How Civil Society is Affecting Change at the World Bank

December 20, 2007

Institutional change is often slow and painful if it happens at all. How the World Bank is responding to pressure for greater accountability from civil society is the focus of a new Kennedy School Working Paper.

The paper, Accountability in Complex Organizations: World Bank Responses to Civil Society,” is co-authored by Alnoor Ebrahim, visiting professor of public policy at the Kennedy School and Steve Herz, Lotus Global Advocacy. The paper explores how the World Bank has implemented a range of accountability mechanisms along four basic levels – staff, project, policy, and board governance.

The authors argue that while “civil society organizations have been influential in pushing for greater accountability at the project and policy levels…they have been much less successful in changing staff incentives for accountability to affected communities, or in improving board accountability through greater transparency in decision making, more representative vote allocation, or better parliamentary scrutiny.” They conclude that, “It is at these two fundamental levels, of board governance and staff incentives, that the potential for more meaningful accountability is greatest but where the deep structure of the World Bank remains largely unchanged.”

Alnoor Ebrahim is visiting professor of public policy at the Kennedy School whose research is focused on accountability and organizational learning in nonprofit and civil society organizations. He is author of the award-winning “NGOs and Organizational Change: Discourse, Reporting, and Learning” and of a new edited volume, “Global Accountabilities: Participation, Pluralism, and Public Ethics” (with Edward Weisband), which compares accountability across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

The Working Paper may be accessed on the Kennedy School website: http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/Research/wpaper.nsf/rwp/RWP07-060

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