Journal Issue

The Bank’s Economic Development Institute: A 30 year retrospective

International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
June 1986
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Guy de Lusignan

The Economic Development Institute was established in 1955 to supplement the Bank’s lending, analytical work, and policy dialogue. As a “staff college” it has, since its first course in 1956, provided mid-career training for officials of the developing world. In its subject matter, coverage, and scope of activities, however, EDI has evolved greatly since the 1950s.

Purpose and objectives

EDI was conceived as an instrument for transforming the World Bank’s global experience into country capabilities—through the direct training of senior and middle-level officials from developing countries. EDI’s work has benefited not only from the use of Bank staff in its courses but also from being able to draw on the Bank’s operating departments to identify the training priorities of country officials and to gain ready access to them, their organizations, and cooperating training institutions. Beyond teaching, EDI has played a useful role in promoting the exchange of ideas and experience among officials from different countries and, as a by-product of such exchanges, in stimulating the Bank’s own thinking about development.

In its early years, EDI’s aim was to develop among participants in its courses a broad understanding of economic analysis and general policy matters. Its principal product was six-month general development courses, held in Washington, in which participating officials analyzed and discussed the strategic economic issues facing their countries. The participants usually had important central planning responsibilities but often were not trained in development economics. At the time, the field of development economics was relatively new and rapidly evolving, and many universities had few offerings. EDI’s long and broad-gauged courses therefore filled an important need.

Another need soon became apparent. In many developing countries, the Bank found its lending limited by a lack of suitably prepared projects. To help fill that gap, EDI began to offer shorter, typically six to eight week, courses in project analysis. These new courses focused on the investment process—that is, on techniques and methodologies for the identification, preparation, and appraisal of projects. Most of the project courses were given in English, although some were in French and Spanish. Most took place in Washington, but a few were held elsewhere.

Soon the courses in project analysis became a larger part of EDI’s program than the general economics courses. Most sectors were covered by such courses, many more courses were given outside the United States, and courses in languages other than English became more common. The longer general development course was replaced with a shorter macroeconomic course, entitled “National Economic Management.” During the late 1960s and 1970s, the courses in microeconomics and project analysis did much to improve project-level decision making, and they are still being used for that purpose.

By the end of the 1970s and early 1980s, however, the changing economic context presented still new challenges for EDI. The economies of many developing countries had become more complex as a consequence of their own remarkable growth, while, by contrast, per capita income in most of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa was declining. The sharp rise in oil prices, the growing burden of external debt, and the slowdown of the world economy were all contributing to acute and widespread structural problems. Their solution required not only further investments but often also fundamental policy and institutional changes.

The Bank made substantial changes in its own work in order to help countries deal effectively with these broader problems. It placed greater emphasis than before on economic and sector studies, analysis of key policy issues, structural adjustment, and technical assistance to help strengthen policy making in member countries. And—recognizing the increased urgency of the need to train senior developing country officials in policy analysis and implementation and to increase EDI’s overall impact—the Bank established a Task Force to reassess EDI’s purposes, approaches, and activities.

A new orientation

Based on the Task Force recommendations, EDI was brought into the Bank’s operations complex, its new objectives were defined, and embodied in a five-year plan for fiscal years 1985-89. The five-year plan now in effect, as well as providing for the traditional EDI courses, emphasizes EDI’s work with respect to the countries of sub-Saharan Africa and also mandates a high priority for three activities designed to increase EDI’s medium-and long-term impact: top-level policy-related seminars, assistance to other training institutions, and the publication of training materials.

The top-level policy-related seminars typically last a week or less. They explore—for a given subject area of immediate concern to the participants—issues, alternatives, and likely implementation problems in bringing about policy improvements. A senior policy seminar might address a macroeconomic problem such as public expenditure planning or a sectoral problem such as agricultural pricing.

Under the five-year plan, EDI has already begun to increase its efforts to identify and support partner training institutes in order to help them develop their own capacities for training in economic, project, and policy analysis, and for the production of effective local training materials. To date, 14 such institutions have been selected for intensive technical support, while more limited support—for example, through the training of trainers or course co-sponsorship—is being provided to about another 45 institutes. Lastly, to broaden its impact further and to help other training institutes (whether or not supported by EDI), EDI has begun to increase its own production and distribution of training materials based on World Bank experience.

