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Aleem Walji's blog

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

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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

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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

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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

Complicated vs. Complex Part I: Why Is Scaling Up So Elusive in Development: What Can Be Done?

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I recently had an opportunity to listen to retired army Colonel, Casey Haskins talk about what he learned about winning hearts and minds. Our conversation crossed strategy, history and eventually physics as he explained how states of matter relate to systems change. Understanding whether matter is solid, liquid, gas, or plasma greatly affects how you interact with it and ultimately how you can change it.
 
So what does this have to do with scale, global development and solving the world’s hardest problems? Quite a lot, I think. The four states of matter correspond to complex social systems.
 
Dave Snowden’s research describes problems or systems as either (i) simple - in which the relationship between cause and effect is obvious and we can generate best practice; (ii) complicated – in which the relationship between cause and effect requires expert knowledge and good practice; (iii) complex – in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect and we use emergent practice; and (iv) chaotic – in which there is no relationship between cause and effect. 

Labbing and Learning: Scaling Innovation at the World Bank Group

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Also available in: Español | العربية | Français

Aleem Walji, director of the World Bank’s Innovation Labs, recently gave an interview to Forbes and the Skoll World Forum on all things innovation and development. This blog post highlights some of the key points from that interview.

When I joined the World Bank at the end of 2009, I was asked how we could more systematically support innovation. We started by building on the Bank’s own “access to information” policy, which was foundational for our Open Data initiative. When we made our data available to the world in a machine-readable format, searchable, and reusable, back in April 2010, people came in droves. Within months, we had more traffic to our data catalogue than the World Bank homepage.

Another powerful insight we had was to link maps through “Mapping for Results” with poverty data and project results to show the relationship between where we lend, where poor people live, and the results of our work. While it may sound simple or obvious, even today development partners struggle to map the relationship between projects they fund and poverty indicators in a given country. We quickly realized the value of “mapping aid” and making aid data transparent and comparable. The Open Aid Partnership grew out of that impulse.

Learning from Data-Driven Delivery

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Also available in: العربية | Español | 中文 | Français

Given confusion around the phrase “science of delivery,” it’s important to state that delivery science is not a “one-size-fits-all” prescription based on the premise that what works somewhere can work anywhere. And it does not profess that research and evidence ensure a certain outcome.
 
A few weeks ago, the World Bank and the Korea Development Institute convened a global conference on the science of delivery. Several development institutions assembled including the Gates Foundation, the Grameen Foundation, UNICEF, the Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science, and the mHealth Alliance. We discussed development opportunities and challenges when focusing on the extremely poor, including experiments in health care, how technology is reducing costs and increasing effectiveness, and the difficulty of moving from successful pilots to delivery at scale.
 
The consensus in Seoul was that a science of delivery underscores the importance of a data-driven and rigorous process to understand what works, under what conditions, why, and how. Too often in international development, we jump to conclusions without understanding counterfactuals and assume we can replicate success without understanding its constituent elements.

What Is Science and What Is Delivery?

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Having just returned from Dartmouth and meetings with the Center for Health Care Delivery Science, I’ve been thinking about the phrase “Delivery Science.” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim’s use of the term in recent speeches is related to using evidence-based experimentation to improve poor health, education, water, and basic service outcomes in the developing world.

Reflecting on this, I think, in many ways, “science” and “delivery” are distinct and need to be understood as different but reinforcing principles. So let’s break it down.

Inspired to Fight Poverty

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striking poverty

The rate of change in our world is accelerating and every day there’s a new innovation or  promising idea that springs up to provide hope for the "wicked" problems of our time. But development is complex and requires a sustained commitment to bold experimentation underpinned by a commitment to learn constantly. But learning does not happen in isolation. It happens through practice, through reflection, and through meaningful and sometimes unexpected exchanges with peers, practitioners, and colleagues from far flung places.

This is why I am really excited about a new online salon that we have unveiled at the World Bank. Striking Poverty aims to "shine a light and lend a megaphone" to innovations in development to help them percolate, surface, and be widely debated and discussed. The salon is designed to empower innovators by striking up interactive discussions and debate amongst a global community of stakeholders.