How Systematic is the World Bank's Approach?

Despite remarkable progress advancing the Millennium Development Goal for poverty, more than halving poverty since 1990, there remain more than a billion people, nearly 15% of humanity, still mired in poverty.  The Bank has committed itself to reducing this number to under 3% by 2030, an ambitious and daunting challenge.  Targeted efforts will be required to achieve this goal, built on knowledge and analysis of what works to sustainably eliminate poverty.  To help understand how the Bank is positioned to rise to this challenge, we recently completed an evaluation assessing the poverty focus of the World Bank. The report looks at how well the Bank maintains its focus on poverty in the cycle that spans data collection, diagnostics, strategy formulation and implementation, and learning from experience. It asks: are data and diagnostics adequate to inform strategic choice?  Are strategies informed by analysis and being put into practice?  Is feedback and learning informing corrective action so as to better reduce poverty?  

Here are some of the key findings.

Data, Data, Data. Data is the foundation for understanding the causes of poverty and informing solutions: it is "the lifeblood of decision making".  The evaluation found excellence in the Bank's core work on developing internationally comparable poverty data, but also identified major challenges. There remain significant shortcomings in the consistency, quality and timeliness of the data.  Data transparency and access, for the Bank and hence for citizens and the global community, is problematic in many countries, ostensibly for political reasons. The World Bank, and the UN, are committed to supporting national statistical capacity, but resources are constrained and often not a priority of governments.   

Diagnostics. Diagnostics depend on quality data.  Unsurprisingly, when data are not sound or are inaccessible, the quality of diagnostic work suffers. Overall, the evaluation confirmed the high quality of the Bank's diagnostic work, but found a need for greater actionability of the recommendations to help guide policy.  Country context, including ethnic and regional differences, and factors such as social exclusion and the political economy, are critical for getting at the root causes of poverty.  Making sure diagnostic work is picked up in public debate and policy-making helps ensure that decision-makers can make informed choices about the poverty implications of policies and programs they adopt. 

Country Strategies. The World Bank's country strategies (Country Partnership Frameworks) are determined through discussion with governments, who ultimately set the priorities. In countries with high levels of commitment to poverty eradication, World Bank country strategies did a good job at translating diagnostics into strategic choices. Where countries have not prioritized poverty eradication, the Bank faces tensions between engaging with government priorities versus meeting corporate goals for focusing on poverty reduction.  

Strategy Implementation. The evaluation found most operational programs to be aligned with priorities for poverty reduction set out in strategies. Not infrequently, adjustments were made to programs either for legitimate reasons (such as adjusting to shocks, capacity constraints, political change), or if government commitment to poverty reduction falters.  If commitment changes, high-quality, timely diagnostics and technical assistance can be used to identify entry points and lay the groundwork for engagement when opportunities for greater impact on poverty arise.

Feedback Loops. Unfortunately, no surprises here! Feedback loops are the weakest link in the poverty and development chain. While good at collecting data on poverty and generating insightful poverty diagnostics, these (very similar) capacities were not applied to monitoring and evaluation. The report reiterates observations made in many other evaluations about weaknesses in results frameworks, indicators and metrics, and measurement systems. It also highlights that country and project results frameworks are not well integrated, and recommends that all Bank projects include baseline data and guidelines for sustained monitoring and evaluation.

The evaluation points to the need for much greater focus on each step of this chain, starting with greater effort to ensure timely data coverage and quality for all countries, building close linkages between diagnostics and strategy, and focusing on the learning function from country and project experience.

Bank management has strongly supported these conclusions and is preparing an action plan to carry the recommendations forward. We look forward, through outreach and other evaluation work, to supporting them and operational colleagues deliver more effective country engagement.

Comments

Submitted by Gérard Chenais on Sat, 05/23/2015 - 04:40

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There is something not totally rational here: the World Bank is 'a cooperative' of member countries still, here, the Bank 'blames' some countries for too week a cooperation. Where are decisions taken? Reading this the overall feeling is that the Bank does well but many member countries do not!

Submitted by Gérard Chenais on Sat, 05/23/2015 - 05:19

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My own experience is that the national statistics regulation is often disregarded by Bank staff leading to infringements by nationals. A typical case is the attempt to access micro-data that the regulation most of the time ban to all in accordance with the UN adopted Fundamental principles of official statistics http://unstats.un.org/unsd/dnss/gp/FP-New-E.pdf Principle 6: Individual data collected by statistical agencies for statistical compilation, whether they refer to natural or legal persons, are to be strictly confidential and used exclusively for statistical purposes. Also many regulations provide for an explicit and formal authorisation (a visa) to any statistical surveys; many such surveys, including when sponsored by the Bank, were conducted without this authorisation stripping the citizens from the rights and the protection the regulation provides. Improving the national regulation is a long process involving Government and Parliament, but this cannot justify infringements in the mean time. Had this been initiated 10 years ago, it would not be an issue today. Proper governance of the statistical system is a core element of capacity building not requiring much resources, but a sound regulation. gerard.chenais@gmail.com

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