Controversy over knowledge development report

15 September 1998

Drafting the 1998 World Development Report has proved so controversial that one of its co-authors resigned and the Board asked for changes which delayed its print schedule. NGOs and some Bank operations staff think the change made will not be enough to prevent the report being an embarassment.

The report, on “Knowledge and Information for Development”, aims to set out the importance of knowledge in economics and to developing countries. It analyses important issues including the East Asian financial crisis, research and development spending, credit markets, communication technologies, patenting, agricultural technology, environmental policy-making and education.

It concludes that most developing countries cannot produce knowledge effectively so they should tap it from other countries through mechanisms such as foreign direct investment and licensing. NGOs and community organisations should be used to channel knowledge as well as state organisations.

At a London consultation meeting NGOs and academics felt that the Report touched on many interesting issues, but failed to present important arguments, and backed away from strong pro-poor, pro-environment policy conclusions in many key areas.

A number of people at that meeting and elsewhere expressed concern that the report was only partly a research piece, and mainly aimed to justify the World Bank’s increasing role as a “knowledge bank” and promote Joe Stiglitz’s views on “knowledge gaps” as crucial underscrutinised factors in economics.

There are various launch seminars and other meetings to discuss follow-up. Contact the Project for details.