Data and Development: Problems, pathways & power. Comments on the World Development Report for 2021

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Comments on the World Development Report for 2021: “Data for Better Lives” by Alan Hudson & Jorge Florez. 

At Global Integrity, our focus is on supporting governance reformers and change agents around the world as they seek to address corruption and improve the use of public resources. Our strategy is based on the fact that these are complex and fundamentally political challenges that are not amenable to blueprint technical solutions. And our approach centers on supporting the locally-led, problem-focused, data-powered, cycles of learning and adaptation through which effective solutions to governance-related challenges emerge.

As such, we have lots of experience of exploring whether and how data can support processes of learning and adaptation through which local actors can lead the way in addressing complex challenges, by designing and implementing policies that shift the power dynamics and patterns of incentives that shape behaviors and hold problems in place.

Data and learning are part of our DNA. Therefore, we were excited to learn earlier this year that the World Bank’s World Development Report for 2021 will focus on “Data for Better Lives”, and are happy to have the opportunity to respond to the concept note. The consultation process seems to have been focused on trying to collect interesting examples that fit within the existing conceptual framework, and make the case that data can, indeed, contribute to better lives. Our response to the concept note and our suggestions for how to move forward, go beyond this. We hope nevertheless that our constructive feedback provides useful food for thought.

In our view, what would be most useful is a World Development Report that uses and analyses examples not to illustrate the argument currently made in the concept note, but instead to provide an overview of what is known, and what is not known, about the various pathways and associated obstacles that run from data to better development outcomes. And then, to set out a learning agenda to further advance knowledge and understanding, so that the power of data to fuel development journeys can be harnessed more effectively.


From the WDR 2021 Concept Note


When reviewing the concept note, we were concerned that the framing of the issue does not fully capture the variety of paths that can lead from better data to better lives. The theory of change sketched in figure 1, says nothing about the huge variety of development challenges  – and the drivers of behavior that hold development challenges in place – that need to be addressed to ensure better lives.

Data only makes a difference if it informs decisions, influences actions or shapes relationships amongst key actors as they try to address particular challenges. Understanding the key actors, and how their behavior might need to change, and the role that data might play in informing their actions, changing their behavior and shifting relationships, requires a focus on particular development challenges.

Without this, we believe there is a major gap in the conceptual framework which, by giving insufficient attention to the pathways of change, risks resulting in recommendations that are insufficiently nuanced and therefore are not as useful as they might be. A WDR2021 that gives insufficient attention to the diversity of development outcomes, and fails to explore the variety of pathways from data to better lives, would be a missed opportunity.

We look forward to seeing how the WDR2021 evolves and adapts. We wish the team well for the challenge of producing such a report and ensuring it responds to the COVID-19 challenges, and stand ready to engage further with the team.

To read more about how the WDR2021 could take the sort of approach we have in mind, see our full (only 4 pages!) submission here – feedback very welcome!

Alan Hudson
Executive Director

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