The “new EDI” has a far broader mandate than before and, with the help of contributions from cofinancers, also has more resources. It is expected, in return, to have a greatly enhanced medium- and long-term impact in building country capabilities for economic management, policy reform, project analysis, and senior-level training. Indeed, the ultimate purpose of EDI may be to make the services it currently provides no longer necessary—because developing countries will have established and staffed their own excellent facilities for mid-career training in development subjects and will have available a full shelf of first-rate training materials.


EDI’s five major areas of current activity—direct training, senior policy seminars, general institutional assistance, trainers’ seminars, and training materials—are discussed in more detail below.

Direct training. Until recently, direct training had absorbed nearly all of EDI’s resources. Still EDI’s major activity, direct training is provided through courses and seminars of two to seven weeks’ duration for senior- and middle-level operating staff in the developing countries. It is provided in virtually all the disciplines and sectors in which the Bank is active.

About half the direct training activities in 1986 will be principally concerned with project analysis and implementation and the policy environment at the sector level. For example, such courses are being given in agricultural marketing, water supply and sanitation, transport planning and management, and industrial project financing. These courses are heavily concentrated on sub-Saharan Africa where the need is particularly acute and the capacity of local institutions to provide such training is very limited. A large number also are given in China in order to impart rapidly to this relatively new member country a good familiarity with methodologies used by the Bank.

In addition to these courses, EDI provides a variety of courses and seminars dealing with various aspects of economic management, such as national economic management, urban finance and management, public enterprise management, the management of technical assistance, and management of the project cycle. These courses have proven particularly useful to managers from central ministries, development banks, and large enterprises.

In general, EDI’s direct training is intended to impart a practical working knowledge of the tools of analysis (economic, financial, and managerial); to improve participants’ ability to identify and evaluate alternatives and tradeoffs among them; and to enable them to anticipate and address likely problems of implementation. As EDI’s training is oriented to the practitioner, an important aspect of it is the sharing of work experiences among participants. The courses are not theoretical. Practically all of EDI’s training officers have themselves had hands-on experience working in World Bank operations, if not also in developing country organizations.

In the selection of participants for courses and seminars, particularly those on aspects of economic management, EDI sometimes invites teams of participants from each country. The hope is that, upon their return, they will constitute a dynamic cadre capable of reinforcing each other in the application—and further propagation—of their new skills. In courses and seminars dealing with management of the project cycle or the management of technical assistance, the country teams are likely to formulate action plans, which they will discuss during the training and then attempt to put into practice upon returning home—sometimes with benefit of EDI or Bank follow-up.

Senior policy seminars. EDI’s senior policy seminars provide special and structured opportunities for policy makers (typically ministers, deputy ministers, and permanent secretaries) to exchange experience and perspectives with each other, the Bank, and carefully selected outside experts. These seminars strive to create opportunities for informal, stimulating but pragmatic discussions of high-priority and often politically sensitive development issues. The purpose is to generate a deeper understanding of the issues and a fuller awareness of possible solutions and the problems they may entail. It is hoped that the result will be better policy decisions and an improved decision-making process, particularly as regards national and sectoral economic policies. In addition to their direct impact, these seminars also can be very useful as background preparation for officials anticipating subsequent discussions with advisors, consultants, and outside agencies on ways to improve development policies and the mechanisms of policy decision making, planning, and implementation. To date, most of the senior policy seminars have been organized for sub-Saharan Africa.

Among the issues discussed in senior policy seminars have been: exchange rate adjustment, import substitution, industrialization strategies, the role of markets, difficulties in the administration of consumer and producer prices, experience in the reduction of central administrative regulations and controls, and population issues in development planning. There have also been policy seminars designed, in addition to meeting participant needs, to help shape the World Bank’s own policy studies by exposing drafts of them to knowledgeable practitioners.

