More often than not, evaluation is equated with blame and "gotcha"€ attitudes. Far too seldom, does a focus on accountability - in the sense of acting responsibly - and learning prevail.

Most of us who have worked in multilateral organizations joined them when they were fully functioning institutions, with structures, systems, and processes in place. Every multilateral organization has a corporate culture uniquely its own. This culture is formed by many factors, and manifests itself in many different ways -€“ overtly and, more often than not, elusively through norms of behaviors. Old-timers know what they are, newcomers need to learn them to thrive in the institutional context. 

A number of recent evaluations we have done at IEG show how important intangible behavioral norms are to defining culture in general, and to shaping a focus on results and (self-) evaluation in particular. Every organization I have worked at over the past 30 years has had some degree of, let'™s see, aversion to evaluation. More often than not, evaluation is equated with blame and "€œgotcha"€ attitudes. Far too seldom, does a focus on accountability --€“ in the sense of acting responsibly --€“ and learning prevail. And, yes, I can hear the voices murmuring: "€œand who'€™s to blame for that? Of course, evaluators who behave like the inquisition!"

In IEG we have invested a lot to reverse that perception and will continue to do so. But, today, I want to speak about the challenges and opportunities for creating a new culture. This is relevant in particular in the wake of the new multilateral institutions that have been created, notably the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank. How will they fare? Will they adopt the same mind-set as existing multilateral development banks, or will they do something different? 

Certainly, the odds seem stacked in a certain direction.

  • Internal Pressures – Old Baggage. Many staff hired into the new institutions will likely come from existing multilateral institutions, and bring with them existing notions of what evaluation and a results culture are all about. The risk of negative perceptions is high. The effect: a perpetuation of cultures that assume accountability equals blame, that suffer the burden of some form of self-evaluation, and one that perfunctorily deals with results. 
  • External Pressures – Jointly Financed Projects. The new institutions are committed to working together, which is a good thing. However, it also means that if one of the institutions wants to introduce a different results culture, it will have to manage differences in culture.
  • Efficiency versus Complexity of Results. The new institutions aim to be lean and efficient. However, results – especially when defined as development effectiveness rather than outputs – are complex and difficult to measure. Data collection, results measurement systems, and analytics might be seen as costly and time-consuming, in short: inefficient. 

In spite of these challenges, I see great opportunities for the new international finance institutions - or others -€“ to make deliberate, different choices. Especially in light of active debates about improving results culture, performance, and development outcomes in existing institutions. 

  • Deliberate Choices. Today, we have much greater knowledge of behavioral economics and organizational psychology than existed when multilateral organizations, such as the World Bank,were created over 50 years ago. Likewise, the understanding of results and measurement has grown considerably, especially over the last decade. This means new institutions can make deliberate choices about the corporate culture they want to create rather than letting it evolve. Anyone who is working in an organization or company knows how hard culture change is, which should be enough of an incentive to make deliberate choices and implement them.
  • Walk the Talk. Using this over-used phrase risks the cynical smile, but it is what actually needs to be done. Saying development outcomes are important and then counting the distribution of inputs will not instill a results culture. Instead, it takes day-to-day conversation and action to make sure results matter. If these conversations ask for evidence to demonstrate that benefits and results will occur, strong signals will be set. 
  • Shifting from Blame to Learning. The new institutions have the opportunity to learn from others before their own projects get evaluated. They can tap into existing evaluation databases, discuss insights and lessons and what they mean for their work. If done well, this can develop a culture for critical conversations that happen before a loan or project is approved, rather than when it comes to closing it out. 

The new institutions can become partner-competitors who incentivize change in the right direction, not only in terms of efficiency but also for enhancing development effectiveness and results.

Read also - Results and Performance of the World Bank Group 2015

Related Blog- Is the World Bank Group on Track?

Comments

Submitted by Ahmed Mustafa … on Wed, 06/15/2016 - 00:13

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Shifting from blame to learning and then evaluation

Submitted by Bob on Tue, 07/12/2016 - 07:09

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All evaluators do not suffer from inferiority complexes that they need to find someone to blame for the project's failures. Evaluators who have managed projects themselves know that operational staff work under a lot of pressure to lend and meet deadlines. Successful outcomes depends on many actors with government intermediaries being the most important. What is important is to take sufficient time at the project preparation stage to learn from the experience of previous projects in the country and sector and incorporate these lessons in the design and implementation. All stakeholders need to be involved actively in project design and appraisal so that there is clarity and commitment from the beginning.

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