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Submitted by Tamar on
Adam, nice blog which triggered a few thoughts. I think that we overdo the distinction between the “what” and the “how” and overestimate how much we know of the what. Just take the human development sectors: we know that to support the poor and vulnerable and to help families manage risks, we need a social protection system but we really do not know what that system should look like in each country. We know that jobs are important for better living standards (and for productivity and social cohesion, as espoused by the WDR) but what policies are needed to generate those jobs will vary by country. We know that teachers are important to deliver a quality education but there is a lot we do not know about what recruitment, pay, training, promotion, accountability arrangements in a given country context will produce skilled teachers willing and able to invest in children in the classroom. We know that countries underinvest in prevention and public health, but we do not really know what it takes to change individuals’ behavior, be they providers or beneficiaries. Are these what or how questions? I do not know. I think in some instances these represent gaps in our “technical” knowledge. But in many instances what is needed is “adapted” knowledge that builds on the societal preferences, the institutional set-up and the underlying politics of the context in question. If this is what is meant by the science of delivery, then I am all for it. But I heard a lot about the management of the process of delivery yesterday --setting targets, monitoring them relentlessly and holding units accountable for meeting them -- and not enough about what it takes to support the generation of the kind of knowledge that delivers development solutions. I think that the Bank is most effective when staff have access to global knowledge, possess the capacity to analyze well the specific country challenges and then come up with tailor made solutions to local problems. There are many instances when we do this well but not systematically. To be at our best every time requires some changes. Here is my list. 1) a robust system of knowledge management that provides timely access to curated knowledge of what has worked in different settings; this system can only be sustained if staff view contributing to the institution’s stock of knowledge as part of their job; 2) getting out of our comfort zone to look beyond technocratic solutions; working with local partners and understanding local institutions and the political context are essential; 3) scope for experimentation, tolerance for getting it wrong and flexibility to adjust as you go; this means a radical change in our appetite for risk and business model so staff spend less time on procurement packages, obtaining multiple clearances and pushing for sectoral solutions and more time with the client, solving (multisectoral) development problems and helping build sustainable institutions. I recall President Kim’s first townhall meeting with staff. He said that the institution’s mission was inspiring, that the committed and skilled staff were its main asset and that what he needed to do was to remove the obstacles so that staff can get on with their business of serving the poor people of the world. Staff are looking to him to deliver on that promise.