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Where are the ‘Digital Dividends’ from the ICT revolution? The new World Development Report

Duncan Green's picture

© John Stanmeyer/National Geographic Creative. Used with the permission of John Stanmeyer/National Geographic Creative. Further permission required for reuse.Earlier this month I headed off for the London launch of the 2016 World Development Report, ‘Digital Dividends’. The World Bank’s annual flagship is always a big moment in wonkland, and there has been a lot of positive buzz around this one.

Here’s how the Bank summarizes its content (Frequently Asked Questions, pg. 5):

"What is the Report about? It explores the impact of the internet, mobile phones, and related technologies on economic development.

What are the digital dividends? Growth, jobs, and services are the most important returns to digital investments." (pg. 5)

How do digital technologies promote development and generate digital dividends? By reducing information costs, digital technologies greatly lower the cost of economic and social transactions for firms, individuals, and the public sector. They promote innovation when transaction costs fall to essentially zero. They boost efficiency as existing activities and services become cheaper, quicker, or more convenient. And they increase inclusion as people get access to services that previously were out of reach.

Why does the Report argue that digital dividends are not spreading rapidly enough? For two reasons. First, nearly 60 percent of the world’s people are still offline and can’t fully participate in the digital economy. There also are persistent digital divides across gender, geography, age, and income dimensions within each country. Second, some of the perceived benefits of the internet are being neutralized by new risks. Vested business interests, regulatory uncertainty, and limited contestation across digital platforms could lead to harmful concentration in many sectors. Quickly expanding automation, even of mid-level office jobs, could contribute to a hollowing out of labor markets and to rising inequality. And the poor record of many e-government initiatives points to high failure of ICT projects and the risk that states and corporations could use digital technologies to control citizens, not to empower them.

Human Nature is Not Always Rational- How Behavioral Science can Aid Development

Paolo Mefalopulos's picture

I am not sure if I was more surprised, glad, or excited to see the recent 2015 World Development Report published by the World Bank Group. Knowing well this institution, I admit I did not expect to see the day when it would acknowledge that human behavior is not necessarily guided by rational considerations and that behavior change is not a linear process and needs to reflect the complexity of factors affecting such process. The possibility that rational thought is not at the basis of every human action is something quite revolutionary, at least within the mainstream boundaries of economic discourse.

The WDR entitled “Mind, Society and Behavior” seems to suggest that economists might actually have something to learn from behavioural scientists! However, such concepts have been floating around for a quite some time. A handful of social scientists, development scholars, and practitioners have been exploring, advocating, and applying to a different degree principles, which are now illustrated in the WDR and applying approaches that promote human agency and facilitate social change.

What have We Learned on Getting Public Services to Poor People? What’s Next?

Duncan Green's picture

Ten years after the World Development Report 2004, the ODI’s Marta Foresti reflects on the past decade and implications for the futureMarta Foresti

Why do so many countries still fail to deliver adequate services to their citizens? And why does this problem persist even in countries with rapid economic growth and relatively robust institutions or policies?

This was the problem addressed by the World Bank’s ground-breaking 2004 World Development Report (WDR) Making Services Work for Poor People. At its core was the recognition that politics and accountability are vital to improve services and that aid donors ignore this at their peril. Ten years on, these issues are still at the heart of the development agenda, as discussed at the anniversary conference organised jointly by ODI and the World Bank in late February.

As much as this was a moment to celebrate the influence of the WDR 2004 on a decade of development thinking and practice, it also highlighted just how far we have to go before every citizen around the world has access to good quality basic services such as education, health, water and electricity.