An important part of World Bank President Jim Kim’s plan to remake the Washington, D.C.-based institution is to change how the the institution uses, manages, and disseminates knowledge.
This so-called “global practices” model is intended to help bank staff apply their technical knowledge more fluidly across countries and regions.
But how will the changes affect research teams, as the shift toward more evidence-based policy and analysis could entail a bigger operational role for research? Andrew Burns, senior economist at the World Bank and lead author of the World Economic Prospects Report, gave us some interesting insights.
“It … means a sort of obligation on the part of research to be more operationally relevant.” he explained. “And you know, those are tricky things to actually make happen because often times, what’s operationally relevant is difficult to get an economically robust result for and that of course is a source of frustration for people working on the ground and equally a source of frustration for the researchers who are actually trying to expand the walls of knowledge.”
Burns said he was “relatively optimistic” that the global practices would concentrate the bank’s practical knowledge and provide an opportunity to improve communication between the operational and research sides of the bank, although he thinks some natural tension will likely remain.
“Policy makers do have to act, and they do have to implement policies in the areas where the knowledge is imperfect, and what researchers are concerned about is being asked to draw stronger conclusions than their research will support.” he said. “I think that’s a healthy tension.”
The World Bank’s operating budget for the next fiscal year will reveal how much bigger a role the research teams will play in the bank’s redesigned business model. It will also show if the global practices themselves will receive allocations for knowledge synthesis and creation independent from the multi-donor trust funds that often drive such initiatives.
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