Institutional assistance. Because the need for EDI’s type of training far exceeds what EDI and similar institutions in developed countries could provide, and because local institutions can have advantages in adaptation and proximity, it is a top EDI priority to provide technical assistance to mid-career training institutions in the developing countries. EDI does this by giving joint courses with them until they can assume full responsibility, and by training trainers, providing training materials, and supporting the training institutions’ own courses. It helps other institutions design and develop new training and research programs, for example, in urban management in Indonesia, education policy analysis in West Africa, and public enterprise management in East Africa. It also provides advice to institutions on parochial matters such as their own planning, financial controls, curriculum design, and preparation of local training materials. While EDI cannot provide financial support, it has sometimes been able to help arrange financial support from other sources, multilateral as well as bilateral. Lastly, EDI is also helping to organize “twinning arrangements” and long-term advanced study programs for the teaching staffs of some national training institutes.

EDI training activities

(In Bank fiscal years, July 1-June 30)






1986 (estimates)
Source: EDI.
Source: EDI.

Trainers’ seminars. An innovative instrument and an important means of institutional assistance, EDI’s trainers’ seminars consist of one- to six-week sessions aimed at strengthening the knowledge and skills of teachers in the training institutions of developing countries. Since its first seminar specifically for trainers in 1977, EDI has been able both to improve and increase its activity in this field. Usually, EDI’s trainers’ seminars are organized after a number of courses on a given subject have been held. Thus, direct training activities in development banking, power, rural finance, water supply and sanitation, general project planning, and rural development have been followed by seminars or case-writing workshops for developing country trainers specialized in these fields.

Trainers’ seminars not only have enabled the staff of EDI to get close to the institutions they are helping and to demonstrate teaching skills most appropriate to the kinds of training being conducted by the trainers, but they have also led to improvements in EDI’s own methods, course curricula, and training materials. Especially in training trainers, teaching is a learning experience.

Trainers’ seminars have often been held for teams of trainers from small groups of countries—to increase the commonality of the participants’ needs and, again, facilitate subsequent mutual reinforcement by the participants. As in the case of direct training seminars for small teams, the teams have typically developed new training plans during the seminars, and follow-up has often been a part of the program.

Development of training materials. EDI makes its large collection of tested training materials available to other training institutions. The materials include course notes, case studies, collections of readings, exercises, instructors’ guides, reports on policy seminars, slide and tape presentations, and books. These materials, which underpin most of EDI’s courses and seminars, draw directly on the Bank’s global experience, and their subject matter coverage is nearly as broad as the operational work of the Bank. Among the book titles, for example, are “Aspects of Development Bank Management,” “Economic Analysis of Agricultural Projects,” and “Pricing Policy for Development Management.” The catalog of EDI training materials runs to nearly 300 pages. The preparation of EDI’s training materials benefits from the support and advice of scholars and visiting professors as well as from staff within the Bank and from the criticism of EDI participants.

EDI is now concentrating much of its materials development effort on the preparation of case studies of sectoral and macroeconomic policy reform. Such studies review the economic principles relevant to a common policy issue, illustrate their application in identifying and evaluating alternative solutions, and examine approaches to planning and managing their implementation.

As previously mentioned, EDI is now—consistent with its goal of helping other training institutions in developing countries become self-sufficient—also making a special effort to help such institutes develop their own training materials based on local experience.

Facts and figures

The accompanying table provides basic data on EDI activities. More than 85 percent of these activities are now held outside Washington and in 1986 they will involve some 40 partner institutions in the developing world. (All references are to fiscal years.) Under the five-year EDI plan, 88 of the poorest countries (45 of them in sub-Saharan Africa) were selected for special EDI attention. The number of participants from them in EDI-related activities was to be increased from about 1,000 in 1983 to 1,600 in 1989.

By 1985, with 1,357 such participants, progress had been more rapid than expected; sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 45 percent of expenditures on EDI training programs. EDI’s China program has also expanded rapidly, from less than 100 participants in 1981 to more than 500 in 1985. Wherever EDI has been able to give indirect assistance through course co-sponsorship or other cooperation with an effective local training institution, it has sought to do so—both to make its own resources stretch further and to strengthen the local institution—rather than run its own courses independently. In fact, the great majority of EDI’s courses and seminars now entail collaboration with a partner institution.

