Many thanks to Luz Marina Alvare at IFPRI for alerting me to this new World Bank Policy Research Working Paper by Doerte Doemeland and James Trevino (Which World Bank Reports are Widely Read?) and for providing the bullet points below, drawn from the paper.
- Nearly one-third of their PDF reports had never been downloaded, not even once (see table above)
- Another 40 percent of their reports had been downloaded fewer than 100 times
- Only 13 percent had seen more than 250 downloads in their lifetimes
- Well funded multi sector policy reports are likely to do better
- There seems to be some evidence that a media push alone is not sufficient for a good dissemination
- Policy reports in English received the largest number of downloads
What to make of this?
First, it is important to note that these Policy Reports are not what the World Bank classifies as "public goods" (e.g. World Development Reports, Policy Research Working Papers and Open Data)--they are mainly country and sector specific. Nevertheless they include glossy things like country policy reviews, poverty assessments and public expenditure reviews (this site gives you an idea). These are things you would expect to be of interest to many policynakers, NGOs and researchers.
Second, never downloaded is not the same as never viewed or never read. And hard copies may be distributed to the audiences that do not have high speed downloading capacity.
Third, these Reports tend to be quite country and sector specific so we should not necessarily worry too much about quantity of downloads and reads if the right people (e.g. who can make decisions or who can influence those who make decisions) are reading them.
Nevertheless, a huge amount of money (our taxes, don't forget) goes into these reports and it is worrying that so few seem to be getting download even once! With all these resources at its disposal, and given its platform, the Bank surely should, and could, be doing more to ensure their use.
- Make the language more accessible--often the language is too intimidating for non-economists or economists that do not have a PhD from a top US university
- Co-author with non-Bank national authors. I don't know if this is possible (these papers are designed to represent corporate views) but from my experience the positionally of the authors counts as to whether something is read in country-- whether or not the report is any good
- Use social media and blogs to get the word out and distill the messages in lively formats. I often despair at even the short form policy briefs that many organisations put out under the name of communication. They are written the world over in language that is designed to minimise risk rather than inspire action.
- Write fewer Reports. Can I really be advocating the provision of less information? Well there is such a thing as saturation and the ability to prioritise is perhaps one of the least valued attributes out there in this "let it all hang out Internet world". Is there a financial incentive to have a plethora of Reports or could there be a focus on fewer reports with a greater effort to build an audience for each?
These ideas aren't exactly rocket science, but the Bank needs to be worried about these stats and come up with it's own response (and it is great that the Bank is publishing this report about its Reports, let us not forget).
But it is not just the Bank, it is all of us. None of us can be complacent. If we are complacent we are akin to a vanity press.
Our work, if it is of the required quality, needs to be read, discussed, challenged, improved and factored into decisions that can help improve people's lives. We all have a responsibility to mobilise high quality knowledge, whether our own or others.