Last week we launched our first phase report on Learning and Results in World Bank Operations. The blog Wanted: A New Approach to Assessing Learning and Results provides a snapshot of some of the findings and what is going to happen in the second phase.

So why write about the same evaluation again so soon? Didn’t the evaluation tell us what we knew, namely that big organizations are quick to restructure and change processes, but move at a glacial pace when it comes to changing culture?

Because this evaluation and this launch event are unusual. Each stands alone as a contribution to changing the discourse. Culture change does not happen in a Big Bang. It takes continuous and repeated conversations about the need to change culture until we will see a shift in the way people think and behave. Our role in IEG is to contribute to these conversations, push the boundaries, be provocative, and tease out what else it will take to make the change that so many of us wish for.

So, what was so unusual about this evaluation and this event?

The evaluation itself was not based on a “plan” – a policy, strategy, program, or project – where we could compare stated objectives with attained outcomes. Rather, it is an evaluation of what are the explicit and implicit understandings about the value of learning in lending and how that relates to results.  

The event was also a departure from our usual presentation style. Instead of reporting the findings, we used the event to ask challenging questions and stimulate a discussion of issues that will be further evaluated in the second phase of this project. John Heath and Soniya Carvalho, who co-led the evaluation delivered stirring opening remarks.  John asked the audience to stop and think about when they learn and what stops them from doing so, and Soniya asked thought-provoking questions about whether we, as the World Bank, are not sufficiently outward focused in our learning and are insufficiently rewarded to ensure smooth implementation of projects.

We had a terrific panel (which is not so unusual: we have had fabulous panelists in the past and will continue bringing the best together to debate issues}, including World Bank Group colleagues Sanjay Pradhan, Vice President, Leadership, Learning, and Innovation; Ede Jorge Ijjasz-Vasquez, Senior Director, Urban, Rural, and Social Practices; Shomik Raj Mendiratta, Lead Urban Transport Specialist, Transport, Information, and Communications Technology; and Lucy M. Fye, Senior Private Sector Development Specialist, Trade and Competitiveness,  who were grilled by our chief knowledge officer Monika Weber-Fahr about priority topics the audience had chosen on the spot.

The audience was asked to vote on eight themes to guide the panel discussion.  The top three were:  person-to-person conversations, rewards and penalties, and making time for learning. As the panelists spoke about these topics, the audience wrote in questions that appeared immediately on the screen and were picked up by Monika and panelists as they debated the issues.

The discussion covered a lot of ground, which centered around five points:

  1. People are central. The Task Team Leaders who care about learning do so for their clients. They want clients to get the best possible outcomes and will go the extra mile for that. They have an ability to engage with stakeholders in the Bank and in client countries and internalize learning as they do. And they succeed in spite of “the system.”  So, is it just a matter of getting the right people on board? Certainly, but the reality is that  very few people are leaders in this way, and even their life can be easier, more efficient, and more fun if they don’t have to fight “the system.”
  2. The system as the beast. All of us who work in large organizations – public and private alike – know what it means when bureaucracy becomes an end unto itself. Things are done because “the system” requires them to be done. They either have nothing to do with the client service, or we have long forgotten the reasons for doing these things. We all resent and struggle with the rigidities, and yet we are all part of “the system” and sustain it. Panelists and the audience alike were in tune on this issue: the formality and inflexibility of the system hasgot to go.
  3. Systemic learning, nonetheless. The discussion brought up many calls for getting to a better place where learning is not dependent on chance, but where good practice is handed from one person to another, and shared in a much larger circle than happens now. Ideas included everything from mentoring to short write-ups of success and failure stories, and “blind” peer reviews.
  4. Leaders to the fore. Above all, the evaluation and the audience called on management to lead by example. What should that look like? Simple things like asking during review meetings: what have we learned from the past, have we tried this before, what are some of the mistakes we should avoid? Living the commitment to learning will be essential to becoming the Solutions Bank Group.
  5. Learning to learn. And finally, having the space and time to learn, be conscious of what it takes to learn and invest in those incentives and activities. The second phase of our evaluation is coming and will have even more information and recommendations on how the Bank Group can do a better job of learning. Stay tuned! 

* Insight from one of the participants at IEG’s launch event for Learning and Results in World Bank Operations: How the Bank Learns


Submitted by Prasanna Lal Das on Tue, 07/29/2014 - 05:45

Sounds like it was an interesting event (wonder if there's a recording available). Predictable quibbles about the 'system'. Wonder if there was any discussion about people learning 'in spite of' learning programs...this is waiting for the results of the second phase of the evaluation.

Submitted by tirwin1 on Fri, 08/01/2014 - 07:47

In reply to by Prasanna Lal Das

You can watch a video of the event here: Thanks for your interest.

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