EDI could not achieve its objectives without the cooperation, financial and otherwise, of other donor agencies. EDI collaborates closely with UNDP and other multilateral agencies, especially in its institutional support work, and also has cooperative arrangements with many bilateral agencies such as those in Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Cofinancing for EDI programs has grown from $900,000 in 1983 to about $4 million in 1986. It now provides a 35 percent addition to EDI’s $11.9 million budget. These figures do not include cost-sharing by developing country training institutions, local contributions in kind, and amounts sometimes made available to country institutions through Bank and IDA loans.


To remain effective and responsive to priority needs, EDI must evaluate its impact. As do other mid-career training institutions, EDI uses end-of-course “participant reaction” evaluations to help improve curricula, course design, and teaching methods. Nearly always, these evaluations indicate that participants believe they have learned much of value and consider the specific objectives of the courses to have been largely fulfilled. Participants usually recommend attendance by their colleagues.

Such evaluations, however, do not help in assessing EDI’s success in increasing the capabilities and—more important—improving the performance of participants after they return to their developing country institutions. For that purpose, EDI employs discussions with former participants and with some of their supervisors, specific follow-up surveys, reactions from training institutions, and direct observation by Bank staff.

It does appear that EDI activities are having an impact. Evaluations, for example, through follow-up surveys in China and in West Africa have demonstrated that staff capability—in general project planning, project analysis, and economic management—has increased, according to the large majority of participants’ supervisors and about 80 percent of the participants themselves. Bank operational staff frequently encounter former participants whose EDI experience has improved their understanding of concepts, problems, and techniques of analysis. In particular, there is clear evidence that recent senior policy seminars on transport, urban, and industrial policies, and on population, have resulted in improved awareness and understanding. And there are many cases where country teams’ action plans formulated during EDI seminars have successfully been implemented by these teams upon their return. There are also instances where EDI has helped stimulate some rethinking of issues and strategies for change—for instance in the financing of higher education or in agricultural pricing policies in sub-Saharan Africa.

EDI’s program to support selected local training institutions has already yielded results. An example is the Institute of Economics at the University of Indonesia. Eleven years ago, with the assistance of EDI, it developed a project analysis course. The course is still being given, but without any EDI assistance. Other examples are the activities of EDI partner institutions in Shanghai and Beijing which are now able to teach, with only minimal support from EDI, project analysis courses. After EDI help, the Institute of Public Administration of Central America is now conducting, on its own, a general project planning course and providing assistance in this field to national institutes. The Pakistan Administrative Staff College, after initial help from EDI, is now running case-writing methods workshops with minimal EDI input.


The potential of EDI as a training institution clearly resides in its relationship with the Bank—which has continued to broaden and deepen its understanding of development and to increase its emphasis on the policy environment within which lending occurs. The Bank staffs EDI, but EDI participants also contribute to EDI training, for EDI invariably encourages a vigorous exchange of ideas among participants, between participants and Bank staff, and with a variety of outside experts. It advocates imaginative, systematic, and methodologically sound analysis of development problems, but does not propagate any preconceived set of solutions. EDI’s own objectives and activities have been evolving almost as rapidly as the disciplines in which it provides training.

In sum, since its. creation 30 years ago, EDI has developed a wide range of instruments for helping improve developing country capabilities for project and policy analysis and implementation. And through its work it has helped enrich the Bank’s own thinking. As Eugene Black, President of the Bank when EDI was created, put it:

The Bank itself expects to benefit from the cross-fertilization of ideas at the Institute. Through participation in the Institute’s work, the Bank will increase its familiarity with the development problems encountered in member countries and the ways in which they are being tackled. Apart from giving the Bank fresh insight into the particular problems examined, this is likely to stimulate its own thinking on the development process and to help it to learn lessons of wider applicability.

EDI, in short, has been a useful vehicle for learning and disseminating the lessons of experience with economic development and for strengthening other institutions which have the same objective.

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