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Submitted by Philippa on

Owen Barder, in his talk on Development and Complexity ( provides a great example for the link between science and art in the delivery and the power of iterative adaptation when facing complex problems:
Steve Jones, a now famous evolutionary biologist was asked to improve the shape of a nozzle used for making soap powder as Unilever’s scientists did not seem to get very far with attempting to calculate the optimal shape based on the theory of non-linear fluid dynamics.
Steve Jones tried an empirical approach: He produced 10 randomly distorted copies of the existing nozzle, tested them and produced another 10 randomly distorted copies of the one that had proven to be most efficient. The nozzle resulting from 45 generations of randomly distorted copies was, according to Barder, “hundreds of times more efficient” than the original one. The example is found in “Section 3, making a nozzle” of the video mentioned above.
My question would be whether the WB could embrace such mechanisms by moving away from a fixed project setting to an adaptive approach. Two major issues with this seem to be: 1) The question of measurement: If projects are adaptive with respect to what are they evaluated? 2) How are incentives aligned? If there is no fixed objective, how can staff be incentivised to deliver effectively?
Maybe I am wrong but it does not seem theoretically impossible to tackle these challenges. Following on from the ideas exposed above, it seems that 1) adapting what the WB measures (moving towards indicators focused on problem solving rather than achieving a fixed outcome and real time feedback rather than retrospective evaluation) and 2) changing how indicators are measured (making use of what Kenneth Neil Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger call 'datafication', "the ability to render into data many aspects of the world that have never been quantified before", could help overcoming these issues.
Disclaimer: This is the view of an uninformed outsider and I could be very mistaken about the facts. Secondly, I am aware of the difficulties with translating this into reality but there does not seem to be any harm in contemplating. I would be interested to hear an opinion from inside on this topic.

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