Why some anti-corruption campaigns make people more likely to pay a bribe

Commuters waiting at a bus stop in Lagos
Adekunle Ajayi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Nic Cheeseman, University of Birmingham and Caryn Peiffer, University of Bristol

Donors and civil society groups spend tens of millions of dollars every year trying to combat corruption. They do it because corruption has been shown to increase poverty and inequality while undermining trust in the government. Reducing corruption is essential to improve public services and strengthen the social contract between citizens and the state.

But what if anti-corruption efforts actually make the situation worse?

Our research in Lagos, Nigeria, found that anti-corruption messages often have an unintended effect. Instead of building public resolve to reject corrupt acts, the messages we tested either had no effect or actually made people more likely to offer a bribe.

The reason may be that the messages reinforce popular perceptions that corruption is pervasive and insurmountable. In doing so, they encourage apathy and acceptance rather than inspire activism.

Fighting corruption

Efforts to combat corruption in “developing countries” initially focused on law enforcement by political leaders and bureaucrats. But these strategies met with limited success and so efforts switched to raising public awareness of the dangers of corruption.

This change of approach made sense. One reason that leaders don’t deliver on reforms is that they benefit from the way things are. Encouraging citizens to reject corrupt leaders would give those in power an incentive to act.

The last 20 years therefore saw a vast array of campaigns, from newspaper and radio advertisements to Twitter messages. Short films, theatre productions and signs that proclaim that government institutions are “corruption free zones” were also included.

These messages are seen by large numbers of people, but until recently there had been remarkably little systematic research on whether they actually work.

Researching corruption

To test the impact of anti-corruption messages we developed five short narratives like those promoted by civil society organisations and international donors. One message focused on explaining that corruption is widespread and damaging. Others emphasised the local impact of graft and the way it wasted citizens’ taxes.

To test the effect of more positive messages, one narrative talked about recent successes that political leaders had in curbing corruption. Another detailed the role that religious leaders played in promoting clean government.

We read the messages to 2,400 randomly selected people in Lagos. While corruption has often been identified as a major challenge in Nigeria, the Lagos State government has made some progress towards reducing government waste, ensuring all citizens pay taxes and delivering better services. It was therefore plausible that both positive and negative messages about corruption would resonate with Lagosians. The state is also ethnically diverse, with considerable poverty and inequality, and so reflects the kind of context in which anti-corruption messaging is often deployed.

Each person we interviewed was given one of the narratives. A control group was not given any anti-corruption information. This was to enable us to compare the impact of different messages. We then asked everyone a number of questions about their attitudes towards corruption.

In an advance on previous studies, we also invited 1,200 people to play a game in which they had an opportunity to win real money. In the game, players could take away more money if they were willing to pay a small bribe to the “banker” who determined the pay-outs. The game tested players’ commitment to rejecting corruption in a more demanding way than simply asking them if they believed corruption was wrong.

We were then able to evaluate whether anti-corruption messages were effective by looking at whether those who received them were more likely to demand clean government and less willing to pay a bribe.

More harm than good

In line with prior research, our findings suggest that anti-corruption campaigns may be doing more harm than good. None of the narratives we used had a positive effect overall. Many of them actually made Lagosians more likely to pay a bribe.

Put another way, the good news is that public relations campaigns can change citizens’ minds. But the bad news is that they often do so in unintended and counterproductive ways.

The reason for this seems to be that anti-corruption messages encourage citizens to think more about corruption, emphasising the extent of the problem. This contributes to “corruption fatigue”: the belief that the problem is simply too big for any one person to make a difference generates despondency. It makes individuals more likely to go with the flow than to stand against it.

This interpretation is supported by another finding that the negative effect of anti-corruption messaging was far more powerful among individuals who believed that corruption was pervasive. This reveals that the problematic consequences of anti-corruption messages are not universal. Among less pessimistic people, messages did not have a negative effect. And one message had the desired effect of reducing the probability of paying a bribe. This was the narrative that emphasised the relationship between corruption and citizens’ tax payments.

