Back to cover

Mobilizing Technology for Development

Chapter 6 | Moving Forward: Directions of Travel


The Independent Evaluation Group presents directions of travel for the Bank Group’s consideration:

Mining development data generated through disruptive and transformative technologies (DTT) to create even greater social value; leveraging the Bank Group’s honest broker role in advising clients, especially on DTT risks; and using explicit corporate metrics to track the implementation of the Bank Group’s DTT Mainstreaming approach.

Enhancing Bank Group capabilities to address the differential gender effects of DTT, beginning with advisory services and analytics.

Fostering a growth mindset among Bank Group staff to adapt to the rapidly changing technological landscape, and applying foresight and anticipation to proactively foresee DTT opportunities and identify looming threats, enabling the Bank Group to regroup and take on challenges in real time and thrive even in markedly changed circumstances.

IEG presents—for the Bank Group’s consideration—directions of travel, including examples of each, that can help the Bank Group move forward in strengthening its preparedness for DTT for development.

Building on the Bank Group’s Existing Strengths

Mining DTT-generated development data to create even greater social value. The Bank Group is in a unique position to ramp up the deployment of DTT in the generation, analysis, and use of development data in achieving the twin goals. According to Fu (2019), “High quality development data is the foundation for meaningful policy-making, efficient resource allocation, and effective public service delivery.” DTT elements such as mobile phones, electronic transactions, and satellites have led to an explosion of data that are collected and analyzed cost-effectively, with high frequency, and at fine levels of granularity (Goldberg 2020). This granularity can allow for the personalization of services, for example tailoring learning to individual student needs in poor rural areas and potentially reducing high dropout rates. The World Development Report 2021 on data offers an opportunity to explore how DTT can revolutionize public and private data collection, analysis, and use and better inform policy making for addressing the twin goals (World Bank 2021). Furthermore, the recently established (managing director-level) Data Governance body and its supporting (vice presidentlevel) Data Governance Steering Committee, which aim to provide executive leadership, oversight, and support for data-related matters, can boost the World Bank’s ability to generate even more social value from (DTT-generated and analyzed) development data. Optimizing the use of public and private data—those made available by DTT but also those that can be analyzed more effectively by using DTT—can help the Bank Group become a data-driven organization.

Leveraging the honest broker role by advising clients, especially on DTT risks. The Bank Group’s perceived neutrality positions it well for flagging DTT risks. Fieldwork for this evaluation found that country clients expressed a desire for greater Bank Group advice on DTT risks such as job losses, lack of privacy, and data breaches.1 Attention to DTT risk is particularly important in ID4D systems, which are especially vulnerable to inadvertent data spills or willful misuse.2 Another area of risk is the fragmentation of digital data across different proprietary system silos within government. The Bank Group should help prevent vendor lock-in and improve government efficiency and transparency while speeding up innovation in the public sector.3 Where a local tech ecosystem exists or is nascent, Bank Group DTT support can strengthen this and use it as an opportunity to foster inclusive growth and job creation. Addressing DTT risks and adhering to the do no harm principle may require the Bank Group to navigate sensitive ethical and political issues and advise clients on such issues.4 AI governance—ensuring that AI is explainable, transparent, and ethical—is critical.5 Ethical issues are also prominent in the use of personal data and vaccine distribution, for example.6 After due vetting, the Bank Group could use its convening power to bring together relevant experts in areas where it may lack the necessary technical expertise to help clients mitigate DTT risks.7

Using explicit corporate metrics to track the implementation of the Mainstreaming approach. The DTT Mainstreaming approach applies across Bank Group institutions, Global Practices, and Regions. Explicit metrics—defined at the corporate level—can help track progress and enable timely course corrections, thereby facilitating learning and the successful implementation of the Mainstreaming approach. Two Bank Group initiatives—the work on Gender and the Human Capital Project—may provide lessons for the mainstreaming of the DTT agenda.

