Introduction

The measurement of corruption is a longstanding challenge for both academics and the policy community, due to the absence of unanimously agreed-upon definitions and the widespread belief that, due to its informal and hidden nature, corruption is an unobservable phenomenon. In the mid-1990s, however, the idea that corruption was un-measureable started to lose traction among academics and practitioners, and the debate turned from whether corruption can be measured into how corruption can be measured. 

Despite the growing academic consensus regarding the possibility of developing meaningful and valid corruption measurements, the field still faces a number of challenges:

  • Corruption is an umbrella term, encompassing a great variety of legal and illegal behaviours which can rarely be measured directly by a single indicator;
  • Some of the most famous existing measurements, such as the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) and the Worldwide Governance Indicators stand accused of being conceptually weak, difficult to disaggregate, based on perceptions rather than experience, problematic to compare, and insensitive to change.

To address these challenges, the current trend in corruption measurement is moving away from aggregated indices towards more specialised measurements and judiciously-selected proxy indicators. It has also become clear that, given the complexity of the phenomenon of corruption, different types of measurement are necessary and that the quest for the best anti-corruption measurement is context-dependent. While the CPI, for example, is unlikely to help us evaluate the effects of specific policies in a specific country, an indicator suited for these needs is unlikely to allow for comparison across a large set of countries.  

For further information, please see a recent Helpdesk answer, Latest Trends in Corruption Measurement and Analysis.

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