Economics Network CHEER Virtual Edition

Volume 11, Issue 2, 1997

Integrating the new world bank statistical database into the teaching of international and comparative political economy courses

Bruce Stanley
Huron University USA in London


At a presentation on 15 May, 1997 to the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in London, representatives of the World Bank introduced to the British development community their new redesigned statistical survey of world development: WORLD DEVELOPMENT INDICATORS. In addition to a printed version, this reformatted and expanded database is now available on CD-ROM in a user-friendly package suitable for LANs. This bright and attractive package now allows comparative analysis of the full range of economic trends across time and countries. It thus presents the lecturer with an exciting tool for easily expanding computer-assisted learning (CAL) for students in political economy.

Contents of the Package

For over 15 years, the World Bank had published WORLD DEVELOPMENT INDICATORS (WDI) as an appendix to the WORLD DEVELOPMENT REPORT. Recently, however, the decision was taken to make the material both more comprehensive and user-friendly, resulting in a new, free-standing package. As touted in the publicity materials, the new WDI is:

"an indispensable source of information for the development community, researchers, nongovernmental organisations, journalists, and academics. The statistics found in the WDI will also be of vital importance to those in the private sector who are analysing business opportunities in developing countries and emerging markets."

The material is more comprehensive in three key ways. First, the range of issues and concerns covered is greater. Although the core of the WDI has always been the "measurement of economic performance", there is now additional information on telecommunications, infrastructure, environment, and state and market interaction along with the full range of social indicators of development. The framework or vision for understanding world development is thus expanded, and more comprehensive.

Second, this broader vision leads the World Bank to report a broader base set of indicators than in the past, 800 or so in all. The new WDI contains a core 400 indicators you would expect, the same as those in the printed edition. In addition, it also includes most of the information, in particular the extensive time-series indicators, contained in the old WORLD DATA CD-ROMs (1994-95) which it supersedes. The World Bank has removed the external finance information included in the World Data CD-ROM and is issuing that in a new format entitled GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT FINANCE 1997 to replace the old WORLD DEBT TABLES.

Third, the number of countries and entities covered is greater in the new WDI. The core material is for the 150 or so countries with over one million population. However, data that is available for 80 additional small or non-reporting economies is reported in additional tables. Definitions for each country or territory are easily available while creating a table. Checking "Reunion" gives the following listing:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa Region (Excluded for World Bank analysis)
  • High Income
  • Debt not classified
  • Exporter for nonfuel primary products
  • National Currency: French franc
  • National accounts base year: 1972
  • SNA price valuation: VAP
  • This new publication is also much more user-friendly than past publications of the World Bank. The new CD-ROM includes an extensive set of pre-packaged or ready-made tables, under the headings of ECONOMIC TIMESERIES TABLES, SOCIAL INDICATORS DATASHEETS, WORLD BANK ATLAS, WORLD DEVELOPMENT INDICATORS, POPULATION PROJECTION TABLES, KEY REFERENCE TABLES and COUNTRY-AT-A-GLANCE, which allow a quick, wide ranging presentation of the most-often requested set of indicators. To create your own table, you select countries from a list of 223, select the series you wish from 500 listed, then chose the years since 1970. Once these are selected, it is possible to check "availability" of data prior to creating the table. The ability to graph any data set, whether pre-packaged or created by the user is also a useful feature. The graphs can be either 2-D or 3-D, the latter being manipulatable, depending on the needs of the user. There is also a mapping feature, which allows the creation of a coloured world map of the chosen series.

    The COUNTRY-AT-A-GLANCE TABLE is particularly useful, because of the inclusion of "Development Diamond", "Economic ratios" and other charts with the 3 pages of data. The ECONOMIC TIMESERIES is similar to the old "World Tables", and it covers 1970-1995 annual time series for 200 economies. The WORLD BANK ATLAS does lack the maps contained in the printed World Bank Atlas.

