Robert Zoellick: 'Democratize Development Economics'

World Bank President Robert Zoellick calls for a rethink of development economics to better serve policymakers in his speech at Georgetown University on Sept. 29. Photo by: World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND World BankCC BY-NC-ND

World Bank President Robert Zoellick urged a rethink of development economics, calling for a “multi-polar” approach to development knowledge in order to recognize the increasing influence of developing nations as new poles of growth.

The recent economic and financial crises have made it more compelling to redefine development economics to make it more useful for policymaking, Zoellick said in a speech ahead of the bank’s annual meetings in Washington.

“There is a new opportunity, and certainly a pressing need, for dynamism in development economics.  Software has brought new tools; the Internet has brought new communications; rising economies have brought new experiences,” he said Sept. 29 at Georgetown University. “We need to listen and democratize development economics.”

To do this, the bank is modifying its process of conducting development research.

The bank, Zoellick said, is adopting a new approach to development research: “Open Data, Open Knowledge, Open Solutions.”

“This needs to be more than just a slogan. This needs to be a fundamentally new way of searching for development solutions, in a networked development architecture, where none dominates and all can play a part,” he said.

Zoellick acknowledged that the World Bank’s analytic work has “often lacked broad-based transparency.”

“We must look beyond an ‘elite retail’ model of research,” he said. “No longer can the model solely be to research a specific issue and write a paper hoping someone will read it. The new model must be ‘wholesale’ and networked. It must increasingly open information and knowledge to others by giving them the tools to do the economic research themselves.”

The “wholesale” model of research underscores “producing the tools for others to do the research and providing open access to those tools,” Martin Ravallion, director of the bank’s development research group, writes in the World Bank blog, “Let’s Talk Development.”

This approach has three objectives, Ravallion noted. First, it can empower researchers in poor nations by shifting from “’teaching the lessons from past research’ to facilitating new learning in specific contexts.”

It can also help foster greater collaboration between the bank’s staff and academics in rich nations, and those in developing nations. Finally, the approach can help to ensure more open and transparent policy analysis.

“The discipline of policy analysis―naturally dominated by economics―is increasingly sophisticated in its theories and methods. There are still long lags between the introduction of new theories and methods and their application to real-world problems. The Bank can play an important role in reducing the costs of understanding even the most sophisticated policy analysis, given that technical capabilities have increased among key stakeholders,” Ravallion explained.

The bank, at its annual meetings next week, will hold a two-day online live Internet discussion on key development issues.

“We will feed those issues into our discussions with ministers from around the world at the Development Committee discussion,” Zoellick said.

The World Bank is also launching an “Apps for Development Competition” to encourage new, innovative tools and applications for development. Apart from these, the bank has already launched other initiatives to help open up its data to the public.

Last year, the World Bank launched the Open Data initiative, which made available to the public more than 2,000 financial, business, health, economic, and human development indicators for more than 200 economies. In July, the bank launched an Access to Information policy, to enable policymakers, researchers and civil society look at its operational work.

About the author

  • Dsc05567

    Ma. Rizza Leonzon

    As a former staff writer, Rizza focused mainly on business coverage, including key donors such as the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.