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Views from the Economic Research Forum in Egypt

Ahmed Galal's picture

Ahmed Galal is currently Managing Director of the Economic Research Forum, a regional research institution covering the Arab countries, Iran and Turkey.

As someone who values the role of knowledge and strong endogenous research capacity in advancing the cause of development, I was very impressed by the speech Robert Zoellick, World Bank President, gave on September 29 at Georgetown University. The speech, on development economics research and the role of the World Bank, stimulated an interesting debate, with Dani Rodrick being favorable, Bill Easterly critical and Nancy Birdsall somewhere in between.

Photo: www.istockphoto.com

From my perspective, the speech is refreshingly critical of the “one size fits all” approach to reform, honest about the evolution of thinking within the Bank, and open-minded about the new research agenda for development. It hits target by advocating research that is policy relevant. And it calls for “Democratization of Research” and a new role for the Bank as a knowledge broker and facilitator. All these are in line with the views of many researchers in the developing world, myself included.

Fighting Poverty at Each Stage of Development

Martin Ravallion's picture

One size does not fit all in development policy, as World Bank President, Robert B. Zoellick, emphasized in a recent speech, “Democratizing Development Economics.” The right policies depend on the stage of economic development (amongst other things). What does that mean for the Bank’s overarching objective, a world free of poverty?

Three construction workers return from a day of work as part of the Rural Roads project to improve access to markets in Rajasthan, India. Photo: Michael Foley

The Bank’s policy dialogues in poor countries have long emphasized policies to promote economic growth as the main means of fighting income poverty. These include efforts to ensure “pro-poor growth,” such as by avoiding policy biases against labor-intensive production.  However, direct redistributive policies in favor of the poor typically get far less attention.

It is not obvious why. Even some very poor countries have high inequality—in fact, some of the highest levels of income inequality in the world are found in poor countries (see the 2006 World Development Report: Equity and Development). And developing countries have redistributive policy options through tax and spending instruments (including cash transfers). There are concerns about trade-offs between equity and efficiency, though it can also be argued that high inequality is an impediment to economic growth. So should direct redistributive interventions play a bigger role?

Checking up on the assets of the knowledge bank

Adam Wagstaff's picture



Bhanwar Gopal, an artist from the Barefoot College, prepares traditional Rajasthani masks for plays and puppet shows with material from recycled World Bank reports. "We keep getting these reports that no one reads, so we decided to put them to some use," founder Bunker Roy says. [Source and image: BBC]

Regardless of its veracity (we’ll come to that in a moment), the BBC’s story raises a couple of serious questions. Exactly how much does the Bank publish? And does it have any impact?

The second question is, of course, hard to answer. But as Martin Ravallion and I found out when we tried to answer both questions, even the first isn’t easily answered.

Openness in the Service of Development, Results, and Poverty Reduction

Merrell Tuck-Primdahl's picture

Transforming the World Bank from a mid-20th century organization to an agile, 21st century entity motivated by a drive for ‘Open Development’ requires user-friendly shared data sites, a willingness to be held to high standards of transparency and accountability, a move toward telling results stories in compelling ways, and a ceding of ground from proud in-house research to ‘Democratizing Development Economics’.
All of the above requires both showmanship and visionary leadership, not something the staid World Bank is usually known for.

The 2010 Annual Meetings may be a tipping point where a giant bureaucracy shakes off a bit of the weight of its own rules and constraints and actually displays some agility, and, dare I say, a bit of color and plumage. Indeed, what delegates streaming to our Washington headquarters for this year’s Annual Meetings see may actually hit some of them like a jolt of development caffeine. 

This year, there is a “jumbotron” television screen facing Pennsylvania Avenue outside the Bank’s Main Complex greeting passersby and staff alike with compelling short films of results achieved by IDA, the Bank’s fund for the poorest. Entering the building’s sleek glass, metal, and stone atrium, visitors and staff see a new path of big, brightly colored circles highlighting IDA facts, spanning the entire Atrium floor, saying things like:

Zoellick: Bank to ‘democratize and demystify’ development economics

Julia Ross's picture

In a speech before students, faculty, policymakers and journalists at Georgetown University yesterday, World Bank President Robert Zoellick urged a sweeping new approach to development economics research. He said the Bank will change its research model to better access developing country experience through “Open Data, Open Knowledge, Open Solutions,” and make research more easily accessible to policymakers.

