Decentralization delivers many benefits to the World Bank’s clients, despite the quantitative analyses not corroborating clear and consistent relationships between staff location and project ratings. These benefits include helping develop (i) better relationships and greater trust among World Bank staff and government counterparts, (ii) a more in-depth understanding by World Bank staff of client country contexts and political economies, (iii) greater collaboration with development partners in the field, and (iv) quicker and more frequent operational support to counterparts. However, the benefits vary across different types of countries. These benefits are most apparent in FCS and low-capacity countries. For example, in some FCS countries, the World Bank’s local presence after long periods of disengagement lends credibility to fledgling governments and helps restore client confidence in the World Bank. This trust helped the World Bank support institutional reforms, cultivate government ownership over the development process, and coordinate strategic priorities with donors by leading MDTFs. Clients in fragile and low-capacity countries perceive the World Bank’s in-country presence as critical for building local capacity, and clients in some higher-capacity countries greatly value the World Bank’s global knowledge and operational support to complex operations. Meanwhile, the multivariate statistical analysis did not uncover systematic links between the World Bank’s field presence and project performance ratings. The evidence of decentralization’s impact on country programs is limited as well because the World Bank’s self-evaluations of country programs rarely examine the impacts from the World Bank’s staff presence in countries.
Decentralization also brought challenges and inefficiencies that should be mitigated to enhance the World Bank’s effectiveness and avoid undermining its global nature. Some of these inefficiencies were anticipated trade-offs from a decentralized structure, such as some erosion of the World Bank’s common corporate culture and the risk to global knowledge flow. Other inefficiencies were unanticipated, such as the human resource bias toward countries where the country director is located; these multicountry CMUs often do not provide adequate technical and operational support to all country offices within the CMU. Despite some improvements in mobility benefits for staff deployed to FCS countries, the World Bank still has difficulties in attracting skilled international staff with the right mind-set and skills to field posts in many lower-income or FCS countries. At the same time, the World Bank provides limited professional and career development support for experienced LRS, who are an essential part of the World Bank’s global footprint. The evaluation also found that it matters where certain types of staff are located. For example, designating country-based staff as co-TTLs does not automatically ensure timely support for projects unless these co-TTLs have project decision-making authority. Moreover, the location of practice managers, who are increasingly moving to the field, is of critical importance, given their role in staff’s career management and in the chain of project decision-making.
The World Bank’s current approach to its global footprint would benefit from improving the framework and guidance used to drive decentralization decisions, and actively managing the decentralization challenges within current budget constraints. In this context, the evaluation recommends the World Bank (i) fine-tune its approach to managing decentralization anchored on explicit objectives and guiding principles, (ii) take measures to safeguard knowledge flow and the World Bank’s global nature, and (iii) improve career management of LRS to harness their full potential.
The World Bank should refine its current approach to managing its staffing global footprint by clearly specifying decentralization’s expected outcomes and adopting principles to guide and adjust decentralization decision-making based on evidence.
The World Bank’s decentralization decisions are carried out in the context of the work program planning and budgeting processes (Work Program Agreement), which aim to tailor the staffing to a country’s portfolio. However, the evaluation found that these mechanisms may not be sufficient to secure timely availability of staff with the right skill mix for a large group of countries. The broad corporate staffing targets for the field provide additional incentives for decentralization, but they do not guarantee that decentralization decisions are fully tailored to country and program needs or channeled to areas where decentralization can bring the most benefits, leading to missed opportunities. For instance, despite the World Bank’s corporate focus on FCS, the World Bank has found it difficult to attract staff to these more “difficult” countries and, instead, the largest share of staff are concentrated in a few countries where the country director is located. Complementing quantitative targets with specific objectives and principles to guide this process would allow the World Bank to enhance its approach to managing its global footprint.
- Adopt clear principles to guide decentralization’s decision-making. Such principles would help Regions and GPs to tailor and fine-tune decentralization decisions. These principles could include, for example, the following:
- Ensuring that decentralization decisions are not only informed by immediate country program needs but are also aligned better with countries’ medium-term needs (for example, more aligned with CPFs). This will improve the predictability of the staffing support that countries can expect to receive and allow a more nimble and timely deployment of staff.
