Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi is doing things differently. Before his appointment as the Director General for Statistics Netherlands in April 2014, he was the General Director of the Netherlands Forensic Institute. No doubt that’s why phrases like “actionable intelligence” and forensic analogies about “tracing data” pepper his vision for national statistics in the Netherlands. At a recent presentation here at the World Bank, Tjin-A-Tsoi shared his thoughts on what a modern statistics office looks like, how cognitive science informs data communications, and whether big data will render official statistics obsolete.
A new approach to official statistics
Almost four years after Tjin-A-Tsoi took the helm, Statistics Netherlands has been transformed. It has its own newsroom, a team of media professionals, and employs the latest cognitive science research in its quest to deliver statistical truths to the public. It recently opened a shining new Center for Big Data Statistics, and has an innovation portal for beta products which invites public feedback. One of their current beta products is a Happiness Meter, an interactive infographic that people in the Netherlands can use to calculate and compare their personal happiness score with the rest of the Dutch population.
Van Gogh’s famous painting of Potato Eatersdepicts a family of poor peasants seated around a dinner table eating their staple fare. The artist confessed that this work is deeply reflective of the hard work that Dutch peasants have to do to earn a bare meal. Van Gogh frequently painted the harvest and often compared the season to his own art, and how he would someday reap all that he had put into it.
Since those difficult times in the late 1800s, the tiny country of the Netherlands (pop: 17 mill; about the size of Haryana state in India) has come a long way. Matching sheer ingenuity with technological prowess, the Netherlands today is one of the world’s most agriculturally productive countries, feeding people across the globe from its meager land area. Indeed, this small nation is now the world’s second-largest exporter of agri-food products including vegetables, fruits, potatoes, meat, milk and eggs; some 6% of world trade in fruits and 16% in vegetables comes from the Netherlands.
But how exactly did they do this? In October 2017, we went to find out. Our team - of World Bank and Indian government officials working on agribusiness, rural transformation and watershed development projects – sought to learn from Dutch experience and identify opportunities for future collaboration. We met farmer cooperatives, private companies, growers’ associations, academia, social enterprises, and government agencies, and gained fascinating insights.
Primarily, we found that a convenient location, a conducive climate, investments in high-quality infrastructure, high-caliber human capital, an enabling business environment and professionally-run private companies have provided the Netherlands with that unmistakable competitive edge:
Maximizing agricultural output with minimum land and labor
Located conveniently as a gateway to Europe, the Netherlands acts as a transit hub for agricultural produce, importing Euro 4.6 billion worth of produce from 107 countries, adding value to these products through collection, re(packaging) and processing, and exporting almost double that value - Euro 7.9 billion - to more than 150 nations. In 2014, Dutch growers had a turn-over of euro 2.9 billion in fruit and vegetables, produced with a minimum of land and labor - only 55,000 hectares and just 40,000 people - indicating a heavy reliance on automation.
Electric cars are so popular in the Netherlands that it would not be uncommon, say, for a Tesla to roll up as a taxi outside Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. And it is not tough to find charging stations for these cars in neighborhoods, parking lots, or even along the streets.
To reduce carbon emissions, national and local governments are taking various approaches—and, thus, electric cars, solar home systems, and energy-efficient solutions for buildings are booming in Europe. Cities like Amsterdam are front and center of this transformation. Netherlands, for instance, has an ambitious goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 80–95 percent by 2050 compared with 1990, making it an ideal venue for a Smart Cities Tour earlier this year, where a group of 26 representatives, including national and municipal officials and World Bank project teams, to learn from the Netherlands’ successful experience in energy sector transformation.
For instance, during a site visit to energy network company Alliander, we saw the pilot of a neighborhood battery system (NBS) in Rijsenhout, a town in the Western Netherlands near Amsterdam. The NBS is a local, community-level energy storage system that employs one large battery to stabilize neighborhood power distribution grids, particularly during peak hours. With a significant and increasing number of electric vehicle charging stations and solar panels installed in communities, electric networks are under increasing pressure to handle the variation between solar power during the day and concentrated peak electricity demand in the evenings and nights. Maintaining stable power supply and enhancing the resilience of the electricity grid to spikes in demand are fast becoming real challenges for these communities. While overhauling the power grids to prepare for these challenges could be costly and time-consuming, these small-scale NBS provide a low-cost, smart alternative solution.
When the world united around the historic Paris climate agreement, in 2015, the message was clear: It’s unfair to pass the burden of climate change to future generations.
