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Who’s who? Rules of thumb for corruption stakeholder analysis

By Rosemary Ventura, CJL Associate and Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church, Co-Director, CJL

Stakeholders, key actors, spoilers, champions, influencers—regardless of the language used, seasoned anti-corruption practitioners agree that understanding who’s who is a cornerstone of sound corruption analysis. Yet, when CJL looked for a standard approach to use in our work, we could not find a widely accepted process. Of the many available tools, we found they were either insufficiently specific to corruption or highly elaborate, presenting us with feasibility challenges. This left us the choice of adapting an existing approach to meet our needs or reinventing the wheel. Considering our options, we realized our real question was: How do we differentiate what we need to know from what is nice to know?

Stakeholder analysis: effectiveness and conflict implications

For those new to the idea, a brief recap of why stakeholder analysis is important.

Corruption is all about power and no one gives up power willingly. Thus, effective anti-corruption programs need to anticipate who will win and, as importantly, who will lose from a proposed intervention in order to appropriately mitigate resistance from actors. Conversely, interventions can benefit from thoughtful collaborations with those whose motivations align with the program’s objectives. A quality stakeholder analysis is a precondition to program effectiveness.

Further, much anti-corruption programming takes place in contexts of endemic corruption simultaneously experiencing fragility and conflict risks. This makes it more difficult but also more critical to ensure that programs are not inadvertently doing harm. Thoughtful stakeholder analysis contributes to a more complete picture of the conflict implications of programs. It would ask, for instance, have you considered the implications for your national strategy for social accountability programming in Cameroon of partnering with a civil society coalition that is also engaged in supporting the Anglophone separatist movement?

Rules of Thumb


Those following CJL’s work know that we care deeply about improving the way corruption analysis is conducted because we see it as a key element to developing contextually nuanced anti-corruption programming. So to help us answer our need-to-know vs nice-to-know question, we convened a group of nine practitioners (from organizations like the National Democratic Institute, USAID, the Basel Institute, and GIZ) with deep experience in stakeholder analysis processes for corruption and governance.

Through this discussion, as well as our own stakeholder analysis efforts, we’ve arrived at several rules of thumb.

Rule of thumb #1: Get clarity on “for what?”

Since stakeholder analysis can inform a variety of purposes, ensuring all team members are clear on the “for what” is key. In our discussion with practitioners, participants stressed that getting everyone on the same page is an essential precursor to ensuring the analysis results will be used. Purposes can include:

  • Identifying strategic intervention points

  • Targeting within program design

  • Mitigating risk

  • Identifying key constituencies as part of an evaluation

Source: Flickr, Make it Kenya, Stuart Price

Clarifying the stakeholder analysis’ purpose will dictate which stakeholders count. For example, if the purpose is to identify strategic intervention points, then the stakeholders of interest are those who hold influence on the system/within the sector, be it formal/hierarchical power or informal influence. Whereas if the purpose is to determine which organizations would best form a coalition around corruption in emergency services, then one should review civil society and private sector actors. For example, David Manyonga from the Kenya Port Authority described how it has tailored a stakeholder analysis process to dovetail with a risk-mapping process, the purpose of which is to “identify corruption risks likely to occur during particular parts of processes, as well as the people likely to facilitate or commit those offenses.”

Once clear, the process (i.e., focus, depth, and timing) follows the purpose. Approaches range from gathering straightforward tactical information to inform risk mitigation in procurement processes to layered strategic analysis of formal and informal systems, rules, dynamics, and relationships to aid program design. For example, ACE’s proposed “Mapping Method” offers a sophisticated process dependent upon an extensive array of data. This variance in sophistication in part reflects the various levels (e.g., institution-specific, sectoral, national) at which corruption needs to be address in fragile and conflict-affected states programming.

The temptation to expand the scope and level of detail in the analysis can undermine the feasibility; once the purpose has been determined, err on the side of the narrowest scope of analysis possible.

