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Is information the solution?

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Chris Blattman is right to question my enthusiasm for information as the solution to seemingly intractable development problems. (By the way, thanks for the complimentary plug for AfricaCan, Chris).  Information by itself is not useful unless people can do something with it.  And we’re talking about poor people, who typically have very little power. But if enough poor people have access to the same information, they may be able to mobilize and enforce better performance from service providers or public officials. This is the reasoning behind the work on citizen report cards, public expenditure tracking surveys, community monitoring, and the like.

A recent note by Stuti Khemani explores why community monitoring of health care in Uganda appeared to work so well, while a similar program for schools in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India didn’t.  She suggests three reasons: differences in the level of NGO activism in the two countries; differences between health and education; and the political economy of service delivery (teachers unions are very powerful in UP).  The latter is particularly troubling because another rationale for information campaigns is when reforms in service delivery are blocked for political reasons.  What then can we do?


Submitted by Cho on
I think the debate on information gets sidetrack because policy makers and analysts state it generically. The issue for me is not really about "critical mass" as you suggest, rather it is about the type or form of information. For example in Brazil we have see that publication of information on performance reduce corruption. That information was costless and in itself helps. On the other hand in Zambia government publishes many reports that no one ever reads, even if they are freely available. So the key is definitely being clear about what information is useful and in what context. Also let us not forget the linkage between education and information.

Submitted by Anonymous on
I am also a big fan of information, though I am sad to say it is not always the magic bullet. In my experience, it helps to have the following in place: - Agreement on common goals by all stakeholders - Capable leaders that are able to build consensus around these goals in the communities / groups they represent. - A structure that will help achieve those goals - A timeline for moving forward - Patience

Submitted by Kwabia Boateng on
One of the editions of the World Bank World Development Report in the early 1990s dealth with the issues of knowledge (of which information is a part)and development. For information to play its role in development it must be recognised as a factor of production- it contributes to the application of knowledge and hence to the general art of production. This recognition generates "value", which maintains itself. The difference between Brazil and Zambia is that information has no economic value in the latter country. That is, why nobody will touch an academic journal or official publication. Information is yet to be built fully into government (budget, taxation, education, etc.)policy decisions- that the basis of government policies is a research result published somewhere; that the basis of a business decision is a study on demand patterns; etc. How can we improve the asset value of information so that African governments and population will invest in them?

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