We now need to put words into action. This week, leaders from 20 of the largest economies are meeting in Hamburg to find solutions to global challenges. Climate change will be front and center.
As the co-chairs of the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC), we want to accelerate climate action and reaffirm our commitment to carbon pricing. The discussions in Germany are a great opportunity to keep the momentum going.
Launched during the Paris climate talks, the CPLC now consists of 30 governments and over 140 businesses, all fighting for a common cause: to advocate for the pricing of carbon emissions across the world. We are calling for bold leadership from everyone – governments, companies, academia and civil society. The CPLC provides a forum for these groups to show collaborative leadership on carbon pricing.
Never in recent history has anti-minorities rhetoric — anti-immigrants, anti-religious-minorities, anti-LGBTI — been so pronounced in so many countries around the world. Those groups, we are told, are the cause of our current economic crisis because they steal our jobs, fuel criminality and threaten our traditional way of living. And yet, the causes of our economic crisis are probably more nuanced, and initial research seems to suggest that more and not less social inclusion will help us overcome the instability of our times.
The exclusion of minorities from the labor force is becoming politically and economically unsustainable for many states that are struggling to retain their legitimacy and strengthen their competitive potential in an increasingly global marketplace. As a consequence, governments, international development agencies and academic institutions are now looking seriously at ways to develop policies that guarantee a more equal and sustainable form of economic development — development that addresses both short- and long-term economic goals.
The World Bank’s Equality Project attempts to address this problem. The idea driving the project is that institutional measures that hamper the access of ethnic, religious and sexual minorities to the labor market and financial systems (such as legal and policy restrictions, or the absence of appropriate, positive nondiscrimination actions) directly affect their economic performance and, as a consequence, represent a cost for the economy: If a sizeable percentage of the population is not given the opportunity to acquire a high-quality education, a good job, secure housing, access to services, equal representation in decision-making institutions and protection from violence, human capital will be wasted, income inequality will grow and social unrest will ensue. The World Bank’s widely cited Inclusion Matters report puts it succinctly: “Social inclusion matters because exclusion is too costly. These costs are social, economic and political, and are often interrelated.”
The project collected and validated data on the legal framework of six pilot countries: Bulgaria, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Tanzania and Vietnam. The methodological approach of collecting cross-country comparable data according to key indicators yielded some general but interesting results, published in a research working paper in March 2017.
Our research at the Stanford Global Projects Center aims to improve the way institutional capital is invested in critical public infrastructure. On one side, we research how institutional investor capital that has a commercial objective can be pooled most efficiently for infrastructure. On the other side we research government policies and practices to procure infrastructure assets through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and other methods most effectively. In this blog we highlight a few specific initiatives that have been set up to achieve these two objectives holistically, a few of which we touched upon in our first blog.
Performance budgeting (PB) has a deep and enduring appeal. What government would not want to allocate resources in a way that fosters efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, and accountability? However, such aspirations have proven poor predictors of how performance data are actually used.
The potential benefits of identifying and tracking the goals of public spending are undeniable, but have often justified a default adoption of overly complex systems of questionable use. Faith in PB is sustained by a willingness to forget past negative experiences and assume that this time it will be different. Without a significant re-evaluation, PB’s history of disappointment seems likely also to be its future.
How large is the share of public procurement to GDP in middle-income and low-income countries and how it is evolving? If sizable, can public procurement be used as a policy tool to make markets more competitive, and thus improve the quality of government services? Can it be used to induce innovation in firms? Can it also be a significant way to reduce corruption?
California is suffering from its fifth year of drought, the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in India are arguing over the sharing of Cauvery river water, and food security for 36 million people is threatened due to drought in large regions of Africa. On the flip side, Bangladesh, Maldives, and other island nations are confronted with the threat of rising seas, while extreme rainfall and flooding (as experienced by Haiti just a few weeks ago) are expected to become increasingly common. Even without these extremes, almost every country is facing its own challenges in managing water resources.
As Operations Analysts in the World Bank Water Global Practice, and as water management newbies, we were excited to go to the Netherlands and Israel, respectively, to understand how these two countries have overcome their unique obstacles to become prime examples in water engineering. Upon examining the findings alongside senior specialists in the Practice and practitioners from client countries, it is clear that despite each country’s distinct topography, they share a focus on collaboration among stakeholders and an emphasis on efficiency powered by innovative technology.