Making Power Analysis Useful To Anti-Corruption Programming

May 10, 2016 | Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church

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The power that is abused through a corrupt transaction or that enables a corrupt system to become entrenched is at the heart of understanding corruption dynamics.    How to generate nuanced and useful analysis is of significant concern to both the work on CAASDI and the Fletcher School’s research on corruption and legitimacy.   In particular, how to generate useful programming insights around power flows, and the connection between the political centre and the local context.

In societies where the ruling regime keeps the reins of power tightly held, it is rare that the systems that drive corruption are limited to the area in which an implementing actor can conduct programming e.g. a city, district.

One must determine how the systems that drive or enable corruption connect to different levels of power beyond the immediate programming area. Otherwise, how can one truly understand the entire system of corruption and thus potential levers for change or forces that will work against change?

For instance, in analyzing how political interference in court cases functions at the city or district level, one must commonly look to the power-centre or ruling elite (often found in the country’s capital) to understand how power is being used to direct decisions.

Information Needed

It is easy to understand why one needs to look at the connection between levels, but how does one analyze these connections in a way that informs programming?   We find the following information to be helpful:

  • Identifying who are key versus more peopleRPP Matrix CDA in both geographic spheres. Whereby ‘key’ people are those that if not engaged with, the issue at hand can not be changed. Conversely ‘more’ people are those who are involved in a system, but are not central to affecting change.  Sometimes this involves simply numbers of people, but not always.
  • Understanding the relationships and the lines of influence between actors pertinent to corruption locally and where and how these tie to the political centre.
  • Mapping how and where power is used appropriately and inappropriately in roles, whether this is driven by local or national level forces, and why this is the case.
  • Determining where there is energy for change (sometimes called tension in the system) and if there is a relationship between these and the centre. This could be actors behaving differently (e.g. positive deviance), actors opting out of the current patterns or actors with alternative power bases.
  • Identifying how the political centre would react to changes in the corrupt system at the local level.

Have we missed anything on this list? Are there things that are interesting but not useful in terms of understanding how power connections flow from the local to the power-centre?

Options Considered

At first glance a political economy analysis (PEA) would seem to fit well to respond to these questions. According to the OECD-DAC, “political economy analysis is concerned with the interaction of political and economic processes in a society; including the distribution of power and wealth between groups and individuals, and the processes that create, sustain and transform these relationships over time.”  Yet, when we used a PEA, it was challenging to move from the national analysis perspective to a perspective that looks at the connections that matter between the national and the local.

Our work found that the national level analysis provided important background information.  However it did not provide sufficiently granular local level information to enable programming that would target local conditions.   Conversely if the team would have only conducted a local level analysis, we would most likely miss critical drivers that must be accounted for if one is to change the system dynamics.

The team is therefore working through the following alternative analytic models that could generate more useful programmatic insights:

Systems Map

One option under consideration is to develop a systems map from the classic PEA.  With this national picture in hand, one could create submaps around each national factor that linked to the local context.

Conversely the opposite might be more valuable, whereby the local system’s dynamics are mapped and then linked to similar dynamics at the centre, as a separate submap.  For instance, if impunity was deemed to be a key local issue that enabled corruption, one would ask what is the connection between impunity locally and the political power centre?   It could be that the power centre openly turns a blind eye to corruption and this feeds the perception that no one is watching at the local level either.


NetMap Eva Schiffer

Photo from NetMap

Another idea being discussed is to use netmapping.  This is a mapping tool that helps people understand who has power and their relationships to each other and then to discuss who has influence to change the issue at hand.  The tool is based on social network analysis, but developed in a purposefully low-tech manner.    The idea is that one might be able do a netmap that specifically tries to visualize the power relationships between the power centers and the local context in relation to corruption issues.

It is also possible that multiple maps asking different questions and with different boundaries are actually what is needed.  Alternatively, it may be as simple as doing a local map and including the factors from the centre that drive the local issues.

How Does A Centre of Power Interface with Local Power Dynamics?

Use the comment section below to share feedback or suggestions from your experience analyzing how the centre of power interfaces with local power dynamics.   Help us draw input by sharing this post through your networks!

About this article

This post is part of the corruption in fragile states series. The series provides a space for conversation about corruption in fragile states. Since its inception in 2016 as part of the CDA Perspectives Blog, the series has sought to challenge status quo thinking with a particular emphasis on exploring systems-based approaches to understanding and acting on corruption dynamics. Topics in the series range from new research findings in Uganda, Iraq or the DRC to provocative thought pieces intended to contest dominant paradigms or practices.

