative” insight).