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What do public officials know? Why do some know more than others?

Daniel Rogger's picture

Many people working in development hope to `inform’ public officials.  For example, academic research or the Bank’s own analytical studies often conclude with `policy recommendations’ to be taken on by individuals in charge of translating policies into practice, or public administrators.  Yet what is the baseline level of knowledge of public officials that this work is building on?  What do they already know and not know?
 
We investigated this question in Ethiopia by surveying a representative sample of 1,831 public officials across 382 organizations spanning all three tiers of government. We compared their estimates of key characteristics of their constituents to objective administrative and survey data to create a direct test of their knowledge.  How did they do?
 
We start our blog with a quiz to you, the reader, to assess your priors on the accuracy of public officials in guessing the key characteristics of the local citizens that they serve. 

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Views from Silicon Valley: Helping client countries keep up with changing technology

Kimberly Johns's picture
Graphic: Nicholas Nam/World Bank

It is time to tell you a secret my friends. I am a girl who codes. Before joining the World Bank, I was fluent in ASCII, developing systems and applications to make it easier to get things done.

Monitoring the SDGs with purchasing power parities

Edie Purdie's picture

The ICP blog series explores ideas and issues under the International Comparison Program umbrella – including innovations in price and data collection, discussions on purpose and methodology, as well the use of purchasing power parities in the growing world of development data. Authors from across the globe, whether ICP practitioners or researchers making use of ICP data, are encouraged to submit relevant blogs for consideration to [email protected].

It has been over three years since countries adopted the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. From the outset, a number of targets were identified to help pinpoint the desired outcomes within these broad areas – 169 in total. Monitoring progress towards each of these targets relies on data originating in countries, and which are often collected in partnership with regional and international organizations. The World Bank’s Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals used such data to visualize trends and comparisons across the globe, drawing on data from World Development Indicators and many other sources.

Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) data, from the International Comparison Program, play an important role in this monitoring: by eliminating the effect of price level differences between countries they allow us to measure living standards and other economic trends in real, comparable terms.  PPPs are utilized in a number of the official SDG indicators, but also in other associated indicators, which help us to explore the underlying issues and impacts of the goals and targets more deeply.  The four charts presented here exemplify the crucial insights PPPs help provide in SDG monitoring and analysis.

Goal 1 seeks to eradicate poverty in all its forms by 2030. Extreme poverty is measured using the international poverty line of $1.90 a day using 2011 PPPs. The use of PPPs ensures that the poverty line represents the same standard of living in every county. Higher poverty lines used by the World Bank better measure poverty in lower-middle and upper-middle income countries.  Using these poverty lines, we can visualize the shifts in population living at various standards of living.

When it comes to modern contraceptives, history should not make us silent: it should make us smarter.

Berk Ozler's picture

On January 2, 2019, the New York Times ran an Op-Ed piece by Drs. Dehlendorf and Holt, titled “The Dangerous rise of the IUD as Poverty Cure.” It comes from two respected experts in the field, whose paper with Langer on quality contraceptive counseling I had listed as one of my favorite papers that I read in 2018 just days earlier in pure coincidence. It is penned to warn the reader about the dangers of promoting long-acting reversible contraceptives (or LARCs, as the IUD and the implant are often termed) with a mind towards poverty reduction. Citing the shameful history of state-sponsored eugenics, which sadly took place both the U.S. and elsewhere, they argue that “promoting them from a poverty-reduction perspective still targets the reproduction of certain women based on a problematic and simplistic understanding of the causes of societal ills.

What started as an Op-Ed with an important and legitimate concern starts unraveling from there. A statement that no one I know believes and is not referenced (in an otherwise very-well referenced Op-Ed) “But there is a clear danger in suggesting that ending poverty on a societal level is as simple as inserting a device into an arm or uterus” is followed by: “Providing contraception is critical because it is a core component of women’s health care, not because of an unfounded belief that it is a silver bullet for poverty.” In the process, the piece risks undermining its own laudable goal: promoting the right and ability of women – especially adolescents, minorities, and the disadvantaged – to make informed personal decisions about whether and when to have a child to improve their own individual welfare first and foremost.

Energy prices fell 15 percent in December–Pink Sheet

John Baffes's picture
Energy commodity prices plunged more than 11 percent in December, led by oil (-13 percent), the World Bank’s Pink Sheet reported.

Non-energy prices fell marginally as losses in beverages, fertilizers, and metals were balanced by gains in food and precious metals.

