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Civil Society Engagement Crucial in World Bank Group’s Development Efforts, Global Opinion Leaders Say

Jing Guo's picture

Ending extreme poverty is achievable, but the World Bank Group cannot do it alone. It needs strategic and meaningful collaboration with governments, the private sector, and civil society partners that have local expertise, experience, and connections. 

The Bank Group currently engages with hundreds of civil society organizations (CSOs) every day in various stages and areas of its development activities. How is its engagement efforts perceived by civil society and other stakeholders? Is citizen/civil society engagement a vital ingredient for successful reforms? How can the institution engage more effectively? 

Recent data from the annual World Bank Group Country Opinion Survey, with input from over 9,000 stakeholders around the world, shed light on these important questions. 

As part of ongoing efforts to better understand the needs of global stakeholders and partners, the Bank Group undertook Country Opinion Surveys in 42 developing countries from July 2013 to June 2014 (as part of an annual program that conducts surveys with opinion leaders in all client countries every three years). 9,255 opinion leaders from government, bilateral/multilateral agencies, civil society, academia, media, and the private sector participated in the survey and shared their views regarding the Bank Group’s work and relationships on the ground.

When asked what the institution should do to bolster its value in the country, a plurality of the survey respondents across the globe indicated greater need for civil society engagement. For example, in Côte d’Ivoire, a plurality of the 288 opinion leaders, including half of the parliamentarian respondents, believe that “reaching out more to groups outside of government” will make the Bank Group more valuable in their country. The same trend is observed in Turkey, where not only CSO members but also a considerable percentage of ministry employees think that the WBG should collaborate more broadly beyond the national government.

Opinion leaders’ responses to the question “which of the following should the WBG do to make itself of greater value in your country?”  from all 42 countries surveyed between July 2013-June 2014

When it comes to the reform efforts supported by the Bank Group, many stakeholders believe that an insufficient level of citizen/civil society participation dampens Bank-assisted reforms on the ground. The data show that when Bank Group-assisted reforms were slow/failed, pluralities of stakeholders from CSOs, local governments, ministries, and the media attributed it to “an inadequate level of citizen/civil society participation.” Survey findings show that respondents from Middle East and North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa were significantly more likely to believe so than those from other regions. Stakeholders in fragile and violence-affected countries were also significantly more likely to indicate so than those from non-fragile or violence-affected countries.

Opinion leaders’ responses to the question “when the WBG assisted reform efforts fail or are slow to take place, which of the following would you attribute this to?”  from all 42 countries surveyed between July 2013-June 2014

Given the clamor for even greater inclusion of civil society actors in the Bank Group’s development activities, the question arises as to how to engage them, effectively. In this regard, too, the Country Survey provides some valuable insights that may be of great value to an institution seeking to continually strengthen its relationships outside of government.

Effective communication is the basis of constructive engagement. The survey results reveal that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to communicating with civil society organizations. These organizations vary in their preferred ways of interacting with the Bank Group. 

For instance, this year’s Country Survey in Yemen indicates that NGOs and community-based organizations consider Bank Group seminars, workshops, and conferences the most desired channels for obtaining information from the institution. In contrast, CSOs in Peru prefer to be engaged through publications and e-newsletters. In Haiti, CSOs are most keen to have direct contact with the Bank Group. These distinctions are worthy of further consideration, especially in country-level engagement with groups outside of government.

Openness and transparency are also fundamental elements in ensuring substantive engagement with the civil society. While, overall, the Bank Group scored a relative high mark of 6.7 for its “openness,” stakeholders—especially CSOs—still consider “not enough public disclosure of its work” as the institution’s greatest weakness. 

Under the landmark Policy on Access to Information, the Bank Group already proactively releases a wealth of information in its possession to the public (read more in Four Year AI Update). Why does the perception of inadequate disclosure persist? The survey results reveal that 3/4 of all respondents were actually unaware of the policy. To dispel the misconception, communication of open-Bank initiatives, such as Access to Information, needs to be amplified by staff at country and regional levels. 

The Country Opinion Survey findings underscore the vitality of continued, deepened collaboration between the WBG and civil society, reveal some ways to strengthen Bank Group’s engagement efforts, and also make it clear that a solid grasp of CSOs’ expectations, perceptions, and even misconceptions is crucial for strategic and effective engagement in countries and regions.
 

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