How to enhance demand for knowledge

Development Policy13 Oct 2011Frans Bieckmann

Worldbank development research director Martin Ravallion suggests an ‘Ex-ante Survey of Knowledge on Impact’ as a condition for funding a project or policy proposal. This should enhance the ‘demand for knowledge’, the actual use of research by policy makers and other practitioners.

Martin Ravallion is as director of the Worldbank Development Research Group a big producer of knowledge. In a recent blog post he asks whether there is enough ‘demand for knowledge’. You can keep on producing research papers, Ravallion states, and there is a lot to improve in terms of presentation and dissemination of knowledge, but if nobody reads it, all of this is of no use: ‘do today’s practitioners face the right incentives for learning’? Practitioners are ‘project staff in donor or lending agencies as well as policy makers in government’, Ravallion writes, and no, their bosses don’t impose enough incentives to learn. And practitioners themselves don’t bear the costs of misinformed practices and policy mistakes.

Ravallion proposes that no project or policy should be funded without an ‘Ex-ante Survey of Knowledge on Impact (ESKI)’: ‘an objective and thorough assessment of prevailing knowledge with bearing on the case for and against the intervention in its setting, based on past research, impact evaluations and experience …It should draw on theory and evidence to understand the development problem or obstacle that the intervention targets. What is the market or governmental failure it addresses and how do we know that doing so will make things better overall? What are the implications for equity?’.

Of course, even more paper work to process before starting ‘doing’ something is not what we are looking for. On the other hand, there are so many development interventions – Ravallion explicitly includes also broader policies, not only ‘projects’ – that go against the conclusions of earlier evaluations and research, that there is a real need for including knowledge integrally into policy making.

One condition Ravallion mentions seems particularly important to me, although maybe adding even more work: ‘the ESKI should be subject to formal peer review’. This might contribute to an open debate which is much more ‘evidence based’ than usual.

Is this a fruitful idea? The debate has started on the blog page of Ravallion, and soon also here on the Broker website.