- Prioritizing the location of projects TTLs with decision-making authority in the recipient countries or empowering country-based TTLs with ADM responsibilities. The World Bank could do this by delegating more project-related decision-making powers to staff in client countries, including delegating more project ADM responsibilities to LRS and experimenting with alternative models to project task management.
- Ensuring that staff deployed to multicountry CMUs adequately support non-CD countries of CMUs.
- Adopting a more flexible approach to practice manager placement that balances the GP’s needs with Region- and country-specific needs. Locate practice managers close to their staff to ensure regular and timely access to the staff they supervise. This could also include experimenting with and reinforcing virtual solutions to bring Regions and sectors closer where the situations are less clear-cut.
- Monitor and manage global footprint expansion more actively. Devising a light-touch monitoring, evaluation, and learning approach that collects evidence on key aspects of decentralization would assist in making timely course corrections and calibrating the global footprint based on country needs, corporate priorities, and Regional dynamics. The mitigation of key challenges should be one key aspect to monitor. For example, the World Bank could monitor and assess the extent to which the recent changes to the career framework and the benefits structure are achieving the expected results, particularly with respect to improving global mobility, such as removing key barriers to staff mobility and attracting qualified staff to low-capacity or FCS countries.
The World Bank should mitigate the risks to knowledge flow brought about by decentralization and put in place safeguards to avoid developing country and Regional silos.
Decentralization can enrich the World Bank’s knowledge flow by bringing global knowledge and innovation to the field and generating local knowledge that informs World Bank strategies and operations. However, decentralization and other organizational changes, discussed in chapters 2 and 4, can also pose risks to knowledge flow if not managed proactively. The World Bank’s knowledge management—which includes generating, curating, and sharing knowledge—is still concentrated in headquarters. There is also a strong perception among staff that formal knowledge generated by field staff is often less valued and less frequently curated for global use than headquarters-generated knowledge.
Reduced staff movement from the field to headquarters and local staff’s limited exposure to the World Bank’s corporate vision and culture could contribute to Regional and country silos and undermine the World Bank’s global nature. Moreover, many field staff feel they miss out on professional networking opportunities in the field, which can constrain their professional growth and career development. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 crisis, although presenting many challenges, also revealed new ways to enhance networking and knowledge exchange among field and headquarters staff.
- The World Bank could tailor its knowledge management mechanisms better to field staff’s needs and ensure that knowledge produced in the field flows to other field locations and to headquarters. Improving the mechanisms for curating and sharing of knowledge produced in the field and investing in virtual and in-person channels for networking and knowledge sharing would facilitate this process. The headquarters-focused knowledge management approach might also need revisiting.
- The World Bank should continue to promote staff mobility by rotating IRS between headquarters and the field and increasing cross-support opportunities for LRS. These efforts would enhance knowledge flow and ease the risk of the World Bank developing country and Regional silos.
The World Bank should establish clear and structured paths to systematically promote LRS professional and career growth within its overall approach to improving the effectiveness of its global footprint.
Local staff are a key pillar of the World Bank’s global footprint, providing continuity of staff and knowledge within country offices. However, the evaluation shows that their career management is uneven, and many LRS have limited opportunities to grow professionally and diversify their skills and experiences, leading to untapped potential among the World Bank’s LRS and a missed opportunity to make the World Bank’s global footprint more effective.
- The World Bank could harness LRS’ potential by providing more opportunities for professional and career growth. Such opportunities could include (i) virtual or in-office development assignments or cross-support opportunities in headquarters and satellite offices; (ii) assignments on project teams in other countries within the same Region; (iii) provision of adequate reentry guarantees for LRS that successfully compete for TCN positions in other countries; (iv) temporary job swaps between LRS in different countries, possibly using the TCN model; (v) mentoring programs specifically designed for LRS to build LRS capacity and facilitate their immersion into the World Bank’s corporate culture; and (vi) networking opportunities, including virtual ones, to connect LRS to colleagues and managers at headquarters and in other Regions.
Acting on these recommendations would maximize decentralization’s benefits while safeguarding knowledge flow and the World Bank’s global nature. The World Bank has moved well beyond the question of whether to decentralize. The issue now is how to further adjust the global footprint on the margins to maximize benefits while limiting potential negative trade-offs to knowledge flow and corporate culture.