Yanik Harnois, Stéphane Gagnon, (2022), “Fighting corruption in international development: A grounded theory of managing projects within a complex socio-cultural context”, Journal of Advances in Management Research, 19(5), 677-712. https://doi.org/10.1108/JAMR-06-2021-0195



Taking a transdisciplinary viewpoint, the authors synthesize the literature on the theoretical, methodological, and epistemological issues in the study of corruption as a construct in project management (PM) as applied to IDPs. While the study of corruption has focused on “who and why” to help understand corruption’s occurrence, there is a lack of analysis on “where and how” to ensure corruption’s prevention and improve PM to better support delivery actors. The authors rely on four theoretical frameworks to help interpret evidence and formulate a coherent model for managing project socio-cultural context: organizational interests theory (OIT), principal-agent theory (PAT), culturalist theory (CT) and institutional theory (IT).


International development projects (IDPs) have become very complex with greater diversity of donor agencies and aid delivery actors. The relative lack of success of development aid has been linked in part to corruption at various levels. PM methods are essential to help prevent this behavior. To assess the complexity of this problem, the authors completed a grounded theory research based on thirty interviews with international development experts, balancing representation from donor and receiving countries, as well as project managers in public and private sectors. Data are analyzed using a qualitative sorting process using the software NVivo.


Results show that PM, beyond PM’s practical nature and technical focus, can offer numerous opportunities to prevent corruption impact on project actors, even in a context where anti-corruption initiatives may be perceived as less effective. The authors present an original theoretical model that illustrates which actors, events and context are related and linked in the dynamic efforts to understand and combat corruption in international development endeavors. Context is linked to dynamics: foreign aid cycle, capture opportunities, context pressures, personal damages done, and control mechanisms exercised.


The outcomes and quality of IDPs remain highly controversial, especially with perception of corruption by various stakeholders. Some experts recognize the inefficacy of applying classical PM tools and processes. By contrasting findings to the literature, the authors conclude that an alternative approach to overcome the taboos and prejudices in studying corruption is to ask a different research question. A research agenda is proposed for solving this phenomenon. To guide PM research on development projects, focusing on the “where and how” of corruption requires addressing how actors build their knowledge management capabilities, and address the social and cultural challenges inherent to IDPs.