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developing countries

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:

Eliminating poverty in old age: are social pensions the answer?

Jean-Jacques Dethier's picture

Poverty in old age is prevalent in a large number of Latin American countries. Universal minimum pensions would be an effective and administratively simple way to substantially reduce poverty among the elder generation.

Photo: © Charlotte Kesl / World Bank
Alleviating poverty in old age requires a different approach from other age groups. Since poverty reduction efforts through labor market or education policies are ineffective, the only available instrument is to directly transfer money so the elderly can purchase goods and services. In rich countries, pension systems transfer money from the rich to the poor and often include a minimum pension that contributes significantly to reducing poverty.  But in developing countries, pension systems have such a low coverage that they cannot deal with old-age poverty.  In Latin America, which has what social scientists call a “truncated welfare state” - with income redistribution for the better-off and exclusion for those in need—most poor people are not covered by pension systems.

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.

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.

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