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Living with the ‘results agenda’, redux

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

What is the 'results agenda' and how does it relate to transformational change within development? The recent publication of a report from The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), which scrutinizes UK aid spending, has brought these questions to life once again.  Here are some takeaways on the report and the need for systems thinking, accountability, and flexibility from Suvojit Chattopadhyay.

ash transfer payments to women in Freetown, Sierra LeoneCraig Valters’ Devex post, based on yet another newsworthy ICAI report, seems to have somewhat revived the debate over the ‘results agenda'. The criticism is sharper, castigating DFID for the “unintended effect of focusing attention on quantity of results over their quality” – but also one that clearly implies that the ‘results agenda’ is not well-understood or widely shared within donors like DFID. Focusing on ‘results’ cannot mean a divorce from long-term outcomes. What ICAI describes sounds more like an outputs agenda that is transactional (what your money can buy) rather than transformative (the good change).

The consequence of this bean-counting is that complex problems risk being ignored: donors and the partners they fund will tend to focus on projects, rather than systems. Also, genuine accountability along the aid-chain takes a hit due to a general break-down of trust between the different actors. So what can we do about this?

Getting beyond the mirage of external validity

Markus Goldstein's picture
This post is coauthored with Eliana Carranza
No thoughtful technocrat would copy a program in every detail for a given context in her or his country.    That's because they know (among other things) that economics is not a science but a social (or dismal even) science, and so replication in the fashion of chemistry isn't an option.  For economics, external validity in the strict scientific sense is a mirage.

A Storied Approach to Capacity Development

Sheila Jagannathan's picture

Engaging individuals to share their knowledge and learning on development challenges and solutions with the wider community is a core value of  the WBG’s Open Learning Campus.  In this context the story is often a powerful learning tool.  This idea is not a new one; in fact, stories have been a universal form of knowledge transfer for over 100,000 years as a way of connecting people and creating a common perspective on social, economic, political and cultural issues that they care about.

However, the above statements apply only to effective storytelling, which requires sustained  engagement with the community, and adequate influence over the learning and knowledge accretion process of the community. Research has shown that information alone—even critically valuable information—without the context, relevance, and engagement provided by effective story structure—is markedly ineffective in changing core attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors (in influencing).

What can Laos teach us about organizational learning?

Naazneen Barma's picture
A collection of photos in the Champassak provincial office of Électricité du Laos shows the blue-shirted employees in action. Photo: Naazneen Barma/The World Bank
The hallways of the Électricité du Laos (EDL) provincial offices in Champassak Province are filled with posters bearing bar charts and diagrams illustrating the public utility’s remarkable success in delivering electricity to the country’s still heavily rural population.

It is easy to see that data is crucial to the agency’s operations. Sitting down with EDL’s employees and managers—all wearing the agency’s signature blue-shirt uniform with pride—it also becomes apparent that the science of numbers and the art of managing people have gone hand in hand at this agency. This combination has enabled EDL to make organizational learning a central pillar of the agency’s success.

Institutions Taking Root, a recent report of which I’m a co-author,  looked at nine successful institutions in fragile and conflict-affected states that share a core set of internal operational strategies. 

Notes from the field: The danger of programs that pay for performance

Markus Goldstein's picture
I was recently working with an implementing agency to design an impact evaluation and we were having trouble reaching a point where there was going to be a viable impact evaluation that answered big questions about the efficacy of the intervention.   Looking back, part of the problem was that this agency was the implementer, not the funder.   And they were paid by the funder based on reaching a certain number of people and having those people participate in the program.

The Things We Do: I'll Have What's She's Having

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Swimming is to cats what rational thinking is to humans- they can do it, but usually begrudgingly.

While people like to think of themselves as independent thinkers who employ rational thought to make decisions (and this can sometimes be true), many of our choices are influenced by social instincts. What goes through our minds is derived, in large part, from what goes through the minds of those around us. 

According to a book, I’ll Have What She’s Having, by Alex Bently, Mark Earls, and Michael J. O’Brien, humans are fundamentally pro- social creatures that collaborate and copy the behaviors and choices of others when making decisions.

Blog Post of the Month: World Bank’s Four Year Access to Information Policy Update

Thomas Browne's picture

Each month, People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that garnered the most attention. 

For July 2014, the featured blog post is "World Bank’s Four Year Access to Information Policy Update."  

It’s been four years since the World Bank enacted its Access to Information Policy, and to mark the occasion this blog post covers the facts, figures, and developments that has made this Policy a success.  Read the blog post to learn more!


What’s the Best Way to Measure Empowerment?

Duncan Green's picture

Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) used to send me into a coma, but I have to admit, I’m starting to get sucked in. After all, who doesn’t want to know more about the impact of what we do all day?

So I picked up the latest issue of Oxfam’s Gender and Development Journal (GAD), on MEL in gender rights work, with a shameful degree of interest.

Two pieces stood out. The first, a reflection on Oxfam’s attempts to measure women’s empowerment, had some headline findings that ‘women participants in the project were more likely to have the opportunity and feel able to influence affairs in their community. In contrast, none of the reviews found clear evidence of women’s increased involvement in key aspects of household decision-making.’ So changing what goes on within the household is the toughest nut to crack? Sounds about right.

But (with apologies to Oxfam colleagues), I was even more interested in an article by Jane Carter and 9 (yes, nine) co-authors, looking at 3 Swiss-funded women’s empowerment projects (Nepal, Bangladesh and Kosovo). They explored the tensions between the kinds of MEL preferred by donors (broadly, generating lots of numbers) and alternative ways to measure what has been going on.

World Bank’s Four Year Access to Information Policy Update

Thomas Browne's picture

Solutions Oriented Knowledge-Sharing

Making information and data freely available and usable enables citizens to engage with service providers to participate in development decisions.  But is this enough? 

Proactive disclosure of better data and information are prerequisites to enabling citizens, governments and institutions to make informed decisions.  In order to help countries utilize the open initiatives and build client demand for increased openness, the World Bank organized local workshops and public forums in South Asia and East Asia since 2012, using the twinning approach of access to information and open data.  This was an opportunity to connect local citizens and stakeholders to national and global data and knowledge, further providing the public with information needed to influence development at the local level. The World Bank interacted with civil society organizations, research and academic institutions, media, and government, among other stakeholders, providing a forum for discussion, debate and the exchange of information.  Access to Information broadens the conversation among multiple informed stakeholders and creates opportunities to find and deliver innovative local solutions to long-standing development problems.

Managing Risk for Development – Through a New World Bank MOOC

Sheila Jagannathan's picture

In the past two decades while the world has experienced global integration, technological innovation, and economic reforms, there has also been financial turbulence and continuing environmental damage. As the world changes, a host of opportunities are constantly arising, and with them, appear risks both new and familiar.  These risks range from the possibility of job loss and disease, to the potential for social unrest and natural disasters. This is the topic of a new World Bank Group MOOC illustrating how risk management can be used as a tool for development by helping to minimize crises but also unlocking important opportunities.