Agricultural prices gained less than one percent—a 3.5 percent decline in the beverage price index was offset by a 3.5 percent gain of the food price index in response to grain price increases.

How ownership and liability issues can impact the use of computers in schools

Michael Trucano's picture
owned! pwned?
owned! pwned?
In many low and lower middle income countries around the world, large scale purchases of computing devices for use in schools are just beginning to happen. Given that efforts of this sort have occurred in other education systems for many years (and in some 'highly developed' countries, for decades), there is a real opportunity for countries new to such efforts to learn from past mistakes made by others -- and not to repeat them.

Let's leave aside, for the moment, the fundamental question of whether or not a country should be investing its scarce resources in, for example, a new program to roll out laptops or tablets to all of its students or teachers. Let's say, for better or for worse, that this decision has already been made (and hopefully that it was a good decision!).

And: Let's leave for another discussion a topic regularly explored on the World Bank's EduTech blog: What might it mean for these devices to be used 'effectively'? Instead, what if we ask:
 
What are some of the 'little details' that actually can actually have a big impact on whether the devices supplied to schools are actually used at all?

Past posts on the World Bank's EduTech blog have attempted to document and analyze many of these 'little details'. Here's one that we haven't explored before:
 
Who owns the computer equipment in schools, who pays for the stuff that gets broken, who decides, and how is this information communicated?


There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, of course. As with so many things in life, context is king. Tolstoy famously wrote that "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." In my experience, the exact opposite is often true when it comes to education systems attempting to introduce new technologies into schools for the first time: All (eventually) unhappy education systems are (too often) alike; every happy education system is happy in its own way.

Here's a quick example of one education system that quickly became 'unhappy' with the initial results of its high profile effort to provide laptops to teachers. I'll call this country 'Laptopia', the generic name I use in training exercises when referring to real-life examples where little would be named by identifying the country specifically. (For what it's worth: When I shared the story below with two colleagues, both of them were sure they knew to which country I was referring. Both named different countries, and both were wrong.)

Weekly links January 11: it’s not the experiment, it’s the policy; using evidence; clustering re-visited; and more...

David McKenzie's picture
  • “Experiments are not unpopular, unpopular policies are unpopular” – Mislavsky et al. on whether people object to companies running experiments. “Additionally, participants found experiments with deception (e.g., one shipping speed was promised, another was actually delivered), unequal outcomes (e.g., some participants get $5 for attending the gym, others get $10), and lack of consent, to be acceptable, as long as all conditions were themselves acceptable.” – caveat to note-  results are based on asking MTurk subjects (and one sample of university workers) whether they thought it was ok for companies to do this.
  • Doing power calculations via simulations in Stata – the Stata blog provides an introduction on how to do this.
  • Marc Bellemare has a post on how to use Pearl’s front-door criterion for identifying causal effects – he references this more comprehensive post by Alex Chino which provides some examples of its use in economics.

Taking stock: knowledge sharing as a driver for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Steffen Janus's picture

Image: United Nations

Another year has passed, and we are only 11 years away from the goalpost of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Agenda 2030). It is high time to reflect a bit on where we are today on knowledge sharing for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In the past few years, knowledge sharing has moved to the center of global development as a third pillar complementing financial and technical assistance. Agenda 2030 calls for enhancing “knowledge sharing on mutually agreed terms,” while the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development encourages knowledge sharing in sectors contributing to the achievement of the SDGs.

For cities, this means that knowledge sharing can be a critical catalyst for achieving SDG11 to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.”

Measuring learning to avoid “flying blind”

Jaime Saavedra's picture
Measuring learning outcomes allows countries to plan better, as it shows the magnitude and characteristics of their learning challenges. Photo: Sarah Farhat/ World Bank

Just three weeks after becoming Minister of Education in Peru, my team and I received the results from the 2012 round of PISA. Peru was ranked last. Not next to last, not bottom 10%.  It was last.

Education, which never made headlines in the country, was on the front pages. For some people in the media, the fact that PISA was only administered to a subset of rich and middle-income countries around the world was not important, that was just a footnote. For them, Peruvian students were the worst in the world.

Oral democracy

Vijayendra Rao's picture

The challenges of electoral democracy are becoming increasingly visible worldwide. Elite capture, corruption and patronage are serious concerns, and the legitimacy of some elections has come under critical scrutiny. This has led to a revival of the idea of direct democracy – giving power directly to groups of people to make collective decisions.




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