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Thoughts on citizen engagement as a game changer for development

Jeff Thindwa's picture

UNDP_India
As we enter the last week of the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on Citizen Engagement— developed here at the Bank in partnership with London School of Economics, Overseas Development Institute, Participedia and CIVICUS— let’s explore the central question posed in the course: Is Citizen Engagement a Game Changer for Development?

In a blog following the London MOOC event, Duncan Edwards argued the need to think hard about the approaches we adopt in advancing citizen engagement to address development challenges.

Big steps toward Ghana’s digital future

Kaoru Kimura's picture
“Digitization” is a relatively niche topic in within information and communication technology (ICT), but the demand for “digitization” in the development field has grown significantly over the last few years, especially in Africa.

When we say “digitization”, you may think that it is just scanning or capturing paper records into a digital format. That’s partially correct, but the actual work cycle of digitization goes beyond what you think. It includes the whole process of transforming the data on paper records into “digital data,” which we can identify, search, access, retrieve, update, and archive electronically.

The steps toward digitization start with categorizing physical (original) paper records (e.g. sorting, listing and boxing) and assessment of the volume of workload.  The depth and potential impact of digitization is huge. The digitized records will reduce errors and transaction costs in public administration. They will also improve government accountability and the quality of national statistics.

Eventually, digitization will support more timely and accurate data to a country’s Open Data Portal. Digital public records data from different government entities could be integrated, and eventually the government will provide more seamless and efficient public service delivery (e.g. births registry linked to issuance of national ID, passport or driver’s license). In addition, the process of “digitization” will result in the creation of digital job opportunities for unemployed youth who have been trained to digitize records.

Through collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation’s “Digital Jobs in Africa” initiatives, our team delivered a Digitization Capacity Building Program late last year. The main objective of this program was to build the institutional capacity of priority government agencies that are managing critical public records and therefore have a powerful need for digitization.

Development as Freedom in a Digital Age: join us for the book launch event on April 9

Soren Gigler's picture

Cover of Development as Freedom in a Digital Age Book

The majority of the poor in the world are gaining access to these technologies for the first time. The real question remains: does having access to a cell phone, the Internet, or social media have any tangible benefits for the living conditions of the most marginalized among the poor?
 
Is the “digital divide” widening or narrowing the “economic divide”? Today being digital literate has become imperative for accessing economic, social, and political opportunities.

Digitizing the university library for an enhanced learning experience

Shiro Nakata's picture
 

Components of the newly established RFID-based LMS system
 

The library of any academic institution plays a key role in providing knowledge-based support to its faculty members, researchers and students. In recent years, the ‘digital library’ has emerged as a novel concept. It allows the access to and sharing of literary information and resources in digital and non-digital forms within the local and global communities. However, for Bangladesh a ‘digital library’ was only a dream until the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) under the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) intervened. The Central Library of the Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET) has now been digitized. The library is now a role model for other universities in Bangladesh.

'Mission-oriented' strategies to invest in innovation: Competitiveness via an enterprising public sector

Christopher Colford's picture
Mariana Mazzucato on "The Entrepreneurial State"


“This is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” That quip sprang readily to mind this week – it was coined in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, when he welcomed a group of Nobel laureates to the White House – at a paradigm-shifting, synapse-snapping seminar featuring Prof. Mariana Mazzucato and other leading economics scholars, who convened for a think-tank symposium on innovation policy and competitiveness strategy.

The ideal of innovative, inclusive, green and sustainable economic growth is achievable, Mazzucato explained to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation – if policymakers and private-sector firms recognize that a dynamic economy requires a “mission-oriented” approach to driving technological innovation. An acclaimed economist at the University of Sussex – and the author of, among other works,“The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths” – Mazzucato is inspiring an increasingly wide-ranging debate over how to create higher-quality jobs in higher-value industries by sharpening economies’ competitiveness.