Wholesaling Research for Development

Martin Ravallion's picture

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” K’ung Fu-tzu (Confucius) , circa 500 BC.

   Photo: istockphoto.com
The World Bank’s analytic work can lack transparency to users—not least for those who would be affected most by the policies derived from that work. Civil society groups often suspect that the Bank dresses up advocacy as analytics. This perception stems in no small measure from the large entry costs users face in replicating and understanding the analysis. 

This concern about how we do research at the Bank—and elsewhere—can be thought of as the outcome of a traditional “retailing model.” That means researchers investigate a specific issue over a period of time and produce a research product—a paper or volume—on their findings. This is then disseminated to the public, including other researchers and policy makers. 

Much has changed since this retailing model first emerged. Dramatic changes in information technology have expanded the use of data, which makes more openness in research feasible.

It is time, then, to think about a new “wholesaling model,” under which the emphasis switches to producing the tools for others to do the research and providing open access to those tools.

Can Public Accountability Motivate Teachers to Perform at their Best? The Conversation Heats Up

Emiliana Vegas's picture

In recent weeks, several articles have appeared in the main U.S. newspapers– including the Washington Post and the New York Times – discussing the potential benefits and pitfalls of the Los Angeles Times’ decision to publish performance data on individual teachers.  Together with an economist, LA Times’ reporters used long-existing data on student test scores by teacher over time, to estimate individual teachers’ “value-added”, that is, the change in a student’s test score in the year that they had a specific teacher, attributing this change to the teacher’s effectiveness. They found enormous variation in the change in scores of students of particular teachers, and published the names of some teachers – both the “best” and “worst”.  Further, the paper announced that it will soon release the approximate rankings of all individual teachers in LA.


Will public accountability of individual teacher performance contribute to improve education quality in Los Angeles? Is this something that other education systems around the world struggling with finding options to raise teaching quality and student learning outcomes consider?

Welcome to ‘Let’s Talk Development’

Justin Yifu Lin's picture

As the world pulls out of an unprecedented financial crisis and given the wrap up just last week of the Millennium Development Goals Summit in New York, the work of the development community is far from over. In this context, the need for concerted, pragmatic research is more urgent than ever. Among the questions we need to ask is why many past efforts to get low-income countries on a path to sustainable growth have fallen short. Also, as we search for solutions, we need to adapt to the emergence of a multi-polar growth world and seek lessons from developing countries.  

With this in mind, it’s my pleasure to introduce this new blog aimed at sharing ideas and sparking innovation.

  Field visit to Nigeria
We at the Development Economics Department of the World Bank know that openness is what will keep us relevant and honest – the world is changing and it’s vital to challenge accepted wisdom. It’s essential to air the views of outside experts, even when they are highly critical.

Lively debate via this blog could potentially lead to break through solutions for development, or, at the very least, steer research and analysis in new directions.

Dissemination vs Public Engagement; in Other Words, Are You Serious?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

'Ha, I almost forgot; we need a dissemination strategy for the report. Get somebody to sort that out. Meeting adjourned.'

You guessed right: the statement above usually occurs at the end of a long meeting discussing 'substance'; then somebody realizes that if the department/organization has spent all this money on this piece of research, it might be a good idea to get somebody to 'disseminate' it.

Usually, they have not given the matter serious thought. They have not answered basic questions.

Research Is Not An End In Itself

Naniette Coleman's picture

In the world of development, research is not enough; a free and protected media is not enough; policy is not enough; but together, the combination can be unstoppable, when communicated well. Communication is the key. Disparate pieces floating in a vacuum cannot garner the type of result that is possible when they are combined and communicated as a whole, properly. 

 


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