Our study therefore suggests that if we can target anti-corruption messages more effectively at specific audiences, we may be able to enhance their positive effects while minimising the risks.

What next?

Other studies have come to similar conclusions in Indonesia, Costa Rica and to some extent Papua New Guinea.

We therefore need to take the lessons of these studies seriously. Anti-corruption campaigns that send untargeted messages should be halted until we work out how to target them more effectively. The most logical response is to embrace new ways of working.

This might mean identifying messages that persuade citizens that corruption is fallingand so “nudge” them to believe it is a problem that can be overcome.

Where that’s not possible, it is also worth considering a more radical break with the past. As others working within the Anti-Corruption Evidence Consortium have argued, the most promising approach may be to abandon traditional anti-corruption messaging in favour of working more indirectly. This would involve building public demand for greater political accountability and transparency without always talking directly about corruption.

Such an approach would be less high profile, but is far more likely to be effective.The Conversation

Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy, University of Birmingham and Caryn Peiffer, Lecturer in International Public Policy and Governance, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Substituted parenting’ – a term with no apparent consensus, clarity, consistency of meaning, or transparency as to its application by the family courts.

Project team: Nadine Tilbury (Policy officer for the Working Together with Parents Network (WTPN ) and Beth Tarleton (WTPN Co-ordinator and project PI)


“Substituted parenting” What does this mean in the family court?

We aim to be in a position to answer this question by the end of our 18-month project (April 2023) and are extremely grateful to the Nuffield Foundation for providing the funding and support that will enable us to do so.

Published family court judgments show that the expression ‘substituted parenting’ is often used during care proceedings in cases involving parents with learning disabilities and tends to result in the children being permanently removed from their families.

The term appears to be being used by local authorities when the support they have identified as necessary for the parents is extensive. They say the high level of support required equates to substituted parenting which is detrimental as it confuses children as to who is the parent. Since most parents with learning disabilities are likely to need long-term support, this approach risks becoming a discriminatory blanket policy.

Where has this term come from? What is the research evidence base for the concept and its conclusion that ‘substituted parenting’ or parenting by others is necessarily detrimental to a child’s welfare? What level of support is regarded as substituted parenting? Is it / should it be a matter of how much support is provided or, instead, should the question be how that support is provided?

Experienced family court lawyers are unclear how the use of this term has developed, ”… appears to be becoming an ‘orthodoxy’” or the ‘default position’ (Senior barristers – email).

“… the family would need … support throughout the children’s waking hours. That would be substituted parenting, not support.”  A Local Authority v G (Parent with Learning Disability) (Rev 1) [2017].

Whether the situation I have described could or indeed should be described as “substituted parenting” is a matter for others to decide… In the absence of a clear description of the dynamic that defines what substituted parenting is …” HHJ Greensmith in PQR (Supported Parenting For Learning Disabled Parents) (Rev 1) [2018].

It is this absence of a clear definition – and the dire consequences that follow a finding of substituted parenting i.e. removal of the child – that prompted our bid for funding to clarify what social workers, lawyers and judges mean by the term ‘substituted parenting’ and how it is applied in care proceedings involving parents with learning disabilities.

Our project aims to establish clarity, consistency and transparency in the understanding and application of the term by the family courts and to highlight good practice, where it exists.

Background to the project

All parents are entitled to support from the state to carry out their parenting responsibilities. So say the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Care Act 2014 specifically includes parenting responsibilities as one of the eligibility factors for support and the central ethos of the Children Act 1989 is that children are best raised by their families, where possible, with local authority functions designed to provide support to the children and families.

The first edition of the Good Practice Guidance on working with parents with a learning disability (2007), published by the Department of Health and the Department for Skills and Education, emphasised the right to support, drawing heavily on the work by Beth Tarleton and colleagues in 2006, Finding the Right Support.