Rule of thumb #2: Make visible the invisible

While many sectors have informal relationships or even networks influencing the program environment, this presents a far more significant factor when assessing the actors related to corruption. These actors generally prefer for these relationships to remain invisible; informal networks operate in the shadows, making it difficult to pinpoint and gather accurate data. As a result, accessing individuals and institutions, assessing their reliability, and mitigating security concerns poses substantial challenges. Yet this information may be some of the most programmatically useful to have.

Our group discussion shared numerous tactics to uncover invisibility. For instance, NDI’s Corina Rebegea recommended that one “also look at the unusual suspects… we tend to have preconceived ideas of who the stakeholders might be.” Other themes of how to respond to this challenge included:

  • Iterate & Triangulate: anticipate using an iterative data collection process that allows you to hone in on the germane stakeholders and “quiet relationships” as they are uncovered and triangulate that information from various sources to fill in gaps.

  • Multiple Identities: remember that any one individual can have multiple identities and affiliations.

  • Use Composite Roles: where information on specific individuals is unavailable or needed, create composite understandings of power and motivation for roles such as bank tellers, front-line civil servants or rank and file police officers.

  • Acknowledge the Biases: reflect on how unchecked biases brought into the process both by informants (sources of data) and those gathering and analyzing data can lead to an incomplete picture.

Rule of thumb #3: Corruption is a sensitive topic, except when it’s not

Source: Blue Diamond Gallery

The term “corruption” can immediately shut doors among some constituents, but not all. Individuals in positions of authority such as civil servants and elected officials can be unwilling to enter a conversation framed around corruption, especially one occurring in their place of work. Citizens, however, are often far less sensitive and view corruption as an unavoidable element of their life, like paying an electricity bill.

A few tips for working with stakeholders who may be cautious about candidly discussing corrupt behaviors:

  • Reframe language: talk more about particular goals or outcomes undermined by corruption, rather than corruption itself.

  • Proactive framing: The aim of stakeholder analysis is not to identify everyone who is corrupt, but rather to understand the power and interests that hold the corrupt system in place. This involves proactively mitigating perceptions of a prosecutorial, finger-pointing approach.

  • Anonymize: figure out what parts of the process can be anonymized, such as through anonymous surveys to a select subgroup of individuals like journalists. This can help people speak with lower risks.

Stakeholder Analysis: What is "need" to know

We began our deep dive into stakeholder analysis with questions about what is absolutely essential to understand about actors. Recognizing there’s still more to gain from greater sophistication of inquiry, three areas stand out in our work and expert gathering as crucial to understand for all key actors:

  1. Power: who has the formal and informal power on critical dynamics or factors in the system

  2. Interest/Motivation: who is interested in maintaining the status quo and who would benefit from it changing

  3. Relationships: who is connected to whom

These critical features along with our rules of thumb are not prescriptive answers that can be neatly squirreled away into a check-list. Instead, we suggest keeping them in mind when shaping any stakeholder analysis process.


Rosemary Ventura is CJL’s Peacebuilding & Monitoring Associate. Having previously worked on conflict prevention and peacebuilding through a civil society organization in NYC, and serving as a public health Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea, Rosemary brings her valuable on-the-ground experience to the work that we do at CJL. Rosemary is a graduate student at The Fletcher School at Tufts University studying Human Security and Monitoring & Evaluation.


Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church is a scholar-practitioner with a lifelong interest in governance processes that have run amuck. She has significant experience working on issues related to peacebuilding, governance, accountability and learning across the Balkans and West and East Africa. For fifteen years, Cheyanne taught program design, monitoring and evaluation in fragile contexts at the Fletcher School. Prior to that she was the Director of Evaluation for Search for Common Ground and Director of Policy at INCORE. As part of her consulting practice, she has had the privilege of working in an advisory capacity with a range of organizations such as ABA/ROLI, CDA, ICRC, IDRC, UN Peacebuilding Fund and the US State Department. She can be commonly found in the Canadian Rockies with her fierce daughters and gem of a husband.


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