Every year, May 3rd is marked around the globe as World Press Freedom Day. This year UNESCO has declared the theme “Critical Minds for Critical Times”. Recently, Sri Lanka joined the ranks of nations that have taken progressive steps in making information available to the public by unveiling its own Right to Information (RTI) law. This is an important first step for the country. Experience from different parts of the world suggests that opening up access to information is an ongoing process that requires patience and perseverance to bring the full benefits of disclosure to a large number of stakeholders including, citizens, private sector and government.
The World Bank unveiled its own policy on the disclosure of information in 2002. The Bank felt compelled to do so as knowledge sharing is an integral part of its development mission. Moreover, the Bank needed to share information in order to get a better pulse from its stakeholders on how its services were performing; how it could improve but also to serve an increasing demand for its information and data. In 2010 this policy was revised through a series of public consultations. Even so, the document is still evolving with constant feedback from our clients and citizens from countries we serve.
Opening up the institution has also meant exposing our staff and projects to public scrutiny. When I joined the World Bank in 1995, it was a very different institution; most information was restricted. Our journey from a closed institution to an open one has not been easy. We have learnt that merely implementing a policy is not enough to achieve the real reason for opening up; allow people to review, analyze and make informed judgements based on concrete information and data. But more importantly we now know better that how staff perceive the increased access and its impact is the biggest challenge and yet also an opportunity.
This is the twelfth in our series of posts by students on the job market this year
Recent work has suggested that as many as one-third of antimalarial drugs in sub-Saharan Africa are of low-quality, a catch-all term ranging from effective counterfeit medicines to dangerous “fakes” (Nayyar et al., 2012). The persistence of low drug quality may be attributable to asymmetric information (Akerlof, 1970). Patients do not know their need for treatment, or the drug quality at the time of the purchase. In order to maximize profits, providers may then substitute cheaper, lower quality drugs. Bjorkman et al., (2012) find that fake drugs are particularly common in areas with low levels of customer knowledge about malaria transmission, where customers are potentially easier to deceive. However, the only intervention shown to reduce counterfeit drugs is the introduction of a high-quality competitor (Bjorkman et al., 2012; Bennett and Yin, 2014). Might increased customer information about purchases cause suppliers to improve their drug quality?
I address this question in my job market paper. I implement a randomized audit study in Uganda to measure how suppliers adjust price and quality if customers knew what disease the patient had (i.e., “diagnosis”) or knew the particular drug to buy. I contrast the response of drug quality with service quality, which is also low in developing countries (Das and Hammer, 2014). I find that price falls when customers present more information. Counter-intuitively, I find that both service and drug quality fall when the customer presents more information.
Agricultural transformation is a priority for Africa. Across the continent, the significant information needs of farmers—accurate local weather forecasts, relevant advice on agricultural practices and input use, real time price information and market logistics—remain largely unmet. To the extent that rural regions are typically sparsely populated with limited infrastructure and dispersed markets, the use of innovative information and communication technologies (ICTs) overcome some of these information asymmetries and connect farmers to opportunities that weren't necessarily available to them earlier. Harnessing the rapid growth of digital technologies holds hope for transformative agricultural development.
Seeking accountability from public service providers remains one of the most prominent governance challenges in developing countries. In recent years, there has been a burst of social accountability tools, and NGOs and governments have promoted their use widely. Broadly, social accountability refers to approaches that seek to foster accountability through enhanced civil society engagement.
The advocates of social accountability approaches believe that the regular cycle of elections—in spite of the near continuous cycle of elections for the village councils, state and centre—are not enough to bring about a substantive change in service delivery. In this context, there is the opportunity to experiment with alternative mechanisms of fostering social accountability. Researchers at the Centre for Future State of the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, UK, conclude from their field studies in Delhi and Sao Paulo, Brazil, that social accountability tools can be used to set the minimum required standard of public services by “highlighting deficiencies in existing provision or entitlements”. This also works when citizens’ demands are “framed in terms of legal or moral rights”.
As a set of approaches for “good governance”, social accountability tools represent an interesting collection of hypotheses. One, that involving citizens in local planning, budgeting and spending decisions will ensure that the design and implementation of public services is pro-poor. Local governments and decentralized systems for local planning and service delivery are the usual form in which this approach manifests itself.
It's a while since I blogged about the iPad. I thought it might be useful to pull all my tips on this handy little gadget (including some new ones) together in one post. I'm going to focus for the most part on using it to improve productivity, but there will be some thoughts at the end on using the iPad to have a little fun.
Get yourself a keyboard and stylus
There's a lot you can do without these add-ons, but they'll dramatically increase your productivity.
There are lots of keyboards on the market — here's a nice review. I waited until the Brydge came out. The Brydge team had functionality in mind, but what sold me was the design — it makes your iPad looks (almost) as cool as the MacBook Air but gives you the advantages of the iPad.
Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2012
Originally published on April 3, 2012
Knowledge, or the lack of, is often associated with the success or failure of development initiatives. For decades, communication’s main role was to fill the knowledge gap between what audiences knew and what they needed to know, with the assumption that this would induce change. We now know that this is seldom the case. In the modernization paradigm, media were expected to provide needed knowledge through messages that could fill knowledge gaps, build modern attitudes, and eventually shape behaviours. After years of under-delivering on their promises, development managers and decision-makers are increasingly realizing that it is not enough to have sound technical solutions and disseminate information in order to have audiences adopt the innovations.