    Another new feature is the ability to export data to Excel or other statistical packages such as SAS or dBASE. This is of crucial importance for further analysis in international economics and economic development courses.

    This new WDI is particularly good in providing supportive materials that explain the tables and references. For example, in the WORLD BANK ATLAS, there is a discussion about terms and trends on the key themes of People, Environment, Economy, and States and Markets, all of which help students better understand the context of the data. Technical notes in this section about the limitations of data collection are also extremely helpful.

    Finally, the overall presentation is very attractive, ranging from a cute audio visual message by the head of the World Bank to an intuitive and non-threatening menu interface. The new format is appealing, and helps to encourage students who may be intimidated by charts and tables to try working directly with data.

    Sample CAL Modules

    There are a number of different types of CAL which can be structured around this WDI CD-ROM. Four seem most promising: question/answer modules; presentation support; hypothesis testing; and research methods analysis.

    Question/answer Modules

    There are numerous independent modules that could be designed around this CD-ROM to teach Political Economy by posing questions, then pointing students toward the data in order so as to facilitate their developing answers.

    Students studying basic global trade dynamics could be asked to become familiar with ONE country and the changes in selected key indicators of trade, for example, over the last twenty five years. The next class meeting could then talk about the role of crisis and change in the global economy and its effect on a country's trade patterns over time. In class, students could be asked to discuss similarities and differences among their "case studies." A follow up exercise could then ask students to compare sample countries in other income strata along the same indicators, looking for similar transitional periods.

    A more demanding module could be built around either inter-regional comparisons, or intra-regional differences over time. Students could be asked to postulate why similar countries within the same region diverged over time, or to develop a regional profile in comparison with another region. Variations within the Middle East since 1972 between oil exporters and non-oil exporters, and since 1986, comes to mind. The classic question of why the Asian Tigers have done so well vs other regions could be posed to students prior to lectures and readings from secondary sources suggesting some authoritative answers.

    Obviously investigations comparing extremes and the growing gaps among North and South would work well with this approach, but so too would a more subtle study of the "clash of cultures" and supposedly cultural similarities and differences.

    Assumptions presented in IPE texts about the link between aid and growth, citing the examples of Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan, could be questioned, asking students to evaluate for a subsequent tutorial. A similar exercise could compare alternative strategies, post 1982, which countries employed to escape from the debt crisis.

    Particular issues in the news could generate quick assignments, such as the recent meeting of the so-called "Development 8" or Islamic giants. Asking students to evaluate their economies and the potential for coordinated action could be very instructive. G7+1 discussions in Denver could generate comparisons of Russia's economy along key indicators with G-7 members in an attempt to flag difficulties and conflicts. These findings could then be compared with analysis in the press, and the differences critiqued.

    A similar type of module could be used to teach theoretical concepts such as dependency or world systems theory.

    Following a discussion of the key aspects of dependency theory, students could be asked to produce charts and analysis to demonstrate the difference between sensitivity and vulnerability interdependence.

    Following a discussion of definitions, students could be asked to find examples of export-led industrialisation to compare with import-substitution industrialisation, or required to check the claims of world systems studies at the national level about the deindustrialization and reindustrialization processes.

    Area courses should be able to make tremendous use of the data in the WDI, as should thematic courses. Students studying the "Political Economy of the Middle East" can begin a seminar focusing on issues such as food security or rising military spending by starting out with comparisons with other low income countries/high income countries over time, or contrasting the ME with other regions such as South East Asia.

    Hypothesis Testing

    More advanced uses of the WDI material could be designed by focusing on individual research into more complicated puzzlements.

    WDI could be used in conjunction with modelling programs. The 1988 MICRO GLOBUS program comes to mind, with its ability to manipulate parameters of the program to test "what-if" senarios (Note). Questions such as "Would the granting of special trade concessions by nations of the West to nations of the South facilitate development and who would bear the cost of these?" or "Who is likely to gain and who is likely to lose from the imposition of protectionist measures by nations of the West?" could be run using the 1970 data base of the GLOBUS model, then compared with the real data contained in the WDI data base. Interesting discussions of the degree of fit of the model would be generated, and changes in the underlying parameters made to better match the model with reality.

