Michael Gurstein on Wed, 1 Aug 2001 20:16:36 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Fw: The Global Development Gateway

For anyone who hasn't yet wandered through the World Bank's 
controversial Global Development Gateway http://developmentgateway.org 
it might be worthwhile to take the time...

The criticisms that have been raised of the GDG have mainly been of 
"crowding out" (of existing sites), skewed funding priorities (toward WB 
associated sites rather than indigenous or grass-roots developed sites), 
and supposed self-dealing (of WB officials).

I won't go into those--they have been well presented by others and 
particularly on the GKD list serve. 

What interests me is how the strengths and weaknesses of the site(s) are 
so revealing of larger issues concerning Development  and the very harsh 
realities that are being discovered about information and E-Commerce on 
the Net. 

The GDG sites that I looked at were, I think, quite useful as 
compilations of materials--lots of useful (but selected) links and some 
access to information not  readily accessible elsewhere (particularly WB 
and related information).  So far, not very different from any of the 
zillions of sites which rose so quickly in everything from flower 
growing to auto-mechanics.

Clearly, the model employed was that of the late '90s E-commerce 
"portal" phenomenon. And the approach appears equally to suffer from the 
limitations of most of those portals--naive (and failed) attempts at 
creating communities of interest, self-interested (and failed) attempts 
to generate volunteer enthusiasm and thus voluntary labour and 
(information) contributions, and overall a rather partial window on the 
very complex reality(s) into which they were meant to provide a 

In the case of some portals, particularly those that didn't arise from 
or manage to create a linked self-organizing community of interest, the 
output has tended to be skewed to the interests/biases/limitations of 
its creators and raises the hackles and competitive juices of all those 
who don't share those assumptions. 

In the Development sphere particularly, there are a range of competing 
interests and "communities" and what seems evident from the WB portal is 
that the primary community with which it is associated is the "official" 
ODA/government/agency/consulting world. Thus the 
documents/links/presentations--"reality" which is provided through the 
portal are the "official" documents/links/"reality" etc. 

Nothing particularly wrong with that--it gives useful access to 
something that certainly occupies a lot of the available 
financial/psychological/political space; but there is, as many have 
observed, the very real danger (likelihood) of this having the result of 
crowding out/unfairly competing/defunding all the other 
"realities"--many of which may be closer to the interests and activities 
of folks on the ground or in the trenches--the NGO's, the implementers, 
the communities, the development activists.

And over all of course, is the central dilemma of the E-Commerce 
phenomon which, though unstated, is visible on every page--how is all 
this "sustainable"--financially (and socially).  For many of the 
E-Commerce folks, the answer was "advertising" and "community building" 
and those sites have been disappearing at an incredible rate as 
funders/advertisers asked uncomfortable questions of who was looking, 
for how long and for what purpose and the toughest question of all--is 
this site (and the money I'm putting in), cost-effectively having the 
desired outcome for my "bottom-line" i.e. impacting the behaviour of 
those I'm trying to reach. 

What most of them found was that maintaining an up-to-date useful, 
interesting, relevant portal was fantastically labour intensive (and 
thus expensive). And ultimately it is unsustainable unless there is a 
direct link to a supportive volunteer community where the 
updating/populating of the site is done as a matter of course by a 
community communicating within itself and as it goes about its normal 
community building - and community maintenance activities cf. 

The dilemma for the WB is that the only folks who, over the longer term 
are likely to provide on-going content development and in-put into the 
portal, are those who do it because they have a stake (financial) or are 
paid--take a look at the (lack of) participation in any of the "forums" 
associated with the various GDG topics or themes and compare this with 
any of the multitude of "community of interest" voluntary lists in those 
same topic areas.

The very very much larger number of others who are involved in 
Development and who ultimately the portal is designed to reach, will 
find other and more accommodating and responsive/effective ways of 
participating in a "Development community" and making use of the Net and 
certainly ones that are inclusive of both "official" and unofficial 
channels and information.  And they are very unlikely to offer their 
labour or their information for free where others are being (well) paid 
for the same efforts.
So, the very hard truths of E-Commerce and Development are likely to 
come home to the WB GDG as they have to many others--content on the Net 
is an expensive business and communities (whether virtual or geo-local) 
are difficult to create and even more difficult to harness for any goals 
other than their own. 

Of course, the WB has the resources to ignore this, but I would guess, 
not for very long.

Mike Gurstein

Michael Gurstein, Ph.D.
Michael Gurstein & Associates
Vancouver BC CANADA

(Visiting) Professor:  School of Management
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark NJ USA

----- Original Message -----
From: Jean-Charles Le Vallee
Sent: Saturday, June 09, 2001 5:28 AM
Subject: Development Gateway Food Security Web Site

If you are wondering where you can find an overview of the many web 
sites that exist on a particular development topic, then you should 
visit the Development Gateway. This initiative has been under 
development for the past 10 months with funding from the World Bank, and 
support from many hundreds of governmental and non-governmental 
organizations and large numbers of individual professionals, and 
academics. It is now fully functional in every respect though the 
official launch is still some weeks away.

An important and growing area of the Gateway is the topic of Food 
Security. Over a hundred sources of information have been made available 
including articles, case studies, projects, programs, organizations, 
networks, data sets and statistics, events, news, official policies, and 
so on. Unlike a basic web site listing, directory or bibliography for 
every entry is supported by an abstract which summarizes the contents 
and significance of the document or web site presented. Many 
distinguished individuals have also joined the advisory panel as well. 
You may start a discussion, ask questions to the community, and sign up 
to receive alerts about new contributions, or broadcasts from the guide 
and advisory panel, news and updates from the food security team. We 
have started listing information sources in French and Spanish as well. 
On key issues, we are currently looking at the question of GMOs, 
defining food security and a conceptual framework, and the finding 
causes of food insecurity.

The Development Gateway is a knowledge sharing initiative about 
development that is taking shape in collaboration with the private 
sector, civil society, international agencies, and governments.  It 
consists of a global portal where people and organizations can share 
knowledge, engage in dialogues, and work together to reduce poverty.  
The gateway platform is also being used to launch country gateways so 
that people and organizations in developing countries are connected. As 
well as Food Security, other topics covered include such areas as 
Education, Law, Culture and Development, E-government, Disaster 
management, Gender, and many more.

The Gateway also features unique databases such as the Accessible 
Information on Development Activity (AIDA) where you can find out what 
development projects
the World Bank and other aid agencies are planning in a particular 
country or region.  The AIDA databases contains information on projects 
completed, being planned, and underway from over 200 funding agencies.  
Soon the Gateway will also offer E-procurement and an E-book store.

Anyone with web access can browse all parts of the Gateway free of 
charge. However, we are very keen to see this being developed and added 
to, by as many professionals, academics and other experts or specialists 
in any of the topics covered, and by communities and civil society.  We 
are looking to the whole of the community to contribute both web links 
and original reports and publications, as well as information and 
discussion. To become an active supporter and start contributing, to ask 
or answer a question posted on a topic page, or add comments to a 
discussion, all that is needed is for you to register.

To register is quick and easy: simply go to the Food Security page and 
click on either "Join the Gateway"  or "My Gateway" at the top, and 
follow the instructions.

I do hope that you will check out the Development Gateway, and 
especially the Food Security portal. Let us have your views and feedback 
by becoming active users and contributors. I look forward to your 

Please forward this message to colleagues who might also be interested 
in this initiative. Thank you.

Regards, Jean-Charles Le Vallee
Development Gateway Food Security Topic Guide

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