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What our government clients think in fragile countries: A perspective from the Country Surveys

Sharon Felzer's picture
The World Bank Spring Meetings have just come to a close with much emphasis placed on the fragile states.  Sessions at the meetings focused on a range of relevant topics including “Financing for Peace” and “Supporting Private Enterprise in Conflict Affected Situations.”  The challenge that the Bank faces in the fragile states is considerable, with donor expectations high for the institution post IDA 18 replenishment.

The World Bank’s Country Survey Program has been surveying key influencers, in nearly all of its client countries systematically, since 2012, in order to assess and track their views over time. These respondents come from a range of stakeholder groups including government, media, private sector, civil society and academia.  The views of respondents from government (i.e., the offices of presidents/prime ministers/ministers/parliamentarians, employees of ministries, including PMUs, and other governmental bodies) are the focus of this blog (and how their views compare to those outside of government), because this group is one that Bank Group interacts with the most in ‘client’ mode.  In a sense, the Country Surveys are really ‘client satisfaction’ surveys when it comes to the thousands of government respondents who participate.

How do these government ‘clients’ think the Bank Group is faring in fragile and conflict states?  How do they perceive our engagement on the ground?  How can the Bank do better? Where is the perceived Bank Group niche, according to those who own the projects and programs that the Bank supports?

The Country Surveys provide insight into these questions (Eight FCV countries surveyed in FY 13 with a total of 1901 respondents; Six countries surveyed in FY 16 with 1537 respondents).

In many of the areas that the Country Surveys explore, government stakeholders and those outside of government share similar views. But there are some marked differences worth considering, when thinking about the Bank Group’s work in these complicated states. These relate to overall optimism, perceived development priorities, engagement and outreach, and the ways in which the Bank Group should work moving forward.

Government stakeholders are far more optimistic about their countries’ future than those respondents outside of government.   

This finding should be considered when developing efforts to build support for reform. While government officials may think that things are on the right track and move ahead accordingly (i.e., perhaps paying less attention to expectations of failure), the external influencers may be watching with far more skepticism. When building support for reform, this finding suggests the need for a strong, substantive narrative and salient messaging that reflect the concerns of those groups from which buy-in is needed.

While stakeholders across the board identify similar development priorities in their countries (energy, public sector governance, education, food security, ag/rural development and jobs top the list), subtle differences emerge. Government stakeholders are significantly more concerned about energy (in particular) and agriculture than those outside of government.  This emphasis on energy and agriculture (particularly now within the context of food security) is strongly aligned with the Bank Group’s focus in fragile states.

Similarly, while government stakeholders and those outside of government share aligned views on what would contribute most to poverty reduction , they differ significantly on water and sanitation (government views this sector as a more significant contributor to poverty reduction).

The World Bank’s focus on water is in full view in the recently released report “ Turbulent Waters: Pursuing Water Security in Fragile Contexts.”

Distinctions between government stakeholders’ views in fragile countries and other stakeholders’ views are illustrated most prominently in regards to engagement and outreach. Those outside of government are significantly less positive about how the Bank Group collaborates with civil society, private sector, and other donors and development partners. In addition, those outside of government are less inclined to think that the Bank Group includes the appropriate level of stakeholder engagement in its knowledge products. 

Those outside of government are generally less familiar with the Bank Group; Country Surveys demonstrate consistently that greater familiarity is linked to more positive views of the Bank’s outreach and work. Government respondents in fragile countries are more inclined to think that the Bank Group should collaborate more with Parliaments and local government, while those outside of government see significantly more value in Bank outreach NGOs/CBOs and the media.  Both agree nearly equally on the great importance of outreach to private sector.

When looking forward there are several important findings to emerge from respondents in fragile countries. First consider perceived Bank weaknesses.  Government respondents are more likely to say that the Bank Group’s greatest weakness is that it is too influenced by developed countries. Those outside of government are more inclined to emphasize the Bank’s inadequate collaboration outside of government. What drives the perception of developed country influence amongst government clients? Is it related to perceived alignment?  Residue from decades old conversations about structural adjustment?  Inadequate engagement outside of government? These are important questions to understand.

An increased emphasis on the Bank’s financial products emerges from the Country Survey data. The view that more innovative products would be welcome in fragile countries is shared by all respondents, but particularly by government respondents.

In terms of sector support, a noteworthy development relates to government respondents’ views of the health sector. While the sector is viewed by just slightly more than ten percent of respondents as a top development priority, nearly a third of government respondents reported in FY 16 that the Bank Group should focus on this area (up significantly from 18% in FY 13).  Further understanding of this somewhat asymmetrical finding might be worthwhile.

When considering the Bank’s added value within the context of other international donors, while all stakeholders see the Bank’s most important role in support public financial management, government stakeholders are more inclined to see value in Bank emphasis in the job sector (although a large percentage of all recognize the value the Bank brings to this area) and social cohesion.
In sum, understanding how different audiences perceive the Bank Group’s value, its strengths, and its weaknesses will allow for more strategic outreach, partnership, and alignment when building support for reform and sustainable development in client countries.  Fragile countries have their own distinct challenges; the country survey data is an important tool to more strategic engagement on the ground in these high priority environments.

To see all data and reporting, visit the World Bank Country Survey Program.

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