The World Bank Group and other international organizations have moved quickly to help developing countries cope with the potentially catastrophic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, launching a massive program that will have to be driven as much by evidence as the movement of resources. Along with drawing on lessons learned from the responses to past global crises, it will be vitally important that both countries and international organizations continue learning about what is working now and for whom. Keeping up with this fast-moving pandemic will require agility and the capacity to change course to meet new challenges, guided by a steady focus on the evidence.

This commitment to evidence will only be possible with robust systems for gathering and analyzing data, and the knowledge and expertise to translate the results into effective policies and actions. As the coronavirus has moved around the world, it has thrown into sharp relief the preexisting vulnerabilities of many social and economic institutions. Concern for the capacity of health and social protection systems in developing countries to cope with the consequences of the pandemic was one of the motivators for the scale and speed of the World Bank Group’s response. These vulnerabilities also exist in the capacities to gather and act on emerging evidence.

While the World Bank Group and other international organizations have well developed systems for monitoring the progress of their programs and evaluating their impact, the fast pace of the pandemic and uncertainty around its evolving shape, mean that they too require constant attention and adjustment to remain relevant and effective. Many developing countries either lack these systems or are in the process of building them. Developing countries that were already at a disadvantage are now doubly so in the face of the pandemic. Shoring up health systems and providing the resources to cope with the inevitable economic shocks are key priorities and developing countries can take advantage of the knowledge and expertise of international organizations, but every government needs robust monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems now more than ever to design effective policies.

Shoring up health systems and providing the resources to cope with the inevitable economic shocks are key priorities and developing countries can take advantage of the knowledge and expertise of international organizations, but every government needs robust monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems now more than ever to design effective policies.

Along with laying bare systemic weaknesses, the coronavirus has made the differing vulnerabilities among segments of the population more acute. In all settings, the poor are most at risk from and least equipped to cope with the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. In these unprecedented circumstances, governments need the capacity to track the progress of their policies, ensure that no one is being left behind, and to change course should the evidence warrant it. Without these capacities, governments are essentially working in the dark, and the most vulnerable are likely to bear a disproportionate burden of the consequences.

At the Independent Evaluation Group we have been working with developing countries to help build their M&E systems. There is broad commitment to evidence-based policy making but the right legal and regulatory environment is often missing, along with insufficient capacity to commission, conduct and use evaluations to inform decisions. This challenge has now been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced countries to take drastic measures to limit transmission. On top of creating the right environment and building systems, developing countries will have to innovate and learn along with the rest of the world how to maintain critical activities such as monitoring and evaluation in the current restrictive environments.


Before the advent of the pandemic, we had committed to scaling up our support for addressing the global gaps in M&E capacity. In view of the urgency, with the lack of M&E capacity a potential hurdle in the way of countries reaching the Sustainable Development Goals, and the enormity of the demand, we began building a global partnership with a range of countries and institutions to pool our technical and financial resources. The coronavirus pandemic has made this partnership and its goals even more urgent, and we continue to expand it despite the new challenges.

Closing the gap will require significant scale-up of existing support to governments; ranging from technical assistance, knowledge sharing, and training. We are combining evaluation capacity development (ECD) support to governments with World Bank Group and other international partners’ public sector management, governance, statistical capacity and sectoral expertise. In addition, we are leveraging our existing global network of regional ECD providers, the Centers for Learning and Evaluation (CLEAR). These centers are already working with partner governments on how to adapt M&E to the constraints imposed by the pandemic. The partnership will also be training the next generation of evaluation professionals through programs run by our International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and the Canadian Government’s Programme international de formation en évaluation du développement (PIFED), among others.

Effective, agile M&E systems are a key element of the pandemic response. For all countries, they are vital for the design of evidence-based policies, monitoring their progress and ensuring that the poorest and most vulnerable are not left behind. Support to developing countries for building their M&E systems and capacities will need to match the urgency and ambition of the global response to the coronavirus. These efforts are vital now and to build the capacities for responding to future crises.

image credit: Shutterstock / Jackie Niam 



Given the current limitations on face-to-face data collection, it might be useful to discuss the many remote data collection technologies that are now available - many of which are already being used by the Bank and other development agencies. Examples include: geospatial technologies (satellites and drones), social media and text analytics, phone call center records, the multiple applications of smart phones, internet searches, and the evolving field of the Internet of Things. Many of these tools make it possible to work with much larger samples and take advantage of machine learning and AI, and the wide range of data analytics tools that they make possible. The challenge for development agencies is to evaluate the range of new big data tools and techniques that are realistically available to different kinds of development agencies, and the time horizons over which new information architectures can be operationalized.

Many thanks for your comment Michael. We agree that such a discussion would be worthwhile, especially given the value of big data sources and remote methodologies (which we increasingly use in our work). There has been some discussion of such technologies recently in our blogs about M&E during COVID-19, one from our methods team about adapting evaluation designs during COVID-19 that includes information about experimenting with text analytics using Artificial Intelligence, and another post that details where and how to apply caution in using such remote data collection technologies. That post also points to a useful toolkit of tech-enabled handheld devices for digital data collection from Elias Sagmeister of the Global Public Policy Institute. Last year our methods team held a session which outlined approaches and tools to use geospatial data for evaluation, a recording of which is available on our website.

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