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Agreeing to Disagree on the Blogosphere

John Garrison's picture

There is growing Bank – CSO policy dialogue occurring via blogs which is generating unexpected thoughtful and frank exchange of views.  The most recent case was a few weeks back when Justin Lin, the World Bank’s Chief Economist, was invited to be a guest blogger on the “From Poverty to Power” blog page maintained by Oxfam/GB’s Head of Research, Duncan Green.  The exchange was on Justin’s recent paper "Growth Identification and Facilitation" on the role governments play in promoting economic growth.  Many CSOs, such as Oxfam, feel that the Bank is undergoing a paradigm shift by now providing developing countries with more ‘policy space’ to design their own economic plans, including industrial policies to support nascent industries.

This exchange follows an earlier blog interaction between Shanta Devarajan (Chief Economist for the Bank’s Africa Region) who hosts the Africa Can…End Poverty blog, and Barbara Stocking (the CEO of Oxfam/GB) on the Africa region’s “Quiet Corruption” paper. Rather than responding privately to a letter sent by Barbara on the report, which would have been the traditional way of engaging with Oxfam, Shanta posted both her letter and his response on the blog and invited others to comment.  The debate hinged on whether it is appropriate to label pervasive absenteeism and low productivity by public education and health workers in the Africa region as a form of ‘corruption’ or whether these workers are ‘victims’ of poorly financed and managed government service delivery programs.  The Bank is also using blogs to engage CSOs around the contentious issue of climate change.  Athena Ballasteros, Senior Associate at World Resources Institute, has been invited to be a guest blogger on Bank’s Development in Changing Climate blog page.  There she joins Bank staff and academics debating whether the Bank’s proposed new energy strategy and climate change investments truly represent a paradigm shift to a low-carbon development model or whether it is too soon to draw such a conclusion.   

What this recent policy dialogue between the Bank and Oxfam seems to demonstrate is that the blogosphere is beginning to provide a useful venue for policy engagement between and Bank and its CSO interlocutors.  Rather than using the media, which has been a traditional way for CSOs to engage the Bank and for the Bank to respond, blogs allow for less official and confrontation response.  Since Bank staff are generally responding in their own names it allows them to be both less defensive (they don’t have the burden of responding for the institution), but also be more direct and frank in their response.  In addition, blogs encourage and allow third party voices to be brought into the discussion.  This was the case, for instance, in the exchange on the quiet corruption report which generated a number of comments and responses from Africa. 

In short, these blog exchanges seem to be introducing the possibility for more frank and informal policy dialogue, which is also more collegial in tone.  What this experience seems to be showing is that social media, with its podcasts, blogs and tweets, has the potential of scaling-up and improving the quality of Bank – CSO dialogue going forward.

 

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Comments

Submitted by Zeeshan on
Great to see this improvement in CSO-Bank relations, John. I'm also glad you use the "blogosphere" to inform us of these crucial developments.

Submitted by Nick van Praag on
Thanks for pointing to the advantges of this new interface -- and the oppotunity it provides for real dialogue.

Submitted by Homira on
I hope that the blog dialogues will not just be between senior members of our organizations, but the practitioners in the trenches too because that's where we can achieve real learning and knowledge sharing. Thank you John.

Submitted by Maryanne on
Blogging is a tool that should be used in this way that can be educational, helpful, and provide learning experiences for everyone involved. This article illustrates that blogging is a venue that can be used to converse, share ideas, and legitimately document thoughts and facts that cannot be skewed by media. Sharing thoughtful discourse this way also brings about truth because it is privately written but publicly viewed which offers an environment that supports of being fearless, bringing clarity, and documenting thoughts that others can see and offer suggestions on. Blogging has really opened up a new world and can be used in so many helpful ways.

Submitted by Rasmus Heltberg on
Great article! I hope management will continue to allow staff to debate on blogs using their own names, which is crucial in the examples you highlight. In turn, I would urge more staff to step forward and contribute their views and valuable experience in public spaces such as blogs.

Great to see this John! As you know because you have been an important part of it, Freshwater Action Network and the Bank are in the middle of what has been a valuable process of dialogue with the World Bank on Water and Sanitation. I am glad to see this exchange via blog as we are trying to grow this aspect of our engagment as well -- in part to build the capacity of our civil society members to use blogs and other social media in their work. Encouraging free and frank, but still accountable and constructive engagement is the key to building trust and solutions instead of suspicion and apathy. Would be very interested in your thoughts (and others) on our blog on what meaningful engagement in the CAS process looks like. In particularly, in what ways it may change with the new access to information policy? Go to: http://bit.ly/bnltEI

Great work, John, I am glad to know of this blog and get a glimpse at the current state of play in Bank-CSO relations. Sending best wishes and looking forward to perhaps seeing more posts in the run-up to the Annual Meetings.

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