Enhancing Bank Group Capabilities That Are Not Yet Its Forte

Addressing gender-differential impacts of DTT, beginning with ASA. The Bank Group’s 2015 Gender Strategy highlighted gender gaps in the use of technology and women’s lower participation in technical jobs and technical occupations (World Bank 2015b). It notes these gender gaps were often due to off-line factors like poverty, gender discrimination, and gender stereotypes that prevent girls and women from benefiting from digital technologies. At the same time, increased access to credit, knowledge, and markets made possible by DTT may place women at higher risk for domestic violence (McDougal and others 2019; see appendix C). Analysis of gender and DTT for this evaluation found that although 76 percent of the 51 World Bank ICT projects (ICT sector percentage weight of 50 percent or more) approved during FY15–19 had one or more gender-relevant flags, just 37 percent had all three gender flags. Of particular concern was that just 7 percent of the 90 World Bank ICT ASA initiated during FY15–18 were gender relevant—a particular concern since it is in ASA that new opportunities to address the gender-differential impacts of DTT can be explored. Beyond gender considerations, it will be important to ensure that other excluded groups (such as the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, ethnic and religious minorities, and displaced communities) benefit from the opportunities of DTT and are protected from its risks.

Developing New Strengths

Fostering a growth mindset among Bank Group staff. Given the uncertainties created by technological shifts, the Bank Group could enhance its preparedness for DTT by ensuring a growth mindset that promotes continuous learning and adaptation among its staff. Dweck (2006) explains that leaders of organizations that possess a growth mindset constantly try to improve by setting out to hire highly capable staff, endeavoring to learn from their own mistakes and shortcomings, and addressing openly the skills that they and the company will need for future success. In this way, continuous learning becomes part of the organization’s culture. IEG’s first Learning and Results evaluation noted that organizations that do not learn, die (World Bank 2014a) and pointed to the need for the World Bank to embrace learning and adaptation. Box 6.1 shows how Microsoft fosters a growth mindset.

Systematically applying foresight and anticipation to help inform and guide the Bank Group’s future support of DTT for development.8 Foresight and anticipation can help the Bank Group to proactively foresee DTT opportunities and identify looming threats for the organization, its operations, and its clients (appendix E provides details). As new players enter the DTT for development field, the Bank Group will need to dynamically build new areas of comparative advantage even as it maintains specific old ones. Foresight and anticipation can enable organizations to regroup and take on challenges in real time and thrive even in markedly changed circumstances. For example, Galloway (2020) notes that the landscape of higher education will change “seismically” in the wake of big technological companies entering education during the COVID-19 pandemic, seeking to expand enrollment by offering hybrid online–off-line degrees. The Bank Group can use foresight and anticipation to help clients adjust in a timely way to such developments. Thinking systematically about tomorrow and being prepared is particularly important in the face of rapid change and uncertainty (Conway 2015; Pauwels 2019; van de Pol 2017).9 A forthcoming ASA, The Converging Technology Revolution and Human Capital: Potential and Implications for South Asia, notes that the World Bank needs to undertake “normative technology foresight exercises” (Bashir and others, forthcoming).

Box 6.1. Hit Refresh: Concrete Actions Taken by Microsoft to Acquire a Growth Mindset

Old Microsoft. By 2014, the Microsoft that CEO Satya Nadella had inherited was fading toward irrelevance as the technology industry shifted from desktop computers to smartphones.

New CEO’s vision. In July 2015, seizing on the ideas in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Nadella sought to forge a culture change at Microsoft such that staff would believe that “everyone can grow and develop; potential is nurtured, not predetermined; and anyone can change their mindset,” and that they would shift from being “know-it-alls” to “learn-it-alls.”

Microsoft followed up this vision with several concrete actions, including the following:

Concrete action #1: CEO issuing monthly videos on his top learnings. Nadella has taken to issuing monthly videos reviewing his top few learnings. This has prompted groups within the company to review their learnings too.

Concrete action #2: closing meetings with a reflection. Nudges and small reminders engage all 125,000 of Microsoft’s employees with the new culture; for example, leaders close meetings with a reflection, asking questions such as, Was this a growth mindset or fixed mindset meeting? Why or why not?

Microsoft today. Microsoft is once again a magnet for top engineering talent, rated as one of five best artificial intelligence companies for employees, and Nadella has a Glassdoor employee approval rating of 95 percent.

