Response to the Gateway team

18 June 2001

Bretton Woods Project response to John Garrison of the Gateway team. Originally posted to Global Knowledge for Development list, 18 May 2001.

Dear fellow GKD list members,

First, thanks to all those who’ve written to me saying encouraging things about our new briefing on the Development Gateway. Thought I’d briefly respond to the post on Tuesday from John on the Bank’s Gateway team, building on what others have written already.

Whilst that post and the new FAQs on the site are helpful in increasing transparency around the Gateway’s aims and approaches, I’m disappointed that many of the key points I raised have been dealt with in the form of vague statements, not substantive arguments or specific pledges. Major examples include: – translation/localisation strategy – displacement of/competition with other sites.

Some other bits seem to have been just been cut and pasted from my briefing almost verbatim without actually giving any evidence or reason to believe it is so, ie: “the taxonomy of topic and sub-topic pages has evolved over time, in order to capture cross-cutting themes such as gender and ensure a more holistic view of development”. This is absolutely NOT the perception of many experienced site designers who know about development issues.

The response posted on this list is also actively misleading in some places. Ie. where it states that “the Gateway team has adopted a series of needed changes into its technology, editorial policy, and governance structure. These include: appointing an external Editorial Advisory Committee; and establishing a multi-stakeholder Gateway Foundation”. As spelled out in my briefing, it is welcome that the Bank is planning to introduce such bodies, but unfortunate that they will only be ready after the launch and will therefore not be able to take any of the key decisions on the project’s design. This is confirmed by a close reading of the new FAQs on the Gateway site.

It is also stated that the Gateway team has been “open and frank” in response to feedback. Whilst there have certainly been opportunities for dialogue, they have often ended without agreement or proper explanation.

The Gateway’s newsletter (which the Bretton Woods Project suggested they should launch, to keep people informed after the end of the e-consultation on this list) is often shockingly biased, shedding a positive light on the project and ignoring critical opinions.

The memo also argues that flexibility remains to change the site’s design, taxonomy etc. But it is flexibility only within tight boundaries. Given the evolution of the site over its 18 month planning period to date, I don’t think we can expect dramatic changes between (current) prototype 3.0 and (July launch) prototype 3.1, or probably thereafter.

Other recent contributors to this list have said that the Gateway project will go ahead, whatever criticism is received. That’s true. But I know from the people who read my briefing in draft (and others) that there are still many people who feel strongly against the Gateway. And there are many open questions/much to play for, ie:

  • Will a sufficient range of people post to the site to make the Gateway a real diverse, live community?
  • Will the Topic Guides content editing system be able to cope if they do?
  • Will the site display information in a sufficiently helpful way to make users (including people at the coal face of poverty reduction) come back, or will they prefer more targeted sites and portals?
  • Will funders be persuaded to contribute to the Gateway portal and Foundation, and on what terms?

If we keep the debate alive I believe we can still succeed to press the Bank to refocus their efforts, improve what they can achieve with the Gateway and leave space for others to do other things which they cannot do. If they don’t, we and others will work to contest and delegitimise the Gateway, whilst building up other sites.

Alex Wilks, Bretton Woods Project

18th May 2001

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