INTEGRITY: Still a Long Way to Go

By Indira Carr (University of Surrey | Member of PaCCS’s Strategic Advisory Group) & Almuth McDowall (Birkbeck College, London)

Lack of integrity (or wrongdoing) continues to surface in both the private and public sector. While private sector institutions continue to pay bribes to the political elite and high level officials to obtain lucrative contracts (e.g. ‘Sweett Group ordered to pay £1.4m over hotel bribery case’ Financial Times, 19 February 2016), the public sector officials accept or solicit bribes and trading in influence and information. Only last month the UK Crown Prosecution Service has been accused of covering up “evidence that police received corrupt payments from a firm of private investigators in return for confidential information” (The Guardian, 23 January 2016). Police misconduct, officers abuse their powers for private gain or the perceived benefit of the organization is not new. Police forces around the world have tried to investigate the levels of corruption within their organisations and have adopted codes of conduct to address the shortcomings. But do they work?

In 2013, we were commissioned by the College of Policing to provide a rapid evidence assessment of promoting ethical behavior and preventing wrongdoing in organisations. Literature across many disciplines including policing specific publications, psychology, sociology and criminology were subjected to a thorough evaluation. (To read the final report, please click on the following link: Promoting Ethical Behaviour and Preventing Wrongdoing in Organisations’).

We endeavoured to locate robust evidence, for instance controlled studies which would show what kind of training or awareness raising activities might work well in particular contexts. While there were academic and media conversations about corruption in many jurisdictions, we found a dearth of evidence indicating clearly what interventions work directly in promoting ethical behavior and reducing misconduct. We only found a small number of evaluated practices which suggest that there is no single off-the-shelf solution but that a multi-pronged approach is needed at the organisational, situational and individual level. Organisations should focus on remedial and preventative practices rather than solely on apprehending and disciplining those responsible for wrong doing.

To illustrate, some research has shown that individuals’ background (such as demographic data – people’s age, their personal circumstances) might put them more at risk of wrongdoing. People’s personal preferences also matter, as there is tentative evidence that training police officers to take full responsibility for their actions and become more aware of the impact of their actions on the public can counteract corruption.

Strong leadership, the tone from the top, is another important influence on ethical behaviour. A strong climate of ethical standards needs to permeate everything the organization stands for and does. One mechanism for ensuring this is not only to adopt a code of conduct, but to be explicit and transparent about what happens if individuals transgress what is considered an acceptable level of behaviour. It is also important to treat people fairly, they are also more likely to reciprocate with fair and appropriate behaviour towards others. The ‘blue code’ or ‘code of silence’ was also highlighted in our review – would you rush to hold up your hand to admit that you’d done something not in line with what is required of you? One solution might be to encourage better reporting systems, similar to near accident reporting in aviation, so that potential problems and temptations can be identified early to facilitate the development of targeted preventative measures. Lastly, law enforcing professions should not be left to regulate themselves, but be able to benchmark their standards and encourage reflection through the involvement of individuals not directly involved in day-to-day activities. None of these aspects provide a blanket solution and more robust evidence is badly needed to underpin best practice in an informed and context- relevant way.


Prof Indira Carr, MA, BPhil, LLM, PhD, FRSA.  Indira is Research Professor in Law at the University of Surrey’s Business School and a member of PaCCS’s Strategic Advisory Group. She has been researching in the area of corruption and integrity since the late 1990s and has been involved in a number of research projects related to corruption. Carr was the Principal Investigator of an AHRC funded project on Corruption in International Business. She is regularly consulted by civil society organisations such as Transparency International and Transparency International (UK).

Dr Almuth McDowall, MSc PhD CPsychol AFBPsS FHEA. Almuth holds an academic post at Birkbeck University of London, where she is Course Director for the MSc in Human Resource Development. She has recently been undertaking research focused on tangible practical outcomes for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) on executive rewards and a number of government funded projects. Almuth acts as a professional advisor to a number of organisations in her academic capacity and is a regular presence in the media.