Blinding with Science or encouraging debate?

How World Bank analysis determines PRSP policies

16 September 2002 | Briefings

September 2002

This report examines the powerful roles of the World Bank in determining the policies chosen by PRSP countries. It extends the arguments about what is going wrong with PRSPs. It argues that the Bank most of the time no longer has to rely on its financial clout alone, as it is winning arguments upstream through its global and national-level studies, and its extensive network of official, journalist and academic contacts.

The report was written by the Bretton Woods Project and published in association with World Vision. It sets out how the Bank is analysing client country policies in an ever-expanding range of areas: from overall economic performance and public expenditure management, to trade integration, good governance and gender. The Bank’s data and recommendations are a key building block of its country strategies and those of other donors.

The Poverty Reduction Strategy process, introduced by the World Bank and IMF in 1999, is supposed to ensure that governments and civil society groups take the lead in defining policies that the Bank and Fund should support. But many commentators have complained that macroeconomic policy choices have not been adequately debated and that few countries have deviated from standard options.

The Bank constantly talks about capacity- building and listening, but seems reluctant to cede control of policy formulation processes or to recognise perspectives that diverge markedly from orthodox Washington thinking. Quoting from many leading academics who are critical of World Bank analytical approaches, the briefing aims to be a resource for organizations considering whether and how to engage with the PRSP process.

It also provides a critical assessment of the current moves to introduce “Poverty and Social Impact Analysis (PSIA)”. PSIA is supposed to involve the use of more diverse analytical approaches in considering possible policy approaches, as well as greater transparency and accountability in the process of making.

The briefing recommends taking further action to break the Bank’s near monopoly on development analysis. This can only be achieved by diversifying the agencies which commission and produce knowledge and by making the World Bank more receptive to diverse perspectives.

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Karen Brock and Rosemary McGee, Participation Group, Institute for Development Studies:

“You advocate that analysis commissioned by the Bank “should be defined and produced in an open manner and, ideally, be carried out by national researchers and civil society groups”. Whilst this solution would obviously reduce the size and authority of the international “expert” industry, which would be a positive thing for strengthening the voices of Southern experts, we think it’s a mistake to assume that getting research carried out by national researchers or civil society groups is on its own a solution.” Read full letter

Further responses to the briefing or responses to this letter welcome. Send to Fabien Lefrançois