Should We Congratulate or Condemn the World Bank for Admitting to 70% ICT Project Failure?

The World Bank, and it’s internal Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), released an Evaluation of World Bank Group Activities in Information and Communication Technologies, which is a review of a total $4.2 billion in World Bank contribution committed to the ICT sector during fiscal years 2003-2010. $2.9 billion of this support was specified to be going towards “sector reforms and support to private investments for mobile telephony in difficult environments and in the poorest countries.” In an ICT Works blog post about these results (http://tinyurl.com/araptx6), Wayan Vota takes an angle of praise for the World Bank for their commitment to transparency and accountability- the likes of which have not been seen from other international bodies working towards the common goal of improving livelihoods in the developing world.

The four main domains of the World Bank ICT4D projects are:

1) ICT sector reform

2) increased access to information infrastructure

3) ICT skills development

4) ICT applications.

The WB boasts a 60% success rate across the four strategies, albeit efforts to support universal access, with only 30% of these initiatives reaching their objectives.  Furthermore, and what has been the source of heavy criticism of the World Bank, is the seemingly staggering statistic that 70% of projects targeting underserved groups failed.

This number has incited heavy scrutiny of the World Bank, the international development community demanding answers as to why there has been such great failure,  and calling for for reduction of ICT investment. However, there are other ways to interpret the same result. The ICT works post provides a more positive insight into the statistics. It states that rather than criticizing, we should be thinking more about the transparency and chancy practices of the World Bank. Furthermore, Vota regards the 30% success rate for increasing access to the underserved positively, compared with the “the 20% success rate of Silicon Valley start-ups who are coddled by the most business-conducive environment in the world.” While I agree with the main point of the post, which is that the WB is setting a good example by admitting to its failure in the name of future progress and success, I think this comparison is irrelevant; as one sector is largely non-profit, while Silicon Valley ventures are mostly for-profit.

The World Banks honesty and forwardness about its work in ICT4D is essential to the future success of the relatively new field. It is of chief importance to share these failures with the ICT4D community in order to move forward.  Whether or not a “Congratulations” is in order for the World Bank can be left to debate, but I do feel it was a step in the right direction for such a prominent international body such as the WB to replace their hush-hush attitude towards project failure with unapologetic transparency.

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3 responses to “Should We Congratulate or Condemn the World Bank for Admitting to 70% ICT Project Failure?

  • laurenparmley

    I completely agree. In order for other projects to be successful it’s important to know what works and what doesn’t. Hiding massive failures such as the WB’s would only hinder development and other project’s success. I’m just curious whether the World Bank put out strategies for the future or what plans they have to improve their projects’ success rates?

    • clairedwyre

      I agree with Lauren, it is crucial to have transparency and be truthful about failures not only for the WB but also for other organizations that may try to model their own projects after them. Now that the WB is getting heat I feel that they will make an effort to make new strategites and improvements so they will not repeat their mistakes.

  • ddipietro216

    I agree as well. It is important for development agencies to post their failure rates but more importantly, for them to publicize analyses of their plans and processes, indicating where they went wrong. If we can understand where we are going wrong, we can stop and make changes so that we don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
    I found a blog post online that supports this idea: http://vulnerabilityandpoverty.blogspot.com/2012/12/by-inka-barnett-use-of-information-and.html

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