"Why do you want people to complain about our project?" Jacques Buré, a Senior Highway Engineer in the World Bank, faced his incredulous client. They were building a major road in Kazakhstan, with a $2.13 billion World Bank investment and over 1,000 kilometers across Central Asia. Jacques had just broached the subject of a grievance mechanism and he could hear the skepticism behind the question: yet another condition imposed by the World Bank. And this one seems too much: what could possibly be the rationale for soliciting complaints?
This story kicked off a day-long deep dive which brought together over 40 staff from the World Bank and its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation. It touched core issues about how to better manage complex risks on development projects; improve client relations; build on country systems; and shift the way the World Bank presents its policies and standards from 'because we tell you' to 'here's how this adds value and improves performance'. Building on experienced practitioners and outside experts, the session was run by the Dispute Resolution and Prevention team – part of the World Bank’s Risk Management unit. It emphasized how to overcome operational challenges related to implementation of grievance redress mechanisms (GRMs) and make the business case to our clients on how a GRM can add value. It struck a deep chord with many of the project teams in the room.
A Skeptical Client Comes Around
In the Kazkhstan story, Buré said he didn’t broach the topic of a GRM (a policy requirement) until he had built up trust in other areas. He knew that his client saw the GRM as just another requirement of the Bank – one that would potentially slow down work on the project and cause headaches for the contractor and local governments. After all, who wants to proactively solicit potentially bad news? It seemed counterintuitive. It wasn’t until some of the first complaints started coming in that both Buré and his counterparts realized the GRM was allowing them to solve problems before they escalated, in particular among the massive work force hired to construct the road. “You understand better because you receive the information you [otherwise] never get,” said Buré. While Buré acknowledges the GRM on his project still could be improved, it has allowed both the Bank and the client to respond nimbly and solve problems before they become conflicts – a key advantage that has helped keep things moving on schedule and within budget.
Keeping it Real
A panel of experienced Task Team Leaders (Kristyna Bishop, Enrique Pantoja, Christian Peter, and Jacques Buré) kept the conversation grounded, drawing on their experiences with a variety of clients - Mexico, Kenya, Kazakhstan and Honduras. They shared with the group how they strengthened grievance systems and ultimately demonstrated to their clients the value of getting real-time feedback from users on the ground. Here’s what they said:
“Don’t fight the machine: use local grievance systems where they exist.”
“Involve NGOs as early as possible but make sure they represent the community.”
“Get your manager and the client to support dedicated funds for grievance redress.”
“Link your grievance redress system and the data it generates to your monitoring and evaluation plan. This may help with incentives.”
“Start small. Don’t aim for perfection.”
“A GRM can help avoid bigger conflicts, but it doesn’t eliminate the risk of Inspection Panel (i.e the World Bank’s internal accountability office).”
If you could do it all over, what would you do differently?
We asked the panel members what they would change if they could start from scratch. “Don’t take over a project you didn’t prepare” raised the most laughs. Panelists went further and honed in on other internal issues that can sometimes work against clients and staff:
"You need resources to address risks. My sector manager told me to look for trust fund money to hire the social specialist I needed. This isn’t good enough."
"Our own policies are the roadblocks. We can’t reform safeguards if we don’t reform the Inspection Panel."
"I wanted to bring in a mediator on my project but didn’t have the budget for it. We need access to good people and resources."
Changing the Dialogue on Grievance Redress
Each of the Task Team Leaders faces the real challenge of taking on complex and high risk projects and needing better skills, tools, and expertise to support them. The challenges they face in implementing their GRM – from a client’s skepticism to a lack of awareness among impacted communities are far from unique. All of them managed to overcome these challenges to some degree by working with the client to make the World Bank’s principles of grievance redress work in their country. The starting point was focusing on the business case from the client’s perspective:
- How can this GRM help you (the client) deliver faster, cheaper, and better results for your intended beneficiaries?
- What are you already doing to track feedback and improve performance so we can build on existing efforts?
- How do people already resolve public disputes and how can we strengthen that?
The end result is smarter risk management by the World Bank, better development outcomes and stronger client relationships.
For more information on how the Dispute Resolution and Prevention team is helping project teams change the dialogue with our clients about grievance redress and operational disputes, please contact Amar Inamdar (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Marie Brown (email@example.com)
Photo Credit: Trevor Samson / World Bank