There is growing Bank – CSO policy dialogue occurring via blogs which is generating unexpected thoughtful and frank exchange of views. The most recent case was a few weeks back when Justin Lin, the World Bank’s Chief Economist, was invited to be a guest blogger on the “From Poverty to Power” blog page maintained by Oxfam/GB’s Head of Research, Duncan Green. The exchange was on Justin’s recent paper "Growth Identification and Facilitation" on the role governments play in promoting economic growth. Many CSOs, such as Oxfam, feel that the Bank is undergoing a paradigm shift by now providing developing countries with more ‘policy space’ to design their own economic plans, including industrial policies to support nascent industries.
This exchange follows an earlier blog interaction between Shanta Devarajan (Chief Economist for the Bank’s Africa Region) who hosts the Africa Can…End Poverty blog, and Barbara Stocking (the CEO of Oxfam/GB) on the Africa region’s “Quiet Corruption” paper. Rather than responding privately to a letter sent by Barbara on the report, which would have been the traditional way of engaging with Oxfam, Shanta posted both her letter and his response on the blog and invited others to comment. The debate hinged on whether it is appropriate to label pervasive absenteeism and low productivity by public education and health workers in the Africa region as a form of ‘corruption’ or whether these workers are ‘victims’ of poorly financed and managed government service delivery programs. The Bank is also using blogs to engage CSOs around the contentious issue of climate change. Athena Ballasteros, Senior Associate at World Resources Institute, has been invited to be a guest blogger on Bank’s Development in Changing Climate blog page. There she joins Bank staff and academics debating whether the Bank’s proposed new energy strategy and climate change investments truly represent a paradigm shift to a low-carbon development model or whether it is too soon to draw such a conclusion.
What this recent policy dialogue between the Bank and Oxfam seems to demonstrate is that the blogosphere is beginning to provide a useful venue for policy engagement between and Bank and its CSO interlocutors. Rather than using the media, which has been a traditional way for CSOs to engage the Bank and for the Bank to respond, blogs allow for less official and confrontation response. Since Bank staff are generally responding in their own names it allows them to be both less defensive (they don’t have the burden of responding for the institution), but also be more direct and frank in their response. In addition, blogs encourage and allow third party voices to be brought into the discussion. This was the case, for instance, in the exchange on the quiet corruption report which generated a number of comments and responses from Africa.
In short, these blog exchanges seem to be introducing the possibility for more frank and informal policy dialogue, which is also more collegial in tone. What this experience seems to be showing is that social media, with its podcasts, blogs and tweets, has the potential of scaling-up and improving the quality of Bank – CSO dialogue going forward.