World Bank President Robert Zoellick this week urged civil society to help show how greater engagement on the ground brings about better development outcomes, particularly by improving governance and service.
Zoellick and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde met with civil society organization (CSO) representatives in a town hall prior to the 2011 Annual Meetings. Some 600 CSOs—the largest number ever-- are participating in this year’s Civil Society Forum —four days of discussions to promote substantive dialogue between civil society representatives and Bank and Fund staff. Topics include climate change and energy, gender, aid dependency, and jobs as well as mechanisms for Bank-civil society engagement. In a speech  last spring Zoellick called for increased Bank engagement with CSOs, because their participation in design, monitoring and management of public services leads to better use of budgets, better service and less corruption. This week, he urged CSOs to be part of a positive feedback loop.
“One of the most basic things we’ve learned about development is that if the local community doesn’t own it, it doesn’t work,” Zoellick said.
For this reason, he said, the Bank is working on its own policies as well as with client governments to push for openness, transparency, and social accountability. Development, said Zoellick, can be a means of broadening participation in society, and civil society makes for “better ownership, better follow-through, better governance” for both the institution and the client country. The Bank recently committed to not providing budget support to countries lacking transparent budgeting.
Zoellick has frequently called for “democratized development economics. “As part of this effort, the Bank recently released 7,000 data sets , instituted a freedom of information policy, and launched a Mapping for Results initiative.
A CSO session on “Open Data, Open Knowledge, Open Solutions: Possibilities and Pitfalls” addressed the potential for development outcomes of a completely open World Bank. Participants stressed that “openness” was not just about transparency, but about humility, the acknowledgement that the Bank cannot do development alone. The best outcomes will likely come from a combination of a strong civil society and new technology with Bank knowledge and financing.
Bank Managing Director Caroline Anstey challenged participants to take the Bank to the next level of interactivity. In a changing world, she said, the Bank must change and become more of a convener and connector for open solutions.
“How do we make sure when we’re doing research that we hear other views?” Anstey asked. “How do we make sure knowledge platforms are not just for experts but also for citizens?” In particular, she called for innovative ways of reaching beneficiaries to determine if projects are working and to build beneficiary supervision into the Bank’s work.