First published on Voices for Transparency

Transparency International‘s social accountability coordinator Mahmoud Farag has written an inspirational series of articles on how we can get more people engaged in fighting corruption. The series is aimed not only at organisations working in the social justice arena, but is of immense benefit to anyone wanting to increase their participation in the fight against corruption.

In part one, Farag discusses how civil society needs to move beyond awareness raising and look more scientifically at how we can engage people. In parts two and three he suggests 12 ways in which we can leverage rational and internal incentives. In the fourth and final part he makes suggestions about social incentives.

Click on the tabs below to reveal the four parts of the article.

In January 2018, despite heavy snow, tens of thousands of people organised marches across several cities in Romania to protest against corruption. They are not alone; Transparency International research shows that one in two people think they can make a difference in the fight against corruption. When we believe in something, nothing can stop us — even the weather! That’s why governments push back against what Danny Sriskandarajah, secretary-general of CIVICUS, calls the ‘’participation revolution.’’

So how can we bring more people on board? Or, put differently, how can we incentivise their engagement? It is tempting to think that if we show people that corruption is widespread they will do something about it — but this has been tried by civil society for many years. It is not enough. That’s why Ann Christiano and Annie Neimand call on civil society to stop raising awareness already! This is not because awareness raising is bad. It is because giving people information is only one way of incentivising citizen action. What other ways can we use?

Information is a rational incentive. From this perspective, humans make decisions based on strict cost-benefit calculations. This means that you give information to people about a problem and ask them to engage, they should do so when there is direct benefit for them.

Sometimes this is enough, but not all we do is so straightforward. In many cases, people have the information but do not act upon it in ways that we would expect if we take a traditional, rational view of human behaviour. Research is increasingly showing that there is much more to human decision-making. In fact, in his well-known TED Talk, Dan Ariely makes a strong case that humans in fact are irrational. Much civil society work does not take this into account, and by doing so, we are missing great opportunities to incentivise the engagement of people.

The idea here is not to decide whether humans are rational or not — we leave this question to others. The purpose of this series is to argue that if we want to get more people engaged in the fight against corruption, we need to design incentives that leverage the different dimensions of human behaviour. What can we borrow from behavioural science to help us?

Farag has put together a range of ideas to help get more people engaged — and sustain that engagement — in the fight against corruption. In total, there are 15 incentives that fall loosely into three categories: rational, internal and social incentives. For each incentive, he supplies examples and some concrete ideas on how it can be applied.

The goal is not to recommend one set of incentives over the other but rather to have a menu of possibilities from which to choose. The choice would depend on context!