Opinion: Consultation, participation, and disclosure of information — lessons from the World Bank Inspection Panel

Community members meet with an Inspection Panel team to discuss the Albania Power Sector Generation and Restructuring Project. Photo by: World Bank / Inspection Panel
View the World Bank Inspection Panel's report on consultation, participation, and disclosure here.

The World Bank Inspection Panel has released a report offering lessons on consultation, participation, and disclosure, the fourth in its Emerging Lessons Series. The series aims to contribute to learning at the World Bank, and among the global development community at large, by drawing on lessons from nearly a quarter-century of experience in dealing with the complex environmental and social cases that come to the Panel.

The first three reports in the series identified lessons from Panel cases involving involuntary resettlement, indigenous peoples, and environmental assessment. The most recent report relates to issues of consultation, participation, and disclosure of information. Of the 120 requests for inspection received by the Panel before the report was published, 106 involved these interconnected issues. These issues also were involved in 30 of the 34 cases the Panel has investigated. The new report identifies five lessons from them.

1. Identifying all relevant stakeholders and engaging with appropriate representatives is crucial to establishing meaningful consultation and participation.

When consulting with indigenous groups in particular, it is important to consider the cultural complexity of communities and to engage with their different segments, including women, elders, and youth.

“Consultation is often a complex and challenging process, especially when communities oppose a project or are fragmented in their views. But done correctly, consultations help projects achieve improved development results and deliver benefits for communities.”

2. Disclosing all critical project-related information, including potential risks and impacts, in a timely and accessible manner is the foundation for ensuring effective and meaningful participation.

Stakeholders should be provided with an adequate amount of time to review the information shared to ensure that worthwhile consultations on project design can be conducted.

3. Timely and accessible consultations that utilize culturally appropriate communication tools and give due consideration to the local context are essential.

What is the World Bank Inspection Panel?

The Inspection Panel is an independent accountability mechanism created in 1993 by the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors to investigate complaints submitted by people who believe they are being harmed due to the bank not following its policies and procedures in projects that it funds. Since then, the Panel has received 120 complaints and investigated 34 of them.

The Panel is independent of bank management and reports directly to the board. It consists of three members appointed by the board for five-year, nonrenewable terms and has a secretariat that provides operational and administrative support. For investigations, the Panel hires independent experts to ensure objective and professional assessments of the issues.

Last year, at the request of the World Bank’s Committee on Development Effectiveness, the Panel began publishing a series of reports drawing on the main lessons that have emerged from its caseload since the mid-1990s.

Starting consultations early in the project cycle enables stakeholders to provide insights into both the project design and the identification of environmental and social risks and impacts.

4. Consultation and participation should be continuous, foster two-way communication and adequately respond to feedback from affected communities.

The Panel’s experience has shown that renewed consultations with updated information are particularly needed when circumstances change, such as in the case of long delays during implementation or modifications in the project design.

5. Considering the objectives of the different consultation requirements under the World Bank’s safeguard policies is important.

Fulfilling the purpose of consultations throughout the project cycle requires a different level of engagement under each safeguard policy: environmental assessment, indigenous peoples, physical cultural resources, and involuntary resettlement.

These five lessons can be identified in several Panel cases, including the investigation into the Albania Power Sector Generation and Restructuring Project.

In this case, the Panel found no record of any attempt to proactively engage with the relevant stakeholders; consultations took place only after key project decisions were made. Even when consultations did occur, there was neither adequate notification to project-affected people nor proper disclosure of project documents prior to the meetings.

The Panel concluded that meaningful engagement could have revealed the concerns and fears of the local population about the project, thus preventing harm.  

Indeed, the Panel’s almost 25 years of experience has shown that consultation is a tool to empower affected people and communities around the world to participate in the development process, and to integrate their voices into projects that affect their lives.

It’s not always easy. Consultation is often a complex and challenging process, especially when communities oppose a project or are fragmented in their views. But done correctly, consultations help projects achieve improved development results and deliver benefits for communities.

Last year, the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved a new Environmental and Social Framework, which includes Environmental and Social Standard 10 — Stakeholder Engagement and Information Disclosure. Several other ESF standards include consultation requirements.

Since the ESF will not take effect until 2018, the lessons included in the Panel’s new report are based on cases to which the existing policies apply. Nevertheless, it is the Panel’s hope that the lessons identified in the report will be useful for implementing future World Bank-financed projects under the new framework, as well as for development practitioners worldwide.

To find out more about the Inspection Panel’s Emerging Lessons Series report on consultation, participation, and disclosure of information, click here.

You have 2 free articles left
Log in or sign-up to unlock all of the free news on Devex.

About the author

  • Untitled

    The Inspection Panel

    The Inspection Panel is an independent accountability mechanism created in 1993 by the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors to investigate complaints from people who believe they are being harmed due to the Bank not following its policies and procedures in projects that it funds. The Panel reports directly to the Board and is made up of three members appointed by the Board for five-year non-renewable terms.