Source: Adapted from Ibarra, Rattan, and Johnston 2018.

Specifically, applying foresight and anticipation to identifying three sources of uncertainty and risk can help guide the Bank Group’s DTT support (UNDP Global Centre for Public Service Excellence 2018):

  • “Known knowns” (where it is known that something will change and, at least to an extent, what will change; for example, it is known that the nature of jobs will change, and it is also known that routine jobs will be lost to automation), requiring the Bank Group to anticipate the changes and ensure complete preparedness to be able to address them as soon as they occur.
  • “Known unknowns” (where it is known that something will change, but the nature and extent of change is unknown; for example, it is known that new skilled jobs will be created, but what is unknown is the net change in the total number of jobs due to technological advances), requiring the Bank Group to anticipate, constantly monitor, plan for possible scenarios, and adapt to the evolving scenario as further information becomes available.
  • “Unknown unknowns” or “black swan events” (where events cannot be foreseen, and therefore their nature and scale are also unknown) requiring the Bank Group to develop strong organizational foundations by investing in a growth mindset such that it can regroup, learn, and adapt with agility.

Foresight and anticipation are not completely new to the Bank Group. The Bank Group’s CPF is an anticipatory document that outlines the Bank Group’s country strategy four to six years out. More specifically for DTT, the recent exploration of foresight and anticipation by the Bank Group’s Technology and Innovation Lab is a promising step.

  1. One possible avenue to explore in addressing job losses and income inequality is universal basic income (see Gentilini and others 2020).
  2. So far, the Bank Group’s attention to DTT risks appears inadequate. IEG received a list of 24 Identification for Development projects and 32 Identification for Development ASAs approved during fiscal years 201020. Of the 24 projects, 16 had at least one keyword (privacy, security (including cybersecurity, data security), foundational, surveillance, governance (data governance), ownership (data ownership), and risk) in the project abstract, objectives, components, or indicators as per the analytics run by the IEG team. A further desk review to remove false positives identified 12 (50 percent) out of 24 projects with relevant keywords. Similarly, of the 32 ASAs, 21 had at least one keyword in the objective or activity summary. A further desk review to remove false positives identified 16 (50 percent) out of 32 ASAs with relevant keywords.
  3. Goh, Kaiser, and Wright (2020) emphasize the importance of promoting open-source software.
  4. A forthcoming ASA, The Converging Technology Revolution and Human Capital: Potential and Implications for South Asia, notes that the World Bank needs to operationalize a theory of do no harm when it comes to technology risks (Bashir and others, forthcoming). A further DTT risk pointed out by Abdalla and Abdalla (2020) is that Big Tech (similar to Big Tobacco) may co-opt academic research. They note that avoiding conflict of interest between Big Tech and its funding of academic work is vital. They advocate deeper discussion of the appropriateness and trade-offs of accepting funding from Big Tech and imposing necessary limitations and conditions on this funding.
  5. Gasser and Almeida (2017) note the information asymmetries that exist between the developers and users (government and consumers) of artificial intelligence.
  6. Pate (2020) notes that “we cannot afford to let high-income countries monopolize the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines, as happened during the 2009 influenza A/H1N1 pandemic.”
  7. Some organizations working on DTT risks include Center for Humane Technology, AI for Good, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. A 2020 docudrama film, The Social Dilemma, aims to raise awareness of the opportunities and risks of the rise of social media.
  8. The evaluation does not advocate any particular brand for analyzing foresight or anticipation. The evaluation sees a critical role for looking ahead and for the Bank Group not to be blindsided or caught off guard by technological developments or changes in country contexts. Some tools for conducting foresight and anticipation include foresight analysis, horizon scanning, scenario planning, and drivers and trends impact analysis (Conway 2015; Pauwels 2019; van de Pol 2017).
  9. The importance of foresight and anticipation is evident in the remarks of a technological entrepreneur: None of us should be focused on the current quarter because that quarter was “baked three years ago.” We need to be thinking right now about the quarter that will reveal itself in three years (Investment Masters Class 2018).