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Aleem Walji's blog

Moving from innovation island to innovation peninsula

Aleem Walji's picture
I’ve learned the hard way that setting up an innovation lab within a larger organization does not guarantee more innovation. In some ways, it triggers an auto-immune response rejecting what comes out of the lab rather than from ‘inside’ an organization’s core operations. It’s a natural response as most people think of themselves as ‘innovative’ especially in the absence of a clear definition of what is innovation.

Moving from Innovation Island to Innovation Peninsula

Aleem Walji's picture
I’ve learned the hard way that setting up an innovation lab within a larger organization does not guarantee more innovation. In some ways, it triggers an auto-immune response rejecting what comes out of the lab rather than from ‘inside’ an organization’s core operations. It’s a natural response as most people think of themselves as ‘innovative’ especially in the absence of a clear definition of what is innovation.

Big gaps and Big Data

Aleem Walji's picture
Also available in: 中文
I recently gave a talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science about Big Data and Analytics and why it matters for development. Unlike other speakers who warned about risks associated with big data - when too much is known about too many people without their consent - I discussed the problem of data gaps and data poverty in the developing world. The challenge of measuring of poverty is different because if we don’t have the data, we can’t know whether we’re making progress in fighting this stain on our collective moral conscience.  
 

Is it Innovation if it Has Been Done Before?

Aleem Walji's picture
When I joined the World Bank five years ago, I remember someone telling me that we love innovation as long as it’s been done before. Having been hired to manage an innovation practice, I was puzzled. Wasn’t innovation about risk and venturing into the unknown? But as counter-intuitive as it sounds, I’ve come to understand the spirit of the idea and recognize that any innovation ecosystem needs early adopters and scalers.

Let’s not Reinvent the Flat Tire: Thoughts on Poverty, Adaptation and Scaling-up

Aleem Walji's picture
I’ve been thinking about scale a lot lately and I’m increasingly skeptical that it is the right way to get greater development impact. Let me explain. On the one hand, how can you not ‘think big’ when there are still nearly 2.4 billion people living on less than $2 per day? But is a cookie-cutter solution to eliminating poverty feasible given the complex factors that cause poverty and the vested political interests that sustain it?

Time to Put the 'M' Back into 'M&E'

Aleem Walji's picture
During the past few  years, I've noticed that there has been considerable attention paid to the importance of gathering real-time feedback during project implementation, identifying  ways to 'course correct,' and learning from failure as  tools to improve development outcomes. This all sounds worthwhile and is consistent with what World Bank President Jim Kim calls 'science of delivery.'

World Bank adds maps to Google Maps Gallery, opening data for the world to see

Aleem Walji's picture
Also available in: 中文
Neil Fantom, Manager, Development Data Group, Nicole Klingen, Sector Manager,Health, Nutrition and Population, and Aleem Walji, Director, Innovation Labs at the World Bank guest blogged on Google's Blog space today to explain how the World Bank's data is being showcased on Google's new Maps Gallery. Read the full blog post.

Complicated vs. Complex, Part II: Solving the World’s Most Difficult Challenges

Aleem Walji's picture
Confronting the hardest problems on the planet requires humility to admit that we don’t know many answers when we start and sometimes we don’t even know the right problem to work on. If we address symptoms rather than root causes, we can exacerbate conditions. Penalizing teachers for example for not coming to school may ignore very real issues related to over-crowded classrooms, transport or meager wages for educators. If you start with the wrong problem, you’ll certainly propose the wrong solution.
 
What would it take to accept that most of the problems we encounter in development require listening better to end-users, learning about technical and political obstacles, and an ability to course correct when conditions change? That requires flexibility, faster response times, and treating beneficiaries as partners in solving complex problems.
 
I recently blogged on the difference between complicated and complex systems: the importance of identifying each to solve problems and particularly to scale solutions. What follows is a brief description of what makes a system complicated or complex and why it matters. 

  Complicated Complex
In planning
  • Describe What; dictate How
  • Focus on details
  • Coordinate everything centrally
  • Deliberate tradeoffs
  • Solution is often reached through a series of algorithms
  • Describe What but not How
  • Only key details—the fewer, the better
  • Limit central coordination to what’s absolutely necessary
  • Tradeoffs not always foreseeable, and they can shift over time
Goal Optimal solution Good enough to learn from and adjust
Focus on All the details Potential side effects
During execution
  • Make sure plan is adhered to
  • Adjust to make things more efficient
  • Compliance 
  • Measure results against all desired outcomes
  • Don’t get attached to any particular course of action
  • Adjust constantly and learn

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