An essential driver of creativity is “the innovative state,” as Mazzucato recently detailed in an essay in the journal Foreign Affairs – through disciplined, deliberate public-sector investment, not just in basic research, but in risk-taking ventures as a key stimulant to economy-wide growth. That requires a forthright embrace of the public sector’s ability – and responsibility – to “actively shape and create markets, not just fix market failures.”

With a frisson of what one panelist called “the goosebump factor” enlivening the ITIF seminar – which was moderated by another top scholar of innovation and competitiveness, ITIF’s Rob Atkinson – the think-tank crowd heard Mazzucato outline the need for public-sector agencies to be, not just an occasional partner of private-sector firms, but a persistent driver of investment in leading-edge industries.

Industrial policy is finally back on the agenda,” Mazzucato asserted at the start of her ITIF remarks. Yet her vision of a competitiveness-minded public sector promoting a modernized version of industrial policy goes far beyond the long-ago experiments in heavy-handed planning that many free-market fundamentalists – forever in thrall to Thatcherism – still enjoy deriding as doomed attempts to “pick winners and losers.” Political Washington’s stale bickering over such a frozen-in-time caricature of industrial policy has long since been eclipsed, among economics scholars and practitioners, by the imaginative approaches of Mazzucato and others to energizing “the entrepreneurial state.”

Focusing the debate on the many pro-active instruments that the public sector can assert to help channel investment into innovation, Mazzucato hurled the defeatist “picking winners and losers” accusation back at the laissez-faire fatalists: “The question is not whether we should ‘pick’ but how.”

“The ‘entrepreneurial’ state, to me, means the state being willing and able to take on risk, to take on real fundamental uncertainty,” Mazzucato recently told The Financial Times. An enterprising public sector has often proven far more venturesome than short-term-focused private-sector firms, which often shy away from higher-risk, higher-reward investments that might diminish their next quarter's profits.   

“Venture capitalists themselves often enter [the innovation process] late in the game. In biotechnology, they actually came in after the state had made some of the most radical, revolutionary investments – which, after all, will often fail,” said Mazzucato. “And this is a very important point. Innovation is uncertain. It will often fail. So you need to make sure that the government budget can also fund some of the failures, cover the losses, as well as reap the return from some of the successes to fund the next round” of investments in innovation.

In his enthusiastic review of Mazzucato’s book, economics sage Martin Wolf of the Financial Times noted that energetic public-sector investment in innovation – and the abdication by private-sector firms of their oft-bragged-about, seldom-fulfilled role as bold risk-takers – has led to a “free-rider” problem that distorts incentives.

“Government has increasingly accepted that it funds the risks, while the private sector reaps the rewards,” wrote Wolf. “What is emerging, then, is not a truly symbiotic ecosystem of innovation, but a parasitic one, in which the most loss-making elements are socialised, while the profitmaking ones are largely privatised.” Neoclassical purists' continued scorn for the positive role of innovation-minded public-sector investment, Wolf reasoned, may be “the greatest threat to rising prosperity” in austerity-pinched Western economies.

Mazzucato’s analysis at ITIF reminded economy-watchers of how far the innovation-policy discussion has advanced, even as laissez-faire dogmatists belabor their weary bromides about the supposed taboo against “picking winners and losers.” Propelling a more nuanced vision of competitiveness strategy, as an improvement on earlier approaches to industrial policy, this week’s ITIF seminar advanced an enterprising agenda that Washington should weigh more often – analyzing not whether, but how, the public sector and the private sector can share the responsibility of crafting pro-growth policies and pro-jobs initiatives sans frontières. Meeting that challenge will require a paradigm-changing determination to champion an entrepreneurial public sector as a positive catalyst for creativity.

Mazzucato: "Value Creation" -- Dynamic Role for Government


 

Burkina Faso's revolution - an extreme case of open data and government transition

Liz Carolan's picture

Literally translated Burkina Faso means “land of the upright people.” It has long been one of West Africa’s most stable countries, despite having one of world’s lowest GDPs and being surrounded by countries with serious security issues, like Mali and Nigeria. In October 2014 Burkina Faso found its way onto TV screens around the world - a 36 hour popular uprising forced long-term leader Blaise Compaore from office. An interim administration was appointed and elections are planned for 11th October 2015, the first for 30 years without Compaore’s candidacy.

