Ideas, Institutions and the World Bank: The Social Protection and Fragile States Agendas

Image: Pedro Ribeiro Simões via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Ideas and institutions are frequently used as explanatory concepts regarding policy development and change. There is an on‐going debate as to the explanatory weight that each should be afforded; Weiss and Carayannis (2001) identify a spectrum of opinions, with ‘institutionalist' approaches that embed ideas within institutionalist frameworks at one end, and ‘constructivist' approaches which argue that ideational concepts should be dis‐embedded from institutional considerations at the other. Drawing on 43 interviews with senior World Bank staff and a documentary analysis, this paper traces two policy agendas – social protection and fragile states – to identify the institutional and ideational features of the World Bank that a developmental agenda must navigate to achieve prominence in the Bank's work. It finds that the success of a policy agenda is determined by whether the ideas fit with a macro‐ideational dominant paradigm, and identifies several institutional features such as the incentive structure and lending mechanisms that influence an agenda's success.

Policy Implications

  • Review and revise the internal incentive structures within the World Bank that discourage cross‐departmental working.
  • Take steps to ensure that cross‐cutting solution areas (CCSAs) in the World Bank are afforded equal weight and power as the global practices (GPs).
  • Make space for discourse within the Bank that challenges the prevailing institutional philosophies.