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Zoellick: Development Economics Needs to Better Help Policymakers

CnDG, September 30, 2010 Adjust font size:

World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick Thursday urged a rethink of development economics to make it more useful to policy makers and announced a reorientation of World Bank research so it taps more effectively the experiences in developing countries through "Open Data, Open Knowledge, Open Solutions".

In a speech ahead of the Bank's Annual Meetings in Washington, Zoellick said the global economic crisis had made the need for a rethink of development economics even more compelling. Development knowledge should become "multi-polar" to recognize the rising importance of developing countries as new poles of growth and experience.

"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 told an audience at Georgetown University. "We need to listen and democratize development economics."

"Even before the crisis there was a questioning of prevailing paradigms and a sense that development economics needed rethinking," Zoellick said. "The crisis has only made that more compelling."

As the largest single source of development knowledge, the World Bank's role must change if it wanted to keep its status as a pioneer in development economics research, Zoellick said.

"A new multi-polar economy requires multi-polar knowledge," he said. "We need to democratize and demystify development economics, recognizing that we do not have a monopoly on the answers. We need to throw open the doors, recognizing that others can find and create their own solutions. And this open research revolution is underway. We need to recognize that development knowledge is no longer the sole province of the researcher, the scholar, or the ivory tower."

The World Bank would supplement its "elite retail" model of economic research, which had economists focusing on specific research issues and then writing papers, with a "wholesale" and networked research model. This new model would increasingly rely on giving outsiders software tools and access through the Internet to the Bank's store of data so that they could do their own research and data analysis and thereby contribute to knowledge about development. An "Apps for Development Competition" would encourage new, innovative tools and applications. These initiatives would allow the Bank to tap the vast experience in developing countries.

"This is the direction that I want the World Bank to take. This is democratizing development economics," Zoellick said. "This will forever change how we conduct development research."

To become more relevant for policy makers, development economics needed to address the most pressing questions facing developing country leaders and to recognize that different approaches may be needed at different stages of development.

"Too often research economists seem not to start with the key knowledge gaps facing development practitioners, but rather search for questions they can answer with the industry's currently favorite tools," Zoellick said.

"The record of development has shown that one size won't fit all," Zoellick said. "The right policies may differ across phases of development -- for example reliance on export-led growth versus domestic demand, or on different types of innovation, depending on the closeness of companies to technology frontiers. The right policies may differ now from the 1970s given the changes brought about by the internet and the growing importance of supply chains in international transactions."

In a call to question received wisdoms, Zoellick outlined four gaps in knowledge on how to more effectively overcome poverty and encourage inclusive and sustainable growth. He called on researchers and people outside the Bank to debate these and other gaps they identified. These four gaps were outlined in a paper published today entitled: "Research for Development: A World Bank perspective on future directions for research."

First, there needs to be a better understanding of how economic transformation happens. The growth Commission chaired by Michael Spence identifies 13 economies that have kept up a high rate of economic growth over 25 years. Why so few? Second, more work should be done on discovering how to better understand how access to economic opportunities, including the private sector, can be broadened so that societies tap the creativities and energy of everyone. Third, the world is riskier than many supposed. More attention should therefore be paid to how to handle the risks ranging from natural disasters to health pandemics, wars and civil strife, oil and food price shocks, and regional and global economic crises that threaten the world’s vulnerable. Fourth, there is a need to know what works, and for a research agenda that focuses on results. There is a need to gather more evidence to assess the effectiveness of development efforts, including aid.

"World Bank clients need it, our shareholders demand it, and practical development economics will wither on the vine without it," Zoellick said.

(China Development Gateway September 30, 2010)

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