Using List Experiments to Reveal the True Frequency and Scale of Bribery
By Edmund Malesky and Tuan-Ngoc Phan
Corruption poses a significant threat to society, but it occurs in the shadows, masking its true effects. Before tackling corruption, researchers, policy analysts, and officials must first measure its frequency and scope with effective techniques or risk exacerbating its effects.
Assessing the prevalence of bribery through surveys, however, presents a formidable challenge. Those involved in corrupt practices, whether as givers or receivers of bribes, are often unwilling to openly admit to their actions. This reluctance to divulge information is a well-known issue in survey research, termed "social desirability bias." It extends beyond bribery to encompass a range of sensitive topics, including theft, adultery, racism, and other morally and socially reprehensible behaviors.
In the specific case of corruption, individuals face more than just social stigma; there are also potential legal consequences that deter them from confessing their involvement. This interplay between societal penalties and legal repercussions underscores the complexity of measuring corruption accurately. As researchers and policymakers strive to combat this pervasive issue, it becomes paramount to develop methodologies and approaches that can bypass social desirability bias and provide a more genuine understanding of the extent and nature of corruption in our communities.
In this research project, funded by the the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the LASER PULSE mechanism, the Duke Center for International Development (DCID) employed a specialized approach known as a LIST experiment (also called an Unmatched Count Technique (UCT)) to enhance the accuracy of our survey results and gain deeper insights into illicit behaviors. This method was used to create a safe environment for respondents to share sensitive information without fear of exposure, essentially providing them plausible deniability.
This Learning Brief was produced by the Do Better Managers Engage in Less Corruption? project. The project was supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the LASER PULSE mechanism. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID and the United States Government.
Policy Brief, Economic Governance