Please sign and circulate the declaration below
The declaration below has been written and endorsed by a spectrum of “knowledge workers” – an unlovely term for people who research or discuss development issues in the media, in education and in other areas -who are deeply concerned with the implications of the Bank’s new internet project.
This declaration is unlike previous petitions against the Bank’s initiative. There is no attempt to lobby the World Bank or alter the Gateway’s structure or content. Previous such attempts have resulted in only marginal or cosmetic changes. Rather, this letter encourages people not to contribute to or use this Bank-backed scheme. The signatories of this letter have pledged to avoid any contact with the Bank’s development gateway, and to push forward with their own diverse research and publication agendas, including independent internet schemes.
This is a declaration that can be signed by anyone. Please mention any institutional affiliation when you sign – which will be for identification purposes and won’t imply the endorsement of your organisation. Send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and organization in the subject line. Or add your name below, forward the message to others and return the open letter to email@example.com if you are the 100th , 200th, etc. signatory.
Please distribute this call widely to your contacts. If every recipient sends it to at least five people or lists, then we can soon achieve a broader coverage than the World Bank’s hired PR company.
The Voice of the Turtle
The Development Gateway: A Declaration from Concerned Knowledge Workers
In July the World Bank will launch a multi-million dollar internet-based development knowledge initiative at www.developmentgateway.org .
Trumpeted as a place to find diverse perspectives on development, the Bank argues that its Development Gateway will be a convenient tool for civil society groups, officials, journalists and independent researchers. We disagree. On closer scrutiny, the Development Gateway initiative looks less like an attempt to encourage debate than a means to stifle, moderate and control dissenting opinion. We wish to warn colleagues of the perils of associating with or supporting this project.
There are three fundamental objections to the Gateway project. First the gateway privileges certain voices over others. The Gateway does not prioritise poorer people as site contributors, editors or viewers. The Bank’s heavy English-language bias exacerbates the dominance of official ‘development knowledge’. You will not find topics on “political economy” or “inequality” or “discrimination”, just concepts like “governance” and “human development”. Moreover the Gateway’s 130-issue taxonomy ghettoises cross-cutting issues such as gender and climate change.
Second, the claim that the site is independent is untenable. This is a clear attempt by the Bank to consolidate itself and its allies as the main authorities on “development knowledge”. This is reflected in both the content and process of the Gateway. For instance, in order to provide local content, the Gateway has its own country portals. These will be run by government officials, private business and civil society groups appointed without any clear criteria of representativeness. The content of these gateways will be policed. Within these country gateways, site contributors are told to avoid “country/locale specific events”, and not to use metaphors, puns or irony in order “to aid machine translation”.
The Bank is appointing individual or institutional “topic guides” to filter and organise material in each of the site’s subject areas. The Gateway is supposed to represent all perspectives and all types of analysis. The only reason to exclude items is if they fail to meet the site’s “quality” criteria, yet it remains extremely unclear as to how this quality threshold is determined. And given the volume and diversity of information posted on the internet daily, it is unlikely that the guides’ coverage will be comprehensive. With the best will in the world, then, topic guides’ selections will be biased in favour of the intellectual tastes of themselves and their contacts.
The third, and most pernicious, effect of the development gateway is to undermine alternatives. Instead of encouraging existing initiatives, the Bank has chosen to centralise internet coverage of development issues in a bid to sift and control the flow of ideas. This is likely to distract from and damage the development of diverse, independent internet sites on these issues.
This is why, in our individual capacities, we pledge to avoid all contact, whether official or otherwise, with the World Bank’s Development Gateway. We encourage our colleagues to undertake a similar pledge, and to support alternative sources of knowledge.
Signed (as individuals, organisation names provided for reference only)
Yash Tandon, International South Group Network, Zimbabwe
Patrick Bond, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Phil McMichael, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Chris Brooke, Magdalen College, Oxford University
Rutendo Kambarami, Communications Officer, Mwelekeo waNGO, Zimbabwe
1. Raj Patel, SEATINI, Harare
To sign, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and organization in the subject line. Or add your name here, forward the message to others and return the open letter to email@example.com if you are the 100th , 200th, etc. signatory.
*** Please circulate widely, though with apologies for crossposting ***