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WDR2017

Do ‘media’ and civil society work together well to produce change? (Notes from a CIMA Seminar)

Sina Odugbemi's picture

In the untroubled, quotidian quietude of a cloudy morning in Washington DC on Tuesday this week, I walked from World Bank HQ on Pennsylvania Avenue to the offices of the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) on F Street, hoping that the skies above would not open up uproariously and ruin the walk. Happily, they did not, and I made it to the plush offices of CIMA, a think tank within the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). I was there to attend a seminar on: Media and Civic Engagement: From Protests to Dialogue. I had been attracted by both the topic and the panelists: Naomi Hossain of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Sussex, England, Ivana Bajrovic of NED, Tara Susman-Pena of IREX, a major implementing agency in development, and the World Bank’s own Marco Larizza, one of the authors of the World Development Report 2017 on Governance and Law. The session was ably moderated by Nicholas Benequista of CIMA.

You will notice that I put the word media in quotation marks in the title of the piece.  That is because, as often happens in these events, the term at the center of the discussion turned out to be contested. What is media as a subject of intervention and support in international development? It became clear that as the discussion went on that there are those who still think of media in the sense of traditional print and broadcast entities. But there are those --and I am in that group --who think of media in terms of media systems, as in the media ecosystem in a particular country: the totality of the means of communication, how it is structured, owned and governed. There is a normative element here of course; you also want the media system to travel firmly in the direction of pluralism, independence and a capacity to serve as not only an inclusive public forum but as a truculent watchdog. Finally, at the seminar Susman-Pena of IREX was promoting the organization’s intriguing new formulation: Vibrant Information Systems.

Two cheers for the 2017 Governance and the Law World Development Report

Brian Levy's picture
The 2017 World Development Report is a landmark document for the development community. Historically, the point of departure for development practitioners (including those within the World Bank) has been to promulgate technocratic, ‘best practice’ solutions to development challenges. For more than two decades, this ‘best practice’ approach has been put into question by a growing avalanche of research on the political, institutional and governance underpinnings of development. The 2017 WDR does an heroic job of assembling and synthesizing this voluminous research into a compelling statement of why ‘best practices’ fail to address some core constraints, and thus do not achieve their intended results.
 

Some will doubtless critique the report for its  promiscuous use of jargon. But empathy is called for. The WDR team surely confronted some formidable internal political challenges. It needed to frame its argumentation in a way that spoke directly to economists, who remain intellectually hegemonic within the organization. As important, it needed a framing that was politically acceptable across the range of the extraordinarily diverse constituencies that make up the Executive Directors of the Bank – from the United States, to China, to Russia, to the Nordic countries as well as Latin American, African and other Asian and European constituencies. My sense  is that the document has met this challenge. So a first loud cheer to the WDR for successfully, and hopefully irreversibly, consolidating the centrality of politics and institutions in the development discourse.