How Do World Bank Projects Commit to Citizen Engagement?

Date: March 2020
Author(s): Rachel Nadelman
Publication type: Policy Brief
Published by: Institute for Development Studies, Action for Empowerment and Accountability, Accountability Research Center

The World Bank provides one of the world’s largest sources of international development funding, in 2019 committing US$62.3bn in loans, grants, equity investments, and guarantees to governments and private businesses. The institution’s responsibilities to partner governments are well defined. Yet its duty to consider the perspectives and experiences of those affected by its projects, as well as of civil society more broadly, remains ambiguous.   Policy recommendations Provide more explicit support to strengthen the enabling environment for CE. The World Bank’s CE Strategic Framework does not mandate or prioritise investments in key elements of the enabling environment for informed citizen action, such as proactive social inclusion, independent monitoring, or proactive information disclosure. When CE efforts focus only on projectrelated mechanisms (i.e. consultation spaces and feedback hotlines) without simultaneously working to strengthen the overall enabling environment in which these are situated, processes can be neutered by more powerful interest groups. In fragile, conflict- and violence-affected settings, official spaces for participation are especially vulnerable to elite capture. World Bank staff may also be unaware of this (especially if project monitoring is not specifically designed to detect such problems). The lack of timely proactive disclosure of relevant monitoring findings limits citizens’ capacity to hold their governments and the World Bank accountable for their CE commitments.   Mandate that project operational manuals should be made public, readily accessible to citizens, and available in all national languages. Unlike other World Bank project documents, operational manuals define both the responsibilities allocated to government actors and agencies, and the rules they must follow – thus providing the baseline for accountability. Yet this research found that the Bank’s public information policy does not cover the disclosure of operational manuals and that therefore public release ultimately depends on the discretion of government officials and Bank teams, who do not necessarily recognise the relevance of disclosure (or can be threatened by such disclosure).   Collaborate directly with national accountability institutions to protect citizen voice from reprisals and bolster state capacity to address accountability failures (e.g. ombuds agencies, audit bureaus, human rights commissions, public prosecutors, information access agencies). The Bank’s current CE approach neglects the risks that citizens take when exercising voice – and rarely invests in the kinds of national institutions whose missions are to focus on accountability and transparency. The World Bank would vastly improve the odds of meeting its CE goals if it were to provide direct project support to national accountability agencies to carry out their distinctive roles and responsibilities within the accountability process. This would ultimately be more effective and have longer-term impacts than projects attempting to contribute to an enabling environment for CE in isolation.   Systematically link the CE agenda with the Bank’s new Environmental and Social Framework as these are mutually reinforcing. The ESF policy, supported by strict guidelines and dedicated staff, has a level of internal institutional enforcement that is missing from the CE agenda. Yet the ESF’s requirement for robust stakeholder engagement plans ties directly in with the principles that guide the World Bank’s approach to CE. Where the CE agenda and the ESF overlap – particularly in fragile, conflict- and violence-affected settings – there is now a new, powerful entry point to push for and pursue robust and strategic CE.

Rachel Nadelman is a Researcher at the Accountability Research Center at American University. She has worked in international development for 15 years with a range of organisations including the World Bank, the German Development Agency (GIZ), American Jewish World Service, and the Institute of Development Studies. She has specialised in social development, primarily on issues related to social inclusion, women’s social and economic empowerment, and the intersection of environment and sustainable development. Rachel has a BA from Brown University, an MA in International Affairs from The New School and a PhD in International Relations from the School of International Service at American University.