Expanding the World’s Development Knowledge
The World Bank produces innovative and evidence-based research to help its client countries and their partners meet their development ambitions. These efforts clarify the economic and social issues vital to successful projects and programs, guide the policy dialogue among country clients, and influence global development policies and thinking more generally. The Bank pursues its data and research work through Advisory Services and Analytics, flagship reports and publications, and through extensive knowledge work.
The Bank’s work spans multiple themes and regions, allowing the institution to harness multisectoral, integrated research that reflects the strategic priorities of countries, the Bank, and the wider development community. The diverse range of priority research areas includes service delivery, risk management, job creation and competitiveness, shared prosperity and inclusion, and global public goods, among others. These themes buttress the Bank’s overarching commitments to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity by accelerating inclusive growth, investing in people, and building resilience in families and communities to shocks and threats to their livelihoods and physical well-being.
Employing Advisory Services and Analytics: Technical advice on specific challenges
Advisory Services and Analytics (ASA)—that is, the World Bank’s nonlending activities—are a vital part of how it contributes to development. Member countries use the Bank’s technical advice and analysis to develop or implement better policies, programs, and reforms that help to sustain development over the long term. The funding for these products and activities comes from donor trust funds, the Bank’s own budget, or clients, who pay for them directly.
In fiscal 2017, the Bank delivered 1,423 ASA products in over 150 countries. The products ranged from reports on key economic and social issues to knowledge-sharing workshops, policy notes, and implementation action plans. The analysis often forms the basis for assistance strategies, government investment programs, and projects supported by Bank lending and guarantees. In the Middle East and North Africa region, for example, the Bank carries out analytical work and helps to develop strategies so that countries better understand the challenges facing refugees and host communities in order to formulate responses.
About 10 percent of the ASA portfolio consists of Reimbursable Advisory Services (RAS). These are highly customized and flexible advisory services requested and paid for by clients. The World Bank has around 200 active RAS engagements in about 50 countries across its six regions. In fiscal 2017, the Bank delivered about 140 such services in approximately 34 countries. Besides typical ASA activities, Reimbursable Advisory Services also offer preparation and implementation support for client-financed projects. Through such services, the Bank serves all its member states, including nonborrowing countries. Eligible clients include central governments and government agencies, municipalities, state-owned enterprises, civil society organizations, international organizations, and aid agencies.
Across different regions, Reimbursable Advisory Services are being used for different purposes. For example, they are being used to strengthen public financial management systems in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates; to increase the quality of health care in Poland; to strengthen internal audit in Kazakhstan; and to sup- port accountability and transparency reforms in Paraguay. A RAS program in Kuwait also focuses on quality improvements in education using a system-wide approach to reform that is based on international best practice and customized to the country’s needs.
Publishing flagship research on key development questions
The World Bank produces high-profile flagship publications that focus on key development topics. These publications are available to download online for free as part of its Open Access Policy. In fiscal 2017, the Bank published four key reports.
- Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality. The Poverty and Shared Prosperity series provides national and global audiences with the latest, most accurate estimates of trends in global poverty and shared prosperity. It also offers in-depth research on progressive policies and interventions that can improve the lives of the world’s poorest people. The inaugural edition found that the world made significant progress in the fight against poverty over the past three decades, reducing extreme poverty from 35 percent to 10.7 percent of the population in 2013. In 60 out of 83 countries that it measured, the incomes of the poorest 40 percent grew from 2008 to 2013 despite the global financial crisis. However, given the flat growth trends, tackling inequality will be critical to ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity.
- World Development Report 2017: Governance and the Law. The World Development Report, published annually since 1978, is an invaluable guide to the economic, social, and environmental state of the world today. The focus of the 2017 report, on governance and the law, found that improving governance is key to ensuring equitable growth in developing countries. By looking at country-specific examples, the report identified three winning ingredients for effective policies: guaranteeing credible commitment, supporting coordination, and promoting cooperation among policy actors.
- Global Economic Prospects. This semiannual flagship report examines global economic developments and prospects, with a special focus on emerging markets and developing countries. Global Economic Prospects, June 2017: A Fragile Recovery forecast that global economic growth would strengthen to 2.7 percent in 2017 amid a rebound in manufacturing and trade, rising market confidence, and stabilizing commodity prices. However, a number of risks, including economic and political uncertainty, could throw the recovery off track. The report warns that persistently weak productivity and investment growth could erode the long-term growth potential in emerging markets and developing economies and slow poverty reduction.
- Doing Business 2017: Equal Opportunity for All. The Doing Business report is an annual publication on the state of business regulations that affect the private sector within an economy. It is based on detailed diagnostics of the business regulatory system, the efficacy of the bureaucracy, and the nature of business governance. These characteristics can have important long-run implications for economic growth, which has accounted for a large part of poverty reduction in recent decades. Since its launch in 2003, the report has documented over 2,600 reforms undertaken by governments in areas measured by the report, an indication of the value of this storied report.
In addition to its publications and research, the World Bank harvests and provides data on a large set of indicators for client countries and development practitioners via the well-known World Development Indicators and the more recent Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals. The Open Data website, where Bank data are freely available in multiple languages, was redesigned this year to be faster and more mobile friendly.
Generating ideas and filling knowledge gaps: Trust fund support
Trust funds are often used to promote global public goods and pilot innovations that may later be brought to scale. Many of the World Bank’s knowledge works are supported by trust funds, a good example of which is the Knowledge for Change Program (KCP). The program is financed by a multidonor trust fund established to pool intellectual and financial resources to generate new knowledge, pilot new ideas, and fill the knowledge gap in development. Established in 2002, the program has raised over $60 million and funded more than 300 projects in research and data collection, which support the development of effective policies and programs in developing countries. Donor countries include Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
The Knowledge for Change Program supports innovations in data collection, helping to replace slow and expensive traditional methods. For example, a KCP project supported the development of a Computer-Assisted Personal Interviewing survey solution—a free software application for tablets to achieve faster, better, and cheaper data collection. The software has since been used in 85 countries. Another KCP project supplemented gaps in country census data in the Democratic Republic of Congo by using satellite imagery and machine learning methods to estimate household counts and select samples. The research is now being scaled up under a Strategic Research Program grant, which will feed into methodological guidelines on sampling using noncensus data.
The program also focuses on developing analytical tools to allow policy makers and researchers to generate their own analysis and produce evidence-based policy. For example, PovcalNet is an interactive computational tool that allows users to replicate calculations made by World Bank researchers in estimating the extent of absolute poverty in the world and in different countries and regions. It can also perform a range of simulations and compute the economic growth rate needed to reach the poverty reduction goal. In fiscal 2017, PovcalNet delivered 33.8 million computations for users around the world.