Assessing political will

Due to the complexity of the concept of political will, finding evidence of political will is challenging. Political will can hardly be observed separately from the action it supports, making it hard to measure directly. In addition, while some politicians may openly reject anti-corruption reforms, many of them are likely to claim supporting anti-corruption reforms while (intentionally) failing to implement them in practice[1]. Finally, most studies claiming that a reform failed due to the lack of political will were also conducted retrospectively, looking back at failed programmes: failure to implement change is generally assumed to be a manifestation of a lack of political will, while successful implementation is interpreted as a proof of its existence[2]. It is, therefore, exceedingly difficult to assess whether political will to support certain reforms is present in a country or not. To address this issue, efforts have been made in recent years to identify a set of components that could indicate the presence and level of political will or lack of thereof, such as a lack of follow-up on promises made, weak or non-existent legal and institutional framework, inadequate allocation of powers and resources, lack of appropriate sanctions, lack of enforcement and so on[3]

More specifically, it is assumed that if political will is present, a number of actions will become visible. The characteristics listed below indicate immediate outcomes of political will and can be of help when trying to assess not only the presence, but also the strength of the political commitment to support anti-corruption efforts[4].

Government initiative

This characteristic relates to where the impetus to implement reforms comes from. “Home-grown” initiatives to fight against corruption show that the government sees the issue as important and is willing to do something about it. Externally imposed or imported anti-corruption initiatives, on the other hand, face the challenge of having to build true commitment and ownership among the political actors.  

Degree of analytical rigour

Anti-corruption policies that are decided or implemented utilising evidence-based analyses of the options and their related costs and benefits are likely to represent a higher degree of willingness to act and achieve positive results. Window dressing anti-corruption measures, on the other hand, are likely to be implemented without taking into consideration the country context, needs and costs and show a lack of commitment to effective achieve change.  

Mobilisation efforts

Efforts to mobilise support from other stakeholders (such as civil society organisations and the private sector) in the implementation of reforms is also seen as a sign of strong political will by political actors.  

Long-term public commitment and allocation of resources

The amount of human and financial resources allocated to support the reform, its goals and objectives also offers some insights into the level of political will. If new anti-corruption agencies are created, but they suffer from underfunding and shortage of personnel, this can also indicate that political will is half-hearted. It is also important to look into the resource allocation for the anti-corruption strategy/institution in the long run as policy makers often simply see anti-corruption strategies as a one shot endeavour or a symbolic gesture.  

Application of credible sanctions

Without well-crafted sanctions, corruption cannot be reduced. An effective, proportionate and enforced sanctions regime therefore signals a serious commitment to fight corruption and a higher degree of political will. Symbolic and/or selective sanctions, on the other hand, point to a lesser degree of political will.  

Learning and adaptation

Establishing a process for tracking and monitoring the progress and results of anti-corruption policies and programmes is also relevant as this allows for the adaptation of the strategies to emerging circumstances. It also shows a certain level of commitment to learn from past experiences and monitor achievements in a more transparent and accountable manner.  



Roberto Martínez B. Kukutschka


Marie Chêne, Finn Heinrich, PhD, Transparency International, Carmen Malena, CIVICUS



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