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Factors and Actors: Fundamental Elements of Corruption Analysis

By Peter Woodrow, Senior Advisor, CJL

The issue: Corruption is resilient.

Corruption functions extremely well. In its many forms, corruption represents an excellent example of a complex adaptive system. It is resilient and responsive. It finds ways of working around any attacks on it. A key reason for its success is how the driving factors of corrupt behavior and the actors who carry them out generate self-perpetuating and mutually reinforcing dynamics.

What is to be done? Diagnosis before action. 

To ensure better anti-corruption (AC) program design and impact, CJL advocates—strongly!—that before determining a programming approach, anti-corruption practitioners must engage in a thorough corruption analysis that probes these twin dimensions of corrupt behavior—factors and actors.

Systems mapping and stakeholder analysis are two excellent tools for corruption analysis.

Systems mapping treats corruption as a system of interacting factors. Stakeholder analysis complements systems maps by showing the roles, motivations, interests and sources of power of the different actors involved. A systems map shows what actors do; a stakeholder analysis probes why they do it.

Systems mapping: understanding driving factors

Systems thinking examines an issue as a collection of elements that interact together as a system that achieves a goal. In situations of endemic corruption, the system serves to perpetuate abuses of power and ensure regular transfers of resources to those who benefit from it. (Those who benefit will be one of the groups that will feature in a stakeholder analysis.) Multiple factors typically drive actors to corrupt behavior: status; greed; pressure from supervisors, family and peers to conform to ‘norms’ of corruption; fear, desperation. The drivers will be specific to each context.

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The example map below (also called a ‘causal loop’ diagram) depicts a hypothetical scenario that is probably familiar to AC practitioners: It shows how corruption, police performance and community perceptions/reactions might interact.

The factors are shown in text; the arrows show how one factor leads to another, forming ‘causal loops’; and the ‘thought bubbles’ indicate ‘mental models’ that represent the feelings and attitudes associated with some of the factors.

The basic dynamic shows how police performance affects the actual and felt sense of security in the community. This, in turn, determines the degree to which citizens are willing to cooperate with the police. If the police perform well, security increases and people are more willing to help out, resulting in a ‘virtuous cycle.’ The reverse is also true: when police perform poorly, it results in a ‘vicious cycle’. At the same time, the dynamics of corruption, including norms of police behavior, influence police performance.

The stakeholder analysis: understanding actors

The behaviors of actors are featured in the systems analysis above—such as the degree of citizen cooperation. Through a stakeholder analysis we then probe more deeply into the motivations, interests, and sources of power and influence of those actors.

A comprehensive stakeholder analysis includes those who perpetrate corrupt behaviors, as well as those who comply, pay up, look the other way, or fail to enforce laws, rules and regulations—and those who suffer as a result of endemic corruption. Each of these parties operates in response to motivations and interests; each has a source of power and influence.

The main tool that CJL uses is a Stakeholder Analysis Chart, which is presented in a recent CJL Working Paper. The chart shows each party and then identifies their interests or motivations, how they are involved in corrupt activities (positively or negatively), and their sources of power.





Who is involved?

Role or relation to the corrupt behaviour


What do they do?

Interests and motivations


Why do they do it?

Source of Influence/



How do they have influence?

Relation of actors to conflict dynamics

Are there conflict considerations?

Group A





Group B










We supplement the chart analysis with other tools, which are also explained in the Working Paper. One tool identifies which parties are most likely to support anti-corruption efforts, and which are likely to resist. Another shows the relationships among the various parties, including alliances, mutual dependencies, enmity and cooperation. These are useful when considering strategies for change and building coalitions for collective action.

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A crucial step: cross-walking systems mapping and stakeholder analysis

Systems mapping and stakeholder analysis work together and inform each other. In an iterative process, we move back and forth from one analytical framework to the other. As we refine a causal loop diagram (systems map), we can look at our stakeholder tools to see if we have left out any important factors. And we look at the systems map to make sure that we have identified all the groups that need to be examined through the stakeholder tools.

Once we have a (draft) systems map and have completed at least a first-round stakeholder analysis, we can insert the actors onto the systems map—each connected with the factors in the map. The map below shows the same example used above with the key actors added in the green shapes. We have indicated that the system involves (among other things) abusive actions by police, the degree of citizens’ support for municipal/national governments, and so forth. If we can identify what motivates the different behaviors, these can be incorporated into the map as well, often shown as mental models.

Nexus between Police Performance, Corruption and Citizen Support

As we combine actors with the factors on the systems map, here are a few rules of thumb:

  • Regarding behaviors on the map, what group most commonly carries out that behavior? We only need to identify the most dominant or most relevant group, not every possible one.

  • Multiple types of actors can be included in relation to a particular factor or set of factors, and some actors may appear in multiple places on the map.

  • Mostly we identify groups rather than individuals (although powerful or influential individuals can be included in both processes).

Using the analysis for more effective anti-corruption programming

Robust corruption analysis is a crucial first step in anti-corruption programming. Yet the team at CJL encounters considerable resistance to it, with complaints like: “It takes too long.” “It’s too complicated.” “We already know what it’s about.”

This can be very costly.

If we don’t understand what drives different actors to do what they do to enable the system, it’s unlikely we’ll find ways to change corrupt behavior. We know too well that around the world, the large resources that get poured into anti-corruption programming often don’t yield results. Most likely, this is because anti-corruption practitioners are treating the wrong problem, or applying an inadequate ‘solution’, or building necessary capacities that are not, in themselves, sufficient. Engaging in the complementary processes of systems mapping and stakeholder analysis will certainly help to change this. Getting the diagnosis right will increase the chance of more effective ‘treatment’.

The next issue to explore, of course, is how we can use the analysis meaningfully for more effective AC program design, and therefore, better anti-corruption outcomes.


Peter Woodrow is theoretically retired and serves as a Senior Advisor to the Corruption, Justice and Legitimacy Program at Besa Global. He has been a leading thinker in the application of systems thinking concepts and tools to context analysis and program design in peacebuilding and anti-corruption. Woodrow was the Executive Director of CDA Collaborative Learning Projects from 2013 to 2017 and the Co-Director of CDA’s Reflecting on Peace Practice Program (RPP) from 2003 to 2013. He continues to provide consulting services in the peacebuilding arena. In 2018, with co-author Diana Chigas, Peter published Adding Up to Peace, the result of ten years of RPP research on how peacebuilding efforts create momentum towards peace. Prior to joining CDA, Peter was a Partner at the mediation organization CDR Associates in Boulder, Colorado. He is an experienced mediator, facilitator, and conflict resolution trainer. He holds a Masters in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and a BA from Oberlin College.


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