Hello, Hello: Calling the World Bank

17 March 2009

Finding the World Bank’s front door in order to ask for nonpublic information isn’t easy. 

Here’s the right answer: pic@worldbank.org

Value that answer; getting it took a while.

Here’s my saga. Actually, I started in the right place and then got more and more confused. When I first wrote pic@worldbank.org I asked simply if they were the folks to ask for a nonpublic document. They didn’t just say "yes." Instead, they asked for a "more specific" title.

Dear Sir,

In response to your query, we would appreciate if you could be more specific with the title you are trying to access.  Thank you
Sincerely,

Public Information Services Team

Thinking I had written to the wrong folks. I tried another direction. I went to the "disclosure" home page where I located another address — for the Disclosure Helpdesk — which sounded very promising.

Hello Disclosure Desk

I asked them my question about how to request nonpublic information and got back this answer:

Dear Toby,

Questions regarding the World Bank’s policy on disclosure of information may be submitted here.  Official requests for information should be submitted through one of the channels listed on this website: 

http://www.worldbank.org/reference/

Please let us know if you require any additional assistance.

Kind regards,

The Disclosure Helpdesk

Ah ha, so the disclosure desk is only for specific questions about disclosure policy. Off  I went in the suggested direction.

Hello Reference

This proved to be the page labeled "Publications & Reports."  It’s the same page you get from the main World Bank home page if you click on "Publications" at the top of the page.

The page presented four main options, but the best choice seemed to be "Documents & Reports." It offered ways to search for available documents online, but searching was fruitless since the document  I wanted wasn’t published. I was offered a "feedback" button, but my computer didn’t seem up to the task. There wasn’t a plain, old-fashioned e-mail address offered.

Confused, I checked with the Bank Information Center, an Washington-based NGO that is expert at getting Bank information

BIC’s web site suggested writing to yet another e-mail address: infoshop@worldbank.org.
                                 
Actually, I had seen the Infoshop referenced before, on the left side of the Disclosure page, but when I went there, most options seemed to be all about buying documents.

The best choice seemed to be under the "Publishing Information Center" banner, labeled "Public Information Services." But there, the heading "Obtaining Documents" offers to take you right back to Infoshop. 

Back at Infoshop, there are several options under "Obtaining Documents," but the page seems geared mostly for sale. The most attractive buttons said: "Download and print full-text documents from your printer for FREE at:
http://www-wds.worldbank.org."

It took me right back to good old  "Documents & Reports." 

Hello Infoshop

A little hopeful, I wrote to Infoshop.

Dear Infoshop:

I have seen this address indicated as the proper place to submit requests for Bank information that is not publically available?

Are you different than pic@worldbank.org?

Is this place to make such a request, or can you guide me?

Toby

I got no reply for a week, so I wrote again to pic@worldbank.org.

Hello,

I saw a reference to an address at the WB called "infoshop@worldbank.org"

Is that address still operative?  I mailed something to them last week and got no reply.

Toby

I soon got this reply:

Dear Toby,

Thank you for contacting the Public Information Services team of the World Bank in Washington, D.C.

In response to your request, the e-mail address InfoShop@worldbank.org is an active account and we do receive requests into this address.  Normally, messages received in that account is forwarded to the PIC@worldbank.org address for a response.  Therefore, if you have the message you sent to InfoShop, please forward it to PIC@worldbank.org.  Once we hear from you, we will take no action on the request received in the InfoShop address.

Look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,
Public Information Services Team
The World Bank:  www.worldbank.org

Since it seemed that infoshop was a sleepy place, I replied:

Thanks for your reply

I’m glad to hear that infoshop is an active address, but my experience was that there was no response.

Hello, We’re the Same Place

Promptly, my mystery correspondent at PIC wrote back to explain that "heavy volume" to Infoshop delayed it from being transferred to PIC.

Dear Toby,

With regard to your request, the e-mail accounts PIC@worldbank.org and InfoShop@worldbank.org are managed by the same unit.  Correspondence received in the InfoShop e-mail address is generally forwarded to PIC@worldbank.orgfor appropriate action.  Due to heavy volume of correspondence received in the InfoShop account the correspondence has not been forwarded to the PIC account.

Requests for information that is not publically available may be sent to PIC@worldbank.org.  However, before you sent such a request, kindly refer to the Disclosure of Information Policy by visiting:

http://www1.worldbank.org/operations/disclosure/

Documents that fall within the policy can be handled by this office and for those documents that were prepared prior to the effective date of the policy, or that does not fall within the policy, you may contact Archives by writing to:  archives@worldbank.org.  Please visit the archives website and complete a Researcher Registration form, see link below

Please note, once the completed registration form is received by archives, the disclosure review process can take from six to eight weeks.

Sincerely,

Public Information Services Team
The World Bank:  www.worldbank.org

Hello, May I have?

Finally, I had an answer!

Now for a real-world test.

On March 26 I wrote to the PIC:

Dear World Bank,

I would like to request a Bank document.

In particular, I would like to request a copy of the latest mission aide memoire regarding the Taunsa Barrage Emergency Project in Pakistan.

If I can assist in the processing of this request, please contact me.

I was turned down, as expected, but the good news was that the rejection only took a day.

Dear Mr. Toby McIntosh,

Thank you for contacting the Public Information Services team of the World Bank.

In response to your request, please find below a link to all the documents currently disclosed for Pakistan – Taunsa Barrage Emergency Project
http://go.worldbank.org/MNRZ3YDLC0

The aide memoire is an internal document and is unavailable for public disclosure.  Please refer to the Disclosure of Information Policy of the Bank, Chapter IV Constraints.

We thank you for your understanding in this matter.
If you wish to purchase publications or view documents available through the InfoShop, please visit the InfoShop website at www.worldbank.org/infoshop.

Sincerely,

Public Information Services Team

I didn’t feel too bad. The Bank had already turned down the same  request by a group in Punjab. (See related story.)

By Toby McIntosh

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ABOUT IFTI WATCH

In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
Contact: freeinfo@gwu.edu or
1-(703) 276-7748