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Adam Wagstaff's blog

So what exactly is a “knowledge bank”?

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Unsurprisingly, with the recent arrival of a new president fresh from the groves of academia, the halls and meeting rooms of the World Bank are buzzing once again with talk of the “Knowledge Bank” or KB for short. But what exactly is a “knowledge bank”?

To my mind the paper that pins the idea down best is “Positioning the World Bank” by Chris Gilbert, Andrew Powell and David Vines in the Economic Journal in 1999.

Knowledge as a public good
Gilbert & Co argue that knowledge about best-practice development is a global public good – the entire world stands to benefit from it, even though some may benefit from it more than others. Given the public good character of global knowledge on development, too little of it would appear if production were left to the free market.

Measuring universal health coverage – plus ça change?

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In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a growing clamor for a global commitment to universal health coverage (UHC). You might have seen the recent special issue of the Lancet on “the struggle for UHC”. Inevitably, accompanying this clamor, there’s been a lot of wracking of brains on how to measure progress toward UHC. With the excitement of a new political agenda, there’s understandably a desire to carve out a new measurement agenda too. While not wanting dampen people’s enthusiasm for the UHC cause, I would like us to reflect whether on the measurement agenda we’re building enough on what’s been done before.

Yet more on coping with information overload with an iPad

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Last year I wrote a couple of posts on coping with information overload using an iPad, one in July and the other in December. The iPad world continues to develop apace, so  here's a quick update, this one - as requested - complete with links to the apps. 

International development apps

In my last post, I covered three World Bank apps: InfoFinder, which allows you to search in the Bank's documents and reports database, DataFinder which gets you into the Bank's data vaults, and WB Finances which shows you what the Bank is doing in its operational work. The Bank's latest iPad app is the 2012 World Development Report which contains the text of the report plus various additional features. While not an iPad app, the Bank's Open Knowledge Repository is quite iPad-friendly and a great way to search for and access World Bank publications.

A vast treasure trove of development knowledge just opened up

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Today's launch of the World Bank's Open Knowledge Repository (OKR) and Open Access Policy might not seem a big deal. But it is.

The knowledge bank’s assets are huge, but until today were hard to access

The Bank is a huge producer of knowledge on development. This knowledge surfaces in formal publications of the Bank – the institution publishes books and flagship reports like the World Development Report. It also surfaces in publications of external publishers, including journal articles – up to now, these external publications haven't been seen by the Bank as part of its knowledge output despite the fact they dwarf the Bank's own publications in volume and in citations. The Bank's knowledge also surfaces in reports, and in informal "knowledge products" like briefing notes and other web content.

Are the Knowledge Bank’s staff under-specialized?

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Ideas often come from unexpected quarters. Last week, Ricardo Hausmann came to the World Bank to talk about his work on economic complexity. I missed the seminar, but afterwards read his Atlas of Economic Complexity: Mapping Paths to Prosperity. (I had actually already looked at the stunning – but rather confusing charts – of his coauthor Cesar Hidalgo after reading Tim Harford’s great new book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.)

On the face of it, the Atlas of Economic Complexity doesn’t have a lot to do with the topic of this blog post – whether World Bank staff are under-specialized.  But bear with me, and I hope I’ll convince you otherwise.

Humanizing health systems

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In 1960, I wouldn’t have been writing this blog post. For a start I was just a baby at the time. Second, we were several decades away from 1994 when Justin Hall – then a student at Swarthmore – would sit down and tap out the world’s first blog. Most importantly of all, though, according to Google’s ngram viewer, people didn’t write about health systems much in 1960 (see chart). Usage of the term in books took off only in the mid 1960s, waned in the 1980s, and then started rising again in the 1990s. This doesn’t look like a statistical artifact. Usage of the term “Nobel prize” has stayed relatively constant over the period, and while the term “health economics” has also trended upwards, the growth has been much slower. So “health systems” is a fairly new term – and it’s on the rise.

Click on this image to see a larger version.

Not everyone thinks that’s a good thing.

A New Year’s Guide to the top World Bank blog posts of 2011

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2011 was a highly successful year for World Bank blogs; four posts chalked up more than 10,000 views over the year; the year saw the launch of the highly successful Development Impact blog; and two of the Bank’s blogs (Development Impact and Africa Can End Poverty) have featured in Palgrave’s top-50 Economics blogs. The table below lists the top-100 World Bank blog posts of 2011 based on page views over the period November 1, 2010 – November 19, 2011. For those interested, click here to see how the Bank’s 26 English-language blogs compare to one another in terms of the number of posts they have in the top-50, top-100, and top-200. (Keep in mind, however, that Development Impact was running for only part of this period.)

More on coping with information overload with an iPad

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In July I wrote a post on this blog about coping with information overload using an iPad. Rather to my surprise, a few people actually read it. Four months on I thought I'd share with you some new apps and new uses of old apps. It turns out that four months is a long time in the iPad world right now.

World Bank apps, and apps for World Bankers

Three sets of iPad apps allow you to track what the World Bank is up to. InfoFinder gives you a nice way to search among 120,000 or so documents in the Bank's documents and reports database. DataFinder gets you into the Bank's data vaults and allows you to produce some very pretty charts. There are specialized versions of DataFinder on Africa, Climate Change, and Education.  Finally, WB Finances shows you what the Bank is doing in its operational work. You can search for projects via a Google map or via a country listing. This beautifully designed app tells you what each project is about, how much is being lent, and how much has been disbursed. These apps reflect not just the Bank's new openness but also its tech savviness.

A Thanksgiving guide to the top World Bank blogposts of 2011

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Here’s some reading material for Thanksgiving in the event you get some time to yourself. The list below of the Bank’s most-read 100 blog posts in 2011 contains some real gems.

Before you start reading, you might be curious how the Bank’s 26 English-language blogs compare to one another in terms of the number of blog posts they have in the top-50, top-100, and top-200. In Table 1 below, I’ve been a bit strict: I haven’t counted announcements of reports, events, etc. as a post. Several blogs come out at the top – and bottom – irrespective of where you draw the cutoff; some, however, are more sensitive to the cutoff point.
I’d be curious how many of the top-100 you get through before you get hauled back to the living room for another game of charades.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Are the Knowledge Bank’s assets actually being used? The case of the World Bank’s Human Development sector

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According to its first-ever Knowledge Report, published earlier this year, the World Bank spends over $600 million a year on “core knowledge services” – research, economic and sector work, technical assistance, “knowledge management”, training, and the like. Yet as the authors of report concede, precious little is known about the impact of this spending.

In a post on this blog last year, I reported on some work that Martin Ravallion and I did on a subset of the Bank’s knowledge portfolio – formal publications. We found the publications portfolio is larger than typically thought: the Bank’s Documents and Reports (D&R) database excludes the vast majority of journal articles authored by Bank staff, and there are as many of these as there are books and other formal publications published by the Bank. We also tried to look at the impact of the Bank’s publications on development thinking, which we measured using citations in Google Scholar. We found that, despite a view by some that the Bank is more a proselytizer than a producer of new knowledge, a lot of Bank publications do get cited a lot, suggesting that these publications contain new knowledge that’s considered useful by others.

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