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Changing Mindsets - World Development Report 2015

17.03.2015 Last years World Development Report focused on risk as a challenge that should proactively be dealt with and in this way aleady had the actors (and peoples) mindsets in mind. Now the new report clearly and directly centers on the broader topic of 'Mind, Society, and Behavior', marking a possibly 'groundbraking' step towards 'development policy 2.0', as Dirk Messner put it, during a presentation of the report at the German Development Institute in Bonn (DIE). Messner, Co-Director of the Centre for Global Cooperation Research, and a former member of the Global Knowledge Council of the World Bank, pointed out that solutions beyond linear thinking are needed and that, while the Bank previously and exclusively 'was about money', with this report, there is a chance to aim at a new quality of knowledge,'thinking heuristics' that

ultimately lead to a possible - if conscious - engineering of mental models, in Messners words: 'now it's at the Bank'.

The findings of this years World Development Report were presented by Ryan Muldoon, Senior Economist with the Development Research Group of the World Bank. Muldoon gave a tour d'horizon of examples from the field to illustrate advancements in peoples behavior that were less triggered by financial incentives but by social engeneering. Interventions were heading at peoples mindsets whether by social pressure ('nudge', Thaler/Sunstein) to conform to what the neighbors already do, or the placement of a sticker in buses that encourage passengers to 'stand up and talk' to the driver if he drives furiously - which reduced the death/injury toll considerably (case: Nairobi). These examples of strategies that make use of social recognition and control can remind one of quite similar streamlining effects aimed at by public administrations and in a different field by companies shaping customer relations worldwide with a targeted sensitivity towards local customs and: mindsets. 

But these examples of techniques and tools also tell a kind of hidden story. The question remains to what ends the applications are working. Development issues are bound to normative concepts and will have to secure legitimacy of these procedures by shared principles. Ultimately, the social engineering of mindsets may leave us with unanswered questions about the mindset of social engineering.

World Development Report 2015


Martin Wolf
Head of Public Relations
Tel: +49 (0)203 379 5238