Open Data - Burkina Faso
One unexpected outcome of Burkina Faso’s revolution has been a strengthening of the country’s open data initiative. The interim administration, reflecting on some of the root causes of the revolution, is looking to transparency, as well as youth employment in ICT, as a stabilizing force (you can find the minutes of their last cabinet meeting online here). A small, dedicated government team built an alpha open data portal and pilot app the summer before the revolution, together with volunteers from civil society and some support from ODI and the World Bank. It was presented at the ODI Summit by the Director General Alfred Sawadogo.
 

In early March, World Bank colleagues and I visited Ouagadougou again to work alongside government officials to support a strategic action plan for the next phase of Burkina Faso’s open data initiative, including a grant from the World Bank focused on climate change adaptation.

How cellphones helped to dramatically reduce new cases of Dengue fever in Pakistan

Ravi Kumar's picture
Photo: Johan Larsson/CC


“This dengue has become a calamity,” Saad Azeem said in September 2011. He wasn’t exaggerating. Azeem, a 45 year-old police officer, was “at home suffering from the fever and mourning the death of his elderly father.”
 
Sadly this wasn’t the case just for Azeem. Everyone was affected in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, the most populous province of Pakistan. The fever didn’t discriminate. Dengue mosquitoes were affecting the poor and the rich, the old, and the young. Out of more than 12,000 people who were infected in Pakistan, at least 10,000 resided in Lahore.
 
It was a disaster.

Public spaces - not a “nice to have” but a basic need for cities

Sangmoo Kim's picture
The benefits of public spaces in the poorest parts of the world
Source: World Bank Staff

We often think of amenities such as quality streets, squares, waterfronts, public buildings, and other well-designed public spaces as luxury amenities for affluent communities. However, research increasingly suggests that they are even more critical to well-being of the poor and the development of their communities, who often do not have spacious homes and gardens to retreat to.

Living in a confined room without adequate space and sunlight increases the likelihood of health problems, restricts interaction and other productive activities. Public spaces are the living rooms, gardens and corridors of urban areas. They serve to extend small living spaces and providing areas for social interaction and economic activities, which improves the development and desirability of a community. This increases productivity and attracts human capital while providing an improved quality of life as highlighted in the upcoming Urbanization in South Asia report.

Despite their importance, public spaces are often poorly integrated or neglected in planning and urban development. However, more and more research suggests that investing in them can create prosperous, livable, and equitable cities in developing countries. UN-Habitat has studied the contribution of streets as public spaces on the prosperity of cities, which finds a correlation between expansive street grids and prosperity as well as developing a public space toolkit.

Six reasons to do Citizen Engagement

Mario Marcel's picture
 Chhor Sokunthea / World Bank
Kampong Thom Province, Cambodia. Photo: Chhor Sokunthea / World Bank


Two weeks ago, we launched an exciting new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Citizen Engagement hosted on Coursera and in partnership with the London School of Economics, the Overseas Development Institute, Participedia, and CIVICUS.

To date, over 15,000 people from 192 countries (45% women) have enrolled in the course and our digital footprint continues to be strong:  the launch event page has had over 2,500 unique visitors while many continue to use the hashtag #CitizensEngage on Twitter.
 
These healthy metrics are a strong indication of just how timely and significant this issue has become and is the latest reason why I firmly believe in the power of engaging citizens to build good governance. This MOOC therefore is a key component of the World Bank Group’s commitment to develop a citizen perspective on governance to improve the contribution of institutions to development.
 
Too often citizen engagement is seen with suspicion, skepticism or fear by policymakers. Yet let me offer six compelling reasons why it is necessary, feasible and useful to do it:


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