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Advocacy Research and the World Bank: Propositions for Discussion


Researchers committed to the public interest work hard to avoid being ‘merely academic’. Commitment is necessary but not sufficient for making a difference, however. Any discussion of how researchers can make a difference requires a broader assessment of whether the campaigns they work on are having an impact. From a research point of view, it turns out that assessing whether and how public interest campaigns are indeed having an impact is one of the hardest challenges. After all, most of the time, progress in dealing with powerful ´elite institutions inherently takes place through partial and uneven changes. Even more problematic, advocacy impact often needs to be assessed in terms of the terrible things that actually did not happen or were avoided—damage control—and this leads one onto the slippery terrain of the ‘counter-factual’. For example, is the World Bank doing more nasty things now than it did almost two decades ago, when what came to be known as the Multilateral Development Bank (MDB) campaign first took off? If so, what would that tell us about the efficacy of the many civil society efforts to challenge the Bank’s actions? Is the World Bank doing more decent things nowadays, having adopted a very enlightened-sounding series of official policies, public discourses, and NGO partners? Could both propositions be true at the same time, because the Bank is a contradictory institution that does lots of different things at once, some much worse than others?

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