The 2016 and 2021 updates of the Good Practice Guidance by the Working Together with Parents Network did likewise.

And yet, despite this clear, rights-based foundation, cases were continually being reported where parents with learning disabilities were having their children permanently removed as they were unable to parent them safely without the right (or, in many cases, any) support.

In 2016, we started sending emails to the office of the President of the Family Division, highlighting published family court judgments showing local authorities’ routine failure to apply the principles of the Good Practice Guidance, when working with these families.

In April 2018, the then President, Sir James Munby issued guidance:

‘My primary purpose in issuing this Guidance is to bring to the attention of practitioners and judges, and to commend for careful consideration and application by everyone, the very important “Good practice guidance on working with parents with a learning disability” issued by the Working Together with Parents Network and the Norah Fry Centre in September 2016.’ Family Proceedings: Parents with a Learning Disability | Courts and Tribunals Judiciary

Almost overnight, the right to support began to be acknowledged by local authorities and their proposals scrutinised by the family courts.

‘ …Following the court’s request for additional evidence from the local authority including evidence of how the guidelines in respect of parents with a learning disability had been followed and direct evidence from the independent reviewing officer (in the form of a statement confirming her position in the light of the new evidence), the local authority reviewed its position’.

‘…The court is confident that this package of support …meets the obligations of the local authority to follow the Good practice guidance on working with parents with a learning disability (2007) revised September 2016 (The Guidelines) (Recognising the Role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO)) [2018] EWFC B71 (08 November 2018)

Unintended consequence

It was all going so well… And then, we started receiving reports of cases in which local authorities confirmed that the necessary support had been identified and could be provided, but went on to assert that, such support would amount to substituted parenting, which was detrimental to the child’s welfare and so the child needed to be permanently removed.

We began to look into this concept of ‘substituted parenting’. We tried to find out where it came from, what level of support was considered to tip the balance from acceptable to unacceptable, whether costs and timescales were factors. We checked the literature, and we asked the academics and practitioners. We couldn’t find the information. ‘Good question’, they said.

We scrutinised published judgments, looking for mention of any analysis of the risk that the proposed support would amount to substituted parenting, and any options considered to address/reduce/eliminate that risk. We couldn’t find that either.

Timing

This project started 1st November 2021 and runs until April 2023. The timing couldn’t be better for us as the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has just released his report on the need for greater transparency in the Family Court: Confidence and Confidentiality: Transparency in the Family Courts and has confirmed that transparency will be a key priority for him over the next three years:

‘… it is legitimate for the public to know of these judgments [family court cases], to provide a basis for trust in the soundness of the court’s approach and its decisions, or to establish a ground for concern in that regard.’

’It is the case that the Family Court is currently not sufficiently transparent even to those, in particular the judges and the social work professionals, who are working within it. Educational opportunities are thereby being missed.’

Since the family courts are not open to the public, we depend on published judgments for finding out how care proceedings involving parents with learning disabilities are in fact being dealt with. Any move towards greater transparency, in terms of the number of judgments published and the level of information contained within them, can only lead to better and more consistent practices and thereby improved confidence in the fairness of the family justice system.

Next steps

We very much look forward to speaking with the social workers, lawyers and judges involved in working with parents with learning disabilities in the care proceedings context. We look forward to being able to highlight good practices found in the course of the study and to establishing consensus, clarity, and consistency as to the meaning of the term ‘substituted parenting’, and transparency as to its application by the family courts.

We particularly look forward to working with our Advisory Group of parents with learning disabilities. They will help to ensure that the findings of our study can be made widely available to parents with learning disabilities and in such a way that parents will be able to understand what is meant by the risk of support being considered to be ‘substituted parenting’, the significance of such a risk and, most importantly, how to avert that risk, where possible.

Because, in the much-quoted words of Baroness Hale in a landmark adoption case, “nothing else will do”.


This project has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit www.nuffieldfoundation.org.


 

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