Indonesia | Economics

Friday, January 12, 2007

A report on the World Bank you don't want to miss...

This week's Economist ran a story on a study done by a group of top academic economists, commissioned by the World Bank, to inspect the quality of (mostly) development research at the World Bank.
The inspectors liked a lot of what they found. But they said the Knowledge Bank was too often guilty of breaching prudential limits. Its leaders have staked out bold positions on some of the biggest questions in development without enough intellectual capital to back them up.

I haven't read the full report yet (which you can find here), but reading some of the individual thematic evaluations (which can be found here) is definitely an entertainment... One inspector made the following comment on one of the World Bank's "research project":
The only output in this research project is a training manual “which summarizes ways in which culture and poverty reduction activities harmonize and intersect”...

I am not an expert in this area whatsoever. However, I am somewhat suspicious that (1) this qualifies as research (there are no data beyond anecdotes, no original theory, and the literature review is at a very basic level), (2) I would trust the assertions made in the manual, and (3) the training manual would be that useful if it were to be used to train anyone.

(1) May not be a problem to the extent this is an output of the research group that serves the rest of the Bank.
(2) Is a more serious issue. The training manual reads as if it just echoes an ideology. Beyond the anecdotes, there is no mention of any evaluation of the usefulness of any of this in getting projects to work. For example we are just told that “Manfred Max-Neef., a Chilean professor and activist, together with his associates, developed a matrix of human need” and that the matrix has been used in several countries.
(3) The description of the various methods is so abstract that I do not think anybody, even if they were convinced, could just start following instruction in the manual and get a PRA, or any other method, going. It is lacking the concrete details and instruction that one would need to really put these things to work.

I don't mean to say this exemplifies the overall quality of World Bank's research projects—in fact, it's probably more of the exception than the rule. It's quoted here for its sheer entertainment value.


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