Now hosted by the Institute for Human Security at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, series contributions are inspired by, but not limited to, the Corruption, Justice and Legitimacy project as well as the, now concluded, Central Africa Accountable Service Delivery Initiative. All blog posts published after March 1, 2018, information about submitting guest posts, and subscribing to future series updates is available here.

To receive blog posts on other topics from CDA subscribe here. You may contact [email protected] if you are interested in submitting a guest post on the latest work in the fields of accountability and feedback loops, conflict sensitivity, peacebuilding effectiveness, and responsible business.

About the author(s)

Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church is Principal at Besa: Catalyzing Strategic Change, a social enterprise committed to catalyzing significant change on strategic issues in places experiencing conflict and structural or overt physical violence.  As a Professor of Practice, at the Fletcher School she teaches and consults on program design, monitoring, evaluation and learning. Cheyanne is also a regular author and the curator of the CDA Perspectives blog series on corruption in fragile states.



  1. Ruth Allen

    Great to see these insights, Cheyanne. In particular the ways you found PEA useful and limited for center-local levels of analysis. Something we see often is how rapidly dynamics change in complex systems and yet mapping and the analysis lags, making planning a challenge, let alone agile programming. I would be interested to know if netmapping can help close this gap.

    • Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church

      Great point Ruth – the mapping can not be static, one needs to view it as a process, not an event.

  2. Eva Schiffer

    Hi Cheyanne,
    Great to see that you have included Net-Map as a tool to look at corruption. And thanks for asking me for advice. Over the years I have used the “corruption” link in many of my Net-Maps and can share a bit from my experience:
    1. Drawing a Net-Map, especially if you do it in a group setting, is not just data collection but also an intervention (whether you want it or not) – a positive effect is that you have made it possible for this group to talk about corruption more openly and that might lead to changes in their understanding and action. A risk is that the perceived safety of the workshop setting seduces some into being honest in a way that will put them in danger afterward, when another participants either takes action against the person or “reports” them to more powerful people. I have seen it happen. So be careful to protect your participants.
    2. Understanding corruption is especially deep if you can see how it is embedded in other network forces. So, think well about what other links you want to map along with corruption, e.g. “political pressure”, “formal money flow”, “conflict”. “personal friendship”…
    3. “Corruption” is a dirty word. What is the least dirty word you can use in the local context which is still clearly understood to mean corruption?
    4. In the process of mapping, start with the easiest link, end with the most difficult one. This allows participants to slowly warm up. So, “corrupt money flow” will probably be your last link.
    5. If you can avoid “corruption” in the overarching question and in the invitation, you will have an easier time inviting people and making them comfortable. Also, if their bosses have to agree on their invitation, it is easier if the “C” word is not obvious. So, the overall question can be something as harmless as: “Who influences the success of this initiative?” Among the links you let them draw, the last one is corruption. That means they have a lot of time to warm up and feel comfortable before you start talking dirty…
    6. Net-Map data is perception data. You cannot prove anything with a Net-Map. People may try to blame the innocent. They may draw corruption links that magically touch all levels apart from the one they work at. So, it will give you a good insight into the perceptions about corruption that people are willing to share. But take it with a grain of salt. And, if it is in your mandate and interest, see if you can get additional information about the reported hot-spots.
    7. The most interesting thing about Net-Map is the qualitative discussion, not the drawn map. I had amazing insights about corruption in the Tax system of an African country that will remain unnamed, from the in-depth discussion of tax agents as they continued to refuse to draw a corruption link on my map. They were too fearful to leave a trace on paper but explained a lot by pointing at actors and talking about them. Make sure you have very good note-taking, so you can benefit from the discussion as a data source.
    8. With sensitive issues, I often prefer to have an external facilitator (as opposed to most situations where I would prefer a local facilitator who understands the situation better). You never know all the connections of your local facilitator, how he or she might get your interviewee into trouble or what the facilitator’s appearance, way of speaking, affiliation etc. is signaling to your interview partner – so they might trust a stranger more than a local.
    9. Because Net-Maps can be drawn quickly and used as you go, this is a very good tool to react to changed realities on the ground, and remain agile.
    10. Finally, for very sensitive issues I prefer not to work with mixed groups (otherwise my preference) but either interview individuals or try to set up small homogeneous groups, which will make people safer and less intimidated.

    • Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church

      Thanks for the detailed response Eva. One more question, how do you handle different ‘levels’ in a netmap? For instance, a connection that is purely local vs one that is connected to the political centre? Are they all treated equally? Does this issue matter at all?


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