    The flexibility of the WDI data allows students to investigate ideas of their own using data up until 1990 and then to project trends until 1995 using their hypotheses. Their projections could then be checked against actual 1995 data for confirmation and comparison.

    Students could design their own model and hypothesise changes in government spending of 5% on secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa. Then, drawing on other data bases such as the UN Industrial Development Organisation's INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT: GLOBAL REPORT 1996, they might estimate the general impact on industrialisation.

    Presentation Support

    Students can use the WDI to produce charts, tables and support material for papers and presentations. Overhead projections of tables or data downloaded into Excel or SAS and then charted in different ways could provide greater interest and comparison for group presentations. The easy availability of the WDI makes it possible to push across the curriculum for improved charts and data presentations in all essays and submitted work relating to political economy.

    Research Methods Analysis

    The WDI CD-ROM can also be used to support the study of social science research techniques and methods.

    Questions of data accuracy and reliability can be explored using WDI, since there are copious notes about sources, definitions, and data problems for each series and many countries.

    Research methods problems such as coding or missing data could be discussed in relation to the WDI data.

    A discussion on the nature of various types of data presentations/graphs and their ease of use/comprehension could be based on examples drawn from this data.

    The political problems of data acquisition during crises, evidenced by Afghanistan after 1982 or Somalia after 1990, or the secretive nature of some types of data across regimes, are also possible aspects of data acquisition to explore.

    This World Bank database can be compared and contrasted with data sets from UNDP, ILO, UNFPA in an attempt to understand alternative data acquisition policies, definitions employed, techniques and institutional politics.


    We purchased the network version, but have had problems running it directly from our CD-ROM tower. Finally, on advice from the engineers at microinfo we made it work by copying all the files onto the network hard disk and are running it from the network. WDI is taking 359 MB of hard disk space on the network drive. When it is accessed from the network, we get a message that says "your system is running low on memory", even though we have 16MB of memory on the system. However, the program does then run, bu t may crash with larger data sets. We are still working to identify the problem. In addition, the program promises alternative charting options to bar graphs, but we have so far been unable to produce them.

    The price may be high for some departments, and there is some concern in the development community that microinfo has a both a monopoly over purchases of World Bank publications in the UK and has a high pricing structure.


    This is a wonderful, easy way to add CAL to a Political Economy course, and to supplement "chalk and talk." Its use is nonthreatening and supportive for the novice, and sophisticated enough for the advanced student. Presentational and data options make it worthwhile across a wide range of courses in the Political Economy, Development, Economics, Area Studies and International Relations tracks. With a small amount of effort and planning, an imaginative collection of modules could be developed to help students move from basic concepts to more advanced ideas and even to encourage original research. The new WDI CD-ROM is exciting, and with a minimal degree of input, much can be gained

    Requirements and Sources

    The specifications for the CD-ROM are as follows: IBM compatible computer (can run on 486 with sufficient memory, but at least a Pentium is recommended)
    Windows 3.1 or higher
    CD-ROM reader (ISO 9660)
    12 MB of RAM
    12 MB of hard-disk space
    2 MB video memory
    64K colours or more video display
    sound card optional

    UK distributors for WDI CD-ROM and the printed edition are:

    microinfo ltd
    PO Box 3
    Omega Park
    Hampshire GU34 2PG

    Tel: 01420-86848
    Fax: 01420-89889

    For further information of ordering, pricing and specifications, check out the WDI site at [edition referred to in this article] [latest edition]


    For further information about MICRO GLOBUS, contact Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin, Reichpietschufer 50, 1000 Berlin 30, Germany

    Address for correspondence:

    Dr. Bruce Stanley
    International Relations Program
    Huron University USA in London
    58 Princes Gate
    London SW7 2PG


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