Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Transparency at the World Bank

This seems like an unqualifiedly good move:


World Development Indicators, Global Development Finance, Africa Development Indicators, and Global Economic Monitor are now free, open, and easy to access at data.worldbank.org.

Recognizing that transparency and accountability are essential to development, the World Bank Group now provides free, open, and easy access to its comprehensive set of data on living standards around the globe—some 2,000 indicators, including hundreds that go back 50 years. The data is available in Arabic, French, and Spanish in addition to English.

“I believe it’s important to make the data and knowledge of the World Bank available to everyone,” said World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick. “Statistics tell the story of people in developing and emerging countries and can play an important part in helping to overcome poverty. They are now easily accessible on the Web for all users, and can be used to create new apps for development. ”

The open data announcement coincides with the launch of the World Development Indicators (WDI) 2010, the Bank’s popular statistical resource. Apart from giving open access to the WDI, with nearly 1000 indicators, the initiative also opens up the Global Development Finance (GDF), Africa Development Indicators (ADI), Global Economic Monitor (GEM), and indicators from the Doing Business report.

Access to these new resources is available at data.worldbank.org, a central web site that makes it easier to find, use, and manipulate data. A data catalog lists the available databases. The Bank will continue to add databases in the months ahead.

It is not, perhaps, the kind of transparency that we immediately think of in relation to the opening up of global administrative bodies (e.g. in terms of decision-making and dispute resolution), but this is nonetheless an important development. So-called "indicators" are becoming increasingly important as a tool of global governance, and the World Bank has been at the very forefront of this move. Opening up its data in this way will not only provide a hugely useful resource for those who want to incorporate it in their own projects; it will also give plenty to chew over for those who approach the "turn to indicators" from a more critical perspective, and seek to unmask the inevitable political choices and interests that lie behind the apparently neutral, technical fa├žade.

Incidentally, the IILJ is leading its own Project on Indicators as a Global Technology, running in parallel to - and overlapping with - the GAL project more generally. Here's the blurb:

The use of indicators as a technique of global governance is increasing rapidly. Major examples include the World Bank’s Doing Business Indicators; the World Bank’s Good Governance and Rule of Law indicators; the Millennium Development Goals (which inform many indicators); many OECD indicators and rankings; the indicators produced by Transparency International, by Freedom House, and by consultancies specialized in advising investors on political risks; and, the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons indicators. Human rights indicators are being developed in the UN and regional and advocacy organizations. The burgeoning production and use of indicators has not been accompanied by systematic comparative study of, and reflection on, the implications, possibilities and pitfalls of this practice. What does it mean to use indicators as a technology of governance? How does the increasing use of indicators in global governance affect the distribution of power, and the power of the governed? How does it affect the nature of decision-making about the allocation of resources and efforts to monitor compliance with global standards? This project, directed by Kevin Davis, Benedict Kingsbury, and NYU legal anthropologist Sally Engle Merry, working closely with Meg Satterthwaite, Lewis Kornhauser, Richard Stewart, and other NYU faculty, examines this phenomenon. A framing paper and workshop series are in preparation.

Some papers are available at the link above; they are well worth a read for those interested (on the World Bank in particular, see Kevin Davis and Michael Kruse, Taking the Measure of Law: The Case of the Doing Business Project; on the project more generally, Kevin Davis, Benedict Kingsbury, and Sally Engle Merry, Indicators as a Technology of Global Governance).


Anonymous said...

I think that it is wonderful that the World bank has become more transparent. Now the question is whether parties will get some justice upon complaint.What is the use of being transparent when the Bank protects their own to the detriment of other?

Euan MacDonald said...

Thanks for the link - it's an interesting one. Important not to understate, however, the role that another accountabilitby mechanism - the WBAT - has played in apprently bringing these issues to the surface. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

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