IFI governance


Changing tone or changing policy?

The World Bank's development research

29 November 2010

While the World Bank has lately changed its rhetoric on how to approach its knowledge role, critics fear that without internal governance reforms the new approach remains nothing but an empty slogan.

“A new multi-polar world requires a new multi-polar approach to knowledge” is the message of a late September Bank policy research working paper, Research for development: a World Bank perspective on future directions for research, authored by the development economics senior vice presidency. While stressing that “research and data” will remain “the essential elements of the Bank’s country programmes”, the paper calls for “a more open and strategic approach to research” grounded in “the experiences of developing countries”.

Shortly after the release of the paper, Bank president Robert Zoellick claimed that knowledge on development is “no longer about the Washington consensus. One cannot have a consensus about political economy from one city applying to all.” He called for the Bank to “democratise and demystify development economics, recognising that we do not have a monopoly to the answers.”

This participatory and heterogeneous approach to knowledge appears to be in stark contrast to the Bank’s traditional research model (see Update 70, 66, 54, 53). Dani Rodrik of Harvard University wondered if it is mere rhetoric: “I like [democratising development economics] as a slogan, but fear that it may end up another gimmick. Zoellick offers no new ideas on the governance and internal organisation of the Bank. And without changes in these, the bulk of the Bank’s research will continue to be done in Washington DC by economists from advanced nations.”