Cities of Integrity image of hand with marionette strings above city skyscrapers

Cities of integrity: Urban planning and corruption in Africa

This project focuses on how professional communities of planners in South Africa and Zambia live up to their roles as drivers of integrity.

Click here for the Project One-Pager

To learn more about this project, contact Principal Investigator Vanessa Watson or visit the project web page at

Project Summary

Compromising the public good for personal, professional, or political gains – also known as corruption – is a global challenge. The New Urban Agenda calls on all countries to ‘promote capacity development programmes to help subnational and local governments in financial planning and management, anchored in institutional coordination at all levels, including environmental sensitivity and anti-corruption measures.’

However, municipal officials, political decision makers, civil society advocates and built environment practitioners have very few practical tools that help them to better understand and effectively address urban planning corruption.

Policy and Programming Implications

This project speaks to an important corruption nexus in development—urbanisation and corruption—and urban planners play a pivotal role in fostering integrity in urban development, as their professional realm straddles the worlds of both public administration and private development The insights generated through this research will be highly relevant for policy and practice across Africa and will inform broader integrity strategies that focus on professional communities and their professional bodies.

Research Questions

  • Given the way in which urban planners are uniquely positioned to address corruption risks in urban development, how can we ensure they act as a force for public good?
  • In focusing on the increasingly important subnational municipal governance level, what can we learn about the important and long-term consequences for urban development of the decisions and professional conduct of urban planners?


Instead of testing standard anti-corruption measures, this project examines a rather under-explored, yet promising route—the activation and promotion of professional integrity and the professional structures that enable it. The project takes a three-pronged approach, using a qualitative action experiment built around a targeted training intervention for planners in Zambia, including a feedback mechanism that surfaces and harnesses different and potentially conflicting expectations around the role, responsibilities, and everyday practices of planners:

  • Examine the current integrity landscape in urban development and planning;
  • Build on a mapping of existing mechanisms and practices to develop, promote and enforce integrity as a professional norm; and
  • Identify public roles and responsibilities practicing planners in South Africa and Zambia see for themselves, as well as the pressures they face at the intersection of the public and private sector.

Ace Impact


A narrow, legalistic focus on direct anti-corruption measures and a largely punitive approach to step up monitoring, legal sanctions, compliance, and related reporting requirements are not sufficient, and at times are even counterproductive, in urban planning. Instead, what holds more promise is a more encompassing approach that embraces the broader ambition of strengthening integrity rather than reducing corruption as its main guiding principle.

This has led us to recommend a shift in focus, moving away from avoiding the wrong thing toward working on a complementary and likely more important doing-the-right-thing approach, i.e., moving from punitive, avoidance-focused compliance to promotive, value-focused integrity (Weaver and Treviño 1999).

We also recommend moving the goalpost for institutional improvements from ideal best practice towards good fit and good-enough pragmatism (World Bank 2017). This move broadens the horizon from an emphasis on formal, on-the-books rules and formally-prescribed, ideal-type governance structures to engagement with the actual lived experience of corruption and integrity, and the everyday formal-informal blend and practical manifestations of related accountability relations (Tenbrunsel, Smith-Crowe and Umphress 2003). The actual values, norms, expectations, perceptions, and contextual forces at play will then underpin these practices and shape the prospects for reform.

Introducing a broader perspective that views integrity as a systemic accomplishment is key. Such realisation requires understanding and, where necessary, improving the system of stakeholders, institutions, and contextual drivers that shape individual and organisational conduct beyond a narrow, cost-benefit analysis of sanctions and gains from corruption (Six and Lawton 2013).

Highlighting the integrity of professions as a promising and underexplored driver of integrity and inviting a fresh focus in research and policy action to test this potential is what we recommend.


We completed the practical guide for urban planning for professional and training planners, which is derived from the workshops and sessions and heavily informed by the research, for Transparency International. The guide also features the video series. Advocacy continues for the Zambia Institute of Planners to soon complete their urban integrity practice manual. We are exploring this as part of a practical professional planner course at the University of Cape Town.

There is continued interest from the South African Council of Planners and the Zambia Institute of Planners to apply the findings in their professional bodies. In Zambia, we introduced topics on practical issues of corruption in urban planning, which includes applied learning sessions at the post-graduate level as a way of systematically building capacity among Zambian planners.

By working with young professionals and incumbent planners through these guides and the workshops, the team has built a community of practice that is aware of integrity challenges and committed to anti-corruption work.

The insights from designing integrity training as an action experiment directly led to deeper research and policy projects founded on what we know about the efficacy of integrity training and how to assess their impact and improve them in the future.

Related outputs include: and

Research Team Members

  • Vanessa Watson (RIP), Professor, University of Cape Town

  • Gilbert Siame, Lecturer and Researcher, University of Zambia

  • Laura Nkula-Wenz, Lecturer, African Centre for Cities

  • Dieter Zinnbauer, Senior Project Advisor

  • Stephen Berrisford, Associate Director, Pegasys

  • Christian Alexander, Project Researcher (South Africa)
  • Dorothy Ndhlovu, Project Researcher (Zambia)


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