Skip to content

How can a behavioral science lens reduce corruption?

Supporting local efforts to promote integrity in Nigeria (Part 1 of 3)

  • Blog
  • 20th Mar 2024

Bribery. Fraud. Vote buying. Corruption in Nigeria—and around the world—takes many forms, and all of it holds countries back from reaching their full potential.

Some may believe that corruption is too widespread and complex to effectively address. But there is hope in the fight against it. Behavioral science can help shape a way forward.

Behavioral science: a multifaceted lens for a multifaceted issue

Behavioral science is the study of human behavior and the ways that our actions are shaped by environmental and contextual factors. Looking at corruption through a behavioral science lens offers a new, valuable perspective. It reveals corruption not as a single, deeply entrenched problem, but instead as a collection of individual behaviors that can be influenced.

Behavioral interventions have shown promise to address corruption, from our work to strengthen integrity in Colombian schools to a study of behaviorally-informed messaging to reduce bribery in South Africa. Based on this evidence, there’s huge potential to equip organizations with the skills and tools to apply a behavioral lens to their anti-corruption initiatives. 

How we worked in Nigeria

Since 2019, BIT has been partnering with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation on their On Nigeria Big Bet. The initiative aims to bolster the momentum around Nigerian-led efforts to strengthen accountability, reduce corruption, and improve the quality of life for Nigerians.

As part of this work, we have strengthened the capacity of more than 40 anti-corruption organizations to apply a behavioral science lens to their missions. We encouraged them to use behavioral insights to improve digital tools for integrity actions and run rigorous evaluations to measure impact.

BIT and Griot Studios facilitated a solution design workshop with Palace of Priests Assembly Priests Peace and Justice Initiative staff during a May 2022 site visit (photo courtesy of PPJ).

For the past two years, our team has collaborated closely with Griot Studios, a Nigerian human-centered design firm, to help a handful of grantee organizations enhance their anti-corruption work with behavioral insights and user testing.

Addressing corruption from different angles

Behavioral science can be applied in many different ways to address multifaceted issues. Partnering with a diverse group of anti-corruption institutions allowed us to explore this wide range of applications across audiences and decision points.

Leveraging the messenger effect to shift social norms

Behavioral science tells us that who delivers a message can have a big impact on the recipient’s actions. The more we like, trust, or respect the messenger, the more likely we are to change what we do. 

We partnered with Nigerian organizations to leverage this messenger effect, from integrating a behaviorally-informed electoral corruption storyline into broadcast TV to incorporating anti-corruption messages in churches.

For example, the Palace of Priests Assembly Priests Peace and Justice Initiative (PPJ) partnered with us on using behaviorally-informed communications to encourage heads of Pentecostal Churches and senior ministers to speak against corruption in church services, including sermons.

Authentic messages delivered by trusted channels—such as religious leaders—may help encourage positive behaviors and build integrity at a broader scale than a typical awareness campaign.

“Teaching Pentecostal ministers how to mainstream anti-corruption messages in their sermons has been central to our efforts and has significantly enhanced our outreach and impact,” says Dr. Orinya Agbaji, Program Manager of PPJ.

Using technology to increase accountability

Behavioral science and human-centered design both prioritize people’s needs and experiences. BIT and Griot Studios merged these approaches to help redesign and user test three digital anti-corruption tools to change behaviors.

We worked with the Akin Fadeyi Foundation to revamp an app for road users to report bribes and other forms of malpractice from road safety officers. The Public and Private Development Centre partnered with us to redesign an open contracting portal to help community monitors more easily detect red flags in public procurement. We also collaborated with the Integrity Organization to apply behavioral insights to a landing page aimed at encouraging professionals to take up anti-corruption tools and actions for their businesses.

Building organizational capacity

In addition to focusing on specific projects, our team trained 40+ organizations in key behavioral and human-centered design methods to enhance their anti-corruption work and approaches generally. For instance, in one of the 12 sessions we facilitated, we trained them in mapping a system of behaviors. 

On Nigeria grantees participating in a user testing workshop we led with Griot Studios (photo courtesy of Griot Studios).

Through this process, grantees identified different stakeholders and actors within a corruption issue, the actions these people can take to advance or reduce corruption, and the organization’s role in helping measurably shift these behaviors. 

Mapping gives organizations a clearer way to address different aspects of corruption and find practical and high-impact decision points to influence. Organizations also gained hands-on experience and feedback from BIT coaches on using our EAST framework to inform the design of their solutions.

Stay tuned for more

Corruption in Nigeria is a complex issue. No one approach will solve it alone. But BIT’s work with the MacArthur Foundation, Griot Studios, and grantee organizations shows the potential of behavioral science to complement and enhance anti-corruption efforts.

A live panel featuring experts from (R to L) the Policy Innovation Centre, Akin Fadeyi Foundation, Accountability Lab, StepUp, Mambayya House, and Integrity Organization at the Behavioural Change Conference & Exhibition 2023 (photo courtesy of the Akin Fadeyi Foundation).

In fact, it is gaining ground. The MacArthur grantees organized the first ever behavioral change conference in 2023, bringing think tanks, chief security officers, and others together to chart a course forward for applying behavioral science to integrity initiatives.

Over the coming weeks, look out for a series of blog posts diving deeper into our work with these grantees, including posts focused on digital design and edutainment. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more or explore applying a behavioral science lens to your anti-corruption efforts, contact us.

Download our one-pager on the project here

This project would not have been possible without generous funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. We are grateful to Griot Studios, the Public and Private Development Centre, Integrity Organization, the Akin Fadeyi Foundation, Palace of Priests Assembly, and Equal Access International for their outstanding collaboration and efforts throughout this work.