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Project page: Decentralisation, Multilevel Governance, and Corruption

May 2018 update: Multilevel Governance, Decentralization and Corruption

Hamish Nixon and Alina Rocha Menocal

Hamish and his team have produced a number of outputs relating to their project. An executive summary and a report on 'Local governance, decentralisation and corruption in Bangladesh and Nigeria' can be accessed here, with further information about the project provided here. Alina Rocha Menocal has written a blog titled 'Why corruption thrives at the local level: insights from Bangladesh and Nigeria' which can be accessed here.


January 2017 update: Multilevel Governance, Decentralization and Corruption

Hamish Nixon and Alina Rocha Menocal

This research aims to improve understanding of relationships between decentralised governance and corruption and the effectiveness of anti-corruption measures at the local level. The project applies a comparative and multilevel approach to decentralisation and corruption within and across two countries - Nigeria and Bangladesh - and brings together researchers from the Overseas Development Institute, the University of Birmingham/Developmental Leadership Programme, and New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, the Centre for Democracy and Development in Nigeria, and the Centre for Policy Dialogue in Bangladesh. Due to its diverse cases and partners, developing strong partnerships and a coherent conceptual and methodological approach has been crucial for the success of the research, and work in the past few months has primarily focused on making sure these are in place. Two workshops have been held with all the partners to develop background analyses, the conceptual framework, approach, and research questions for the fieldwork, and the partners are now beginning fieldwork activities.

During its inception phase the project team carried out an introductory workshop in June 2016 with all partners participating, and subsequently draft country situation analyses and reviews were carried out by each case partner. Based in part on these and on conceptual framing by the core research team, a detailed design workshop was held in November 2016, again including with all partners present.

In this workshop, the partners jointly elaborated our shared understanding of the key concepts for the research, including corruption, decentralised governance, and anti-corruption. The team further developed the main features of the approach, the target sectors and functions of local government that are included in the study, and the types of anti-corruption initiatives to be explored. The key features of the research approach are disaggregated approaches to corruption and decentralisation, inductive methods, theoretical pluralism, a multilevel perspective, and systemic understandings of corruption. Based on these principles, a shared set of explanatory factors and research questions was also developed, and based on these within country case selection criteria were identified. Fieldwork approaches were also detailed including data sources, means of triangulation, and joint data and knowledge management systems established. Based on this work, the country partners have prepared their case selection and fieldwork protocols and are initiating fieldwork activities.

The main deviation from the original research proposal was the loss of Colombia as an additional country case. The reason for this was the unforeseen loss by the Colombian research partner of the key research staff who had been assigned to the project. This loss took place in October 2016, and introduced delays to the second design workshop. Upon careful consideration the research team has reorganised the project around a larger number of within country cases (local government units) in each of the two case countries, Nigeria and Bangladesh. In each country the research will compare 6-8 local government units rather than the original 2-4. This additional comparative power will allow for exploration of a wider range of hypothesised explanatory factors than was previously possible. An additional opportunity presented by the reduction in the number of partners is to enable an additional joint analysis meeting in each case country for the whole research team, which will bring a great deal of further integration to the findings of the research.

As detailed in the September 2016 interim report, another change has been to allow the combination of what had previously been proposed as two phases of fieldwork into a single phase depending on country circumstances. Based on these adjustments, it is still anticipated that the project will adhere to the planned schedule. Broadly, research will continue until approximately July 2017, with country papers being available soon after that time. Analysis workshops will be held in each country in April, and in July there will be a joint workshop to plan the project synthesis. The synthesis will be prepared from September to November and will be available before the end of 2017. 

This project is one of eight British Academy-funded anti-corruption research projects, and you can see the main project page with full details of all awards and award holders here.


September 2016 update: Multilevel Governance, Decentralization and Corruption

Our research explores:

  • the nature, prevalence, dynamics and impacts of corruption in different decentralised contexts;
  • the political economy factors and political dynamics that shape corruption at the local level, including issues like the quality of multilevel governance, the nature of political competition at different levels, and the influence of transnational drivers on corruption in decentralised settings;
  • and the implications for anti-corruption measures.

