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Listening to the People: 5 Simple Ways to Improve Project Performance through Citizen Feedback

Amar Inamdar's picture

There’s been a lot of talk about beneficiary feedback – a fancy term for asking people impacted by aid projects what they think. But we've been playing catch up when it comes to analyzing where and how we’re using these techniques – and whether they’re working. Until now.

A new World Bank paper looks at one particular tool for collecting real-time feedback – Grievance Redress Mechanisms – and starts to answer these basic questions: Where are they? Do they work? How will they help? For the first time, we now have data available on the distribution, quality and impact of grievance redress mechanisms (GRMs) in the Bank's portfolio.  Beyond just the quantitative data, there are 23 in-depth case studies of GRMs in operations - highlighting both disputes resolved and challenges faced. Focusing on what works and why, this report provides World Bank staff and clients with concrete data to support their work to improve GRM implementation and results.

For example, did you know...

  • Half of all World Bank-supported projects now include a GRM in project design?
  • GRM usage is still predominantly tied to triggering one or both of the World Bank safeguards policies that require a GRM?
  • The World Bank’s Africa region has the most higher-risk projects and the Middle East/North Africa region (MENA) has the fewest, but 70 percent of Africa's higher-risk projects have a GRM compared with only 22 percent in MENA?
  • GRMs exist on paper but not always in practice: less than one-third of the Bank-supported projects sampled could provide data on grievances received or resolved.

The report makes five simple recommendations for things that the World Bank can do better:

(1) Create tools to support implementation of Grievance Redress Mechanisms

  • The review found that although GRM use is on the rise, many exist on paper but not in practice. Making GRM implementation easier and less onerous through the use of clear guidance, a database of case studies, and targeted training to staff and clients are just some of the ways the World Bank, through the work of its Dispute Resolution and Prevention unit, is helping move the ball forward.

(2) Improve risk assessment in portfolio

  • The review found that 72 percent of Bank-supported projects with moderate social and environmental risks contained a GRM in the project documents. But it remains unclear whether this number is too high, too low, or about right. Improved assessment of risks among this group - which accounts for the bulk of the Bank’s investment lending portfolio – should help understand where these instruments are most needed.

(3) Use feedback to prioritize implementation support

  • Duncan Green from Oxfam had a nice post that flagged the need for getting fast feedback from people on the ground. Critically, it’s not just setting up a system to collect the feedback that is the challenge – it’s having people and institutions that know what to do with the feedback that is a real roadblock. For Bank-supported projects – and indeed any development project - this is a lost opportunity to make course corrections during project implementation – a key step in solving problems before they escalate.

(4) Monitor and evaluate GRMs during implementation

  • Tracking one simple indicator: # grievances received / # resolved, is a quick and easy way to know (i) whether a GRM is up and running and (ii) if it is being used; and (iii) how effective it is at resolving complaints. Publicly reporting this number builds credibility because it allows local communities to gauge whether their input is having an impact – i.e. whether their government is responding to their concerns. As you’ll see from the case studies, just one-third of the projects we looked at could report this basic number on a regular basis.

(5) Improve the World Bank’s own internal handling of complaints

  • Just as the World Bank encourages its clients to track complaints received, set deadlines for responding and resolving issues, encourage the use of mediation to resolve conflicts, and publicly report on complaints received and resolved, the Bank itself can also do better in these areas. Following our own advice in this area would improve accountability and create greater predictability for staff and clients in those instances that the public complains directly to the Bank.

The report is available here. Marie Brown is the principal author ( For additional information on the work of the Dispute Resolution Prevention team in the World Bank's Operations Policy and Country Services department, including access to its global network of mediators, click here or email

Photo Credit: Arne Hoel / World Bank
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Submitted by Kim Bumgarner on

The World Bank launched a new Grievance Redress Service. Through this service, individuals and local groups that may be directly adversely affected by a World Bank supported project can bring their complaints directly to the attention of World Bank Management. Find out more at:

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