WDR 2015: Mind over matter

3 February 2015

The World Bank’s 2015 annual World Development Report (WDR) Mind, society and behaviour, published in December 2014, uses behavioural economics to scrutinise “how humans think … (the processes of mind) and how history and context shape thinking …  (the influence of society) [to] improve the design and implementation of development policies and interventions that target human choice and action (behaviour).” The report looks at the link between individual decision making and policies in areas such as child development, health and climate change. Hans Bos of the American Institutes for Research commented: “The World Bank is quite dogmatically wedded to the idea of free markets, [and] information about pricing, rational decision-making. So for them to take a step back and highlight the additional information out there that might help remove limitations – that’s very good”. However, Duncan Green of NGO Oxfam blogged about the report’s limitations, including “the importance of power and politics in (mis)shaping ‘mind, society and behaviour’ and “no acknowledgement of the potential Orwellian dark side of new improved behavioural manipulation”.

The final chapter looks at the bias of development professionals, including 1,850 Bank staff, finding clear examples of staff bias: “development professionals are not always good at predicting how poverty shapes mindsets”, the report concluded. According to the Financial Times in late January: “The comments and conclusions not only raise questions about the World Bank’s past performance, and the extent to which its projects have been flawed as a result of the bias of its staff. It also raises concerns about the approach of other donor organisations and those thousands of non-government organisations that attempt to alleviate poverty in the world’s poorest countries.”

The 2016 WDR, led by Deepak Mishra and Uwe Deichmann, will focus on the role of the internet in social and economic growth.