Because I depart the World Bank at the end of this month (June 2017) and will, thereafter, not be editing this blog or contributing to it, I want to seize the opportunity of this final blog post to do a number of things.
First, I want to thank all those who have contributed to the blog under my editorship since we started it in 2008. Though powerful pipes multiply in this digital age content remains king. Our contributors have provided rich, varied, and sometimes beguiling content over the years. I want to thank you, one and all. I particularly want to thank those whose contributions I had to have reworked because of the peculiar challenges of publishing on the blogging platform of an institution that is an intergovernmental cooperative. Some contributors were put off by the constraints but most understood and stayed. Many thanks.
Second, I want to thank our readers all over the world. When you start a blog in this age of volubility you never know what will happen. It is like a man in a bazaar starting a song that needs a chorus. Will anyone out there join in? Will voices and verses be added to the song? You never know. But I am happy to report that the response to the blog has been stellar. Readership has been wide and keen and argumentative. Contributions to the blog have turned up in several books, journal articles, and global publications in different languages. My attitude has been that so long as the source is acknowledged those who want to can make free use of the content. The blog has been one of the most successful ones on the World Bank blogging platform. Above all, it has been influential. And that is due to our readers. Again, many thanks.
Third, I want to thank the colleagues who have worked on the blog over the years. The initial idea was not mine at all but Johanna Martinson’s. Since then others have worked on the blog with great diligence and dedication. You can figure out their names by the intensity of their contributions. I want to thank them all. As you can imagine, a lot goes on behind the scenes if a blog is going to be successful. You have to try to post regularly. You have to promote it, for example, by tweeting the content regularly. You have to research and post interesting features, including videos. I have been fortunate to have worked with some truly brilliant colleagues who have done their best to create and nurture a People, Spaces, Deliberation community, and one that is truly global.
Finally, a closing reflection. When I joined the World Bank in 2006, it was to head a trust-funded program: The Communication for Governance and Accountability Program (COMMGAP). The blog was one of its initiatives that survived beyond the five-year duration of the Program. Another is the World Bank-Annenberg Summer Institute in Reform Communication: Leadership, Strategy and Stakeholder Alignment. The executive course is now in its seventh (7th) year. It is going on as I write, and I have just returned from Los Angeles where I led four sessions in the first week of the course.
As with the entire COMMGAP Program, this blog has been dedicated to the proposition that it is important to explore the interaction among public opinion, governance and the public sphere, and that this interaction has implications for pro-poor social and political change. Through publications, events, operational interventions and argumentation, we have tried to show that an open and inclusive public sphere is an essential element of good and accountable governance. And that it is wise never to trust leaders who close public spaces even if they appear to be promoting economic growth that alleviates poverty in the short term. We have also tried to show that communication approaches and techniques are fundamental if you want to implement reforms and high risk projects successfully. We have argued that, in spite of the incentives and preferences of technocrats, development initiatives that are implemented without skillful and deliberate stakeholder engagement will likely run into all manner of trouble: costly delays, truculent opposition, and, very often, failure. Intelligent project implementers in the private sector now accept this. They refer to the necessity of stakeholder alignment behind major projects as securing the social license to operate.
As I leave, the one development that I am most heartened by is that there is now a small but growing global community of practice studying and promoting “politically smart” implementation of reforms and complex development initiatives. That community acknowledges the peculiar incentives of bureaucrats in development agencies and seeks to support change agents in their own environments directly. I am, of course, extremely disheartened by the growing number of countries where public spaces are being constrained or closed. Lesson: in so many contexts, including the most unexpected ones, there is a lot more work to be done.