10 problems with the World Bank Development Gateway

18 June 2001

  1. The Gateway’s Topic structure reflects an aim to organise development-related information in a way that is convenient for people who see the world through official development lenses. Cross-cutting issues such as gender and climate change are ghettoised and lose their force in the Gateway’s 130 issue taxonomy.
  2. The Gateway does not prioritise poorer people as site contributors, editors or viewers.
  3. The Bank’s claim that the Gateway site will filter material on the basis of its ‘quality’ is very controversial. It is often hard for families, communities, single organisations or academic disciplines to establish the boundaries of ‘quality’ analysis, let alone to establish this for everyone worldwide interested in development.
  4. The Bank plans to appoint individual or institutional “Topic Guides” as section editors. However, development issues are riven with stark conflicts and it is unclear which individuals or institutions are sufficiently trusted by all sides to perform such editing tasks.
  5. The Gateway may also be unworkable. Topic guides cannot hope to keep up with all web postings in their topic area, which could amount to thousands of pages per week written in hundreds of languages. If many people take advantage of the site’s interactivity this will add to Topic Guides’ burdens and enable those with most time to push their opinions.
  6. “Country Gateways” are planned for all aid-recipient countries. These will be run by committees of government officials, private businesses and civil society groups appointed without any clear criteria of representativity. It will also compete unfairly for funding and visitors with existing country sites.
  7. The Gateway is not prioritising non-English content and is imposing limits to expression which will further favour global development professionals over people working at the grassroots. Its draft language strategy suggests that “to aid machine translation” site contributors must avoid references to “country/locale-specific events” and not use metaphors, irony or puns.
  8. The moves to make the Gateway independent are too little too late. Companies and official bodies (like the Bank) which have contributed over $5million to the Gateway get an automatic place on the Gateway Foundation Board and the Board will only be established after most key decisions have been taken.
  9. The Editorial Committee will also be appointed after the Gateway is launched, and will find it impossible to police thousands of decisions being taken across the Gateway site.
  10. The Bank’s efforts to consult outside organisations on the Gateway have been limited in scope and impact. The Bank has implemented easy suggestions and ignored harder ones. It is trying to sell its concept rather than see what it could do to support groups which lack a voice on the net.

A Tower of Babel on the internet? The World Bank’s Development Gateway

Signatory letters & action