The Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) was well into a series of reforms designed to enhance the value and impact of our evaluation work when the global spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) changed everything.Like everyone else, we had to adapt quickly to the new challenge. Fortunately, some of the improvements we had made to our internal processes gave us a strong platform on which to increase our agility, flexibility, and innovation and engage quickly with World Bank Group counterparts on the evolving crisis response.
As the Bank Group began deliberations on how best to help client countries cope with the multiple impacts of the pandemic, we immediately shifted our focus toward delivering the most relevant evaluative evidence. We mined IEG’s knowledge repository to prepare a just-in-time lessons note based on evaluations of Bank Group responses to past public health crises. This note helped inform decisions that led to the launch of the Bank Group’s multiphase programmatic approach to COVID-19 in April of this year and was followed by a demand for similar notes on other issues central to the pandemic response. Concurrently, both internal and external counterparts asked how they could maintain critical systems of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) in the face of the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. IEG conducted seminars and published blogs on how to adapt methods, use a range of different technologies, and draw relevant lessons from M&E in fragile and crisis-affected environments. To ensure the lessons from past global crises and current guidance on adapting M&E to the current context are widely accessible, we created a resource library. For the longer term, relevant evaluations have been adjusted to include a focus on the impacts of the pandemic. Although IEG reacted quickly to align our work with the new priorities, the crisis in many ways served to accelerate the change in approach we had already begun implementing.
“We immediately shifted our focus toward delivering the most relevant evaluative evidence.”
It can be hard to remember, but there was a time before COVID-19 struck. IEG began fiscal year (FY)20 with a commitment to listen to internal and external voices on how to increase the relevance and utility of our work. A major part of this process included the recruitment of an external firm to perform an independent review of IEG’s country- and project-level evaluations and validations. We received the final report in May and will use the feedback to improve the impact of these products in FY21. In line with the Bank Group’s increased outcome orientation, we conducted an internal review to determine how we can improve our assessment of country development outcomes through all our evaluations and validations. We also conducted an internal review to assess the use and influence of IEG reports; this review was conducted as a facilitated, self-discovery exercise drawing inputs from IEG staff complemented by a web analytics study of IEG’s online presence. A budget review also enabled us to optimize the use of IEG’s resources. A last piece of the self-reflection puzzle was the client survey. This year’s survey was shortened from 45 questions to 16 to narrow the focus to the relevance, timeliness, and value of IEG’s work and to increase the response rate. The response rate increased by 70 percent, and the results showed that perceptions of evaluation quality have improved while engagement with IEG’s evidence has increased. However, the reduced use of IEG evaluations in ex ante project design is an area for major improvement and a key focus of the micro-product review.
The investment in internal reviews has provided us with a road map for improving the relevance and value of all our outputs, and we have already begun to follow it. The pandemic has driven home the need for agility and flexibility and added extra urgency to IEG’s mandate of supporting evaluation capacity development worldwide. The demand for this support has been growing steadily, as more and more countries have integrated the Sustainable Development Goals into their national development goals. To meet this demand, IEG has worked closely with the United Nations Development Programme’s Independent Evaluation Office to help facilitate the creation of a global partnership to coordinate and scale up current efforts to develop evaluation capacity. The initiative, which will launch in FY21, is the result of extensive consultations with partner countries and inclusive collaboration among donor and partner countries and a range of local and international organizations. The new program will pool resources and coordinate activities while drawing on both local knowledge and the global expertise of our worldwide network of Centers for Learning on Evaluation and Results to close the gaps in evaluation capacity development. As countries face the global pandemic, it is essential they have the capacity for evidence-informed policies to measure their progress and to ensure the most vulnerable are protected.
The pandemic has driven home the need for agility and flexibility and added extra urgency to IEG’s mandate of supporting evaluation capacity development worldwide.
To address key longer-term development challenges, IEG’s work program will continue to build on the strategic framework established last year, which has six streams and two cross-cutting themes. The goals are to limit the number of larger evaluations and increase the quality of findings, recommendations, and lessons. We will also remain flexible in addressing shifting Bank Group priorities, respond agilely to changing circumstances, and innovate how we deliver our findings to those who need them, when they need them.
We accept that there will be trade-offs and that the constraints imposed by COVID-19 are significant. Nevertheless, IEG has an exciting work program for the new fiscal year, with lots of potential for innovation, and I really look forward to delivering a high-quality, timely, and influential portfolio of work.