Our project brings together researchers from the Overseas Development Institute, the University of Birmingham/Developmental Leadership Programme, New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, the Centre for Democracy and Development in Nigeria, the Centre for Policy Dialogue in Bangladesh, and the School of Government of the University of the Andes in Colombia.


Given the diversity of cases and partners, developing a coherent conceptual and methodological approach is crucial for the success of the research. Our activity to date has been centred around building the team and partnerships within and across our country cases, and developing a common conceptual framework that can help guide our fieldwork and research in ways that both recognise differences but also enable comparison across countries.

To this effect, we had a team meeting with representatives from the three country cases in London in June, and we are now in the midst of producing a series of research documents.

Country teams are writing analytical papers and literature reviews that are intended to synthesize available country-specific evidence on decentralisation processes/multilevel governance, corruption within a localised context, and efforts to address corruption at the local level. These papers will also identify evidence gaps and explore implications for our research and fieldwork based on our three overarching questions.

The co-investigators are developing a conceptual/framing paper that will seek to draw out the factors that have shaped the nature and effects of corruption in decentralised settings, and implications of this on ongoing anti-corruption efforts.

These two sets of documents will guide our in-country methodology and fieldwork scheduled for later this year. We will hold another workshop in London to walk through those research documents and finalise a joint approach to the fieldwork.    

It is anticipated field research will commence by the end of 2016, and continue according to these country plans until approximately June 2017.

Changes to research proposal

The project proposal identified two phases of fieldwork, an exploratory qualitative phase, to be followed by a specific fieldwork phase focused on a public expenditure tracking survey. The team has determined that this approach was overly rigid under real country conditions, and introduced significantly higher fieldwork costs. While research will cover the issues initially proposed, each country’s fieldwork schedule will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Other activities

In addition to the activities outlined above, the following have taken place or are planned:

  • Co-Investigators (Dr. Hamish Nixon and Alina Rocha Menocal) gave presentations on a panel on ‘thinking and working politically about corruption’ at the Development Studies Association conference on September 14, including a presentation of considerations for the project conceptual framework.
  • Co-Investigators hosted a Tufts University team from the Carnegie-funded Corruption, Justice and Legitimacy project for an informal discussion of findings and methods on 26 September. There was discussion of systemic analysis of corruption that can inform the project approach.
  • Co-Investigators are participating in the planned ‘Corruption: Black and White or Fifty Shades of Grey’ event co-organized by the Developmental Leadership Programme, ODI and the British Academy on 10 November.
  • Three country literature reviews/situation analyses (Draft October 2016; Final December 2016);
  • Project Conceptual Framework (Draft November 2016; Final December 2016).
  • Blog/Reflection on conceptual framework (December 2016).


  • Three country literature reviews/situation analyses (Draft October 2016; Final December 2016);
  • Project Conceptual Framework (Draft November 2016; Final December 2016).
  • Blog/Reflection on conceptual framework (December 2016).


Initial thoughts

All three partners (Colombia, Bangladesh and Nigeria) continue to establish their relationship with the project and each have now been able to identify their lead researchers. Overseas partners are currently preparing local background documents and presentations which will feed directly into a Design workshop to be held in London at the ODI and recently confirmed for 15-16 June. We hope very much that this workshop will involve both Paul Heywood and representatives from DFID to get a better insight into the project itself as well as have the opportunities to meet the UK and Overseas participants.

The intention of the workshop is twofold, firstly to help the project as a whole identify crosscutting Research Questions that are in common to the three Partner counties but then also to identify Research Questions that are specific to each country – a process fed into directly by the representatives from each partner country.

Immediately following the workshop it is planned that the first phase of (qualitative) fieldwork to follow. And to continue throughout the Summer of 2016.

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