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World Bank gets failing grade on ‘results’

10 April 2005


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The annual report of the Operations Evaluation Department (OED) of the World Bank released in March is scathing in its critique of the institution’s failure to become more focused on results on the ground. Prioritising development results – children schooled, clean water provided – over past emphasis on the measurement of inputs and lending volumes has been a stated priority of the ten years of the Wolfensohn presidency.

The report looks at how well the Bank has integrated results-based monitoring and evaluation (M&E) into its various activities:

  • The report credits the Bank for progress in making Country Assistance Strategies more focused on results.
  • The Bank’s networks (such as environmentally and socially sustainable development, private sector and infrastructure) come in for heavy criticism. Guidance to staff on setting objectives and tracking their achievement has been “scanty”. Three out of four sector strategies are rated as “less than satisfactory: vague, lacking both in selectivity and in practical operational guidance”.
  • Monitoring and evaluation of results achievement in investment lending is described as a “work in progress”, while guidelines on adjustment lending contain “no specific guidance on M&E”.
  • In the Bank’s analytical work, M&E “is still rare”.

Having found so much lacking in the Bank’s procedures on achieving results, the report’s authors go on to say that this is the easier part of re-orienting towards development outcomes. Harder still is fixing an organisational culture and incentive system “not designed for managing for results”.

staff fear negative consequences for slow disbursements

The only incentives for staff to align their work with a results-focus comes from shareholders. Staff interviewees raised questions about management’s commitment to the results initiative and complained of a lack of operational guidance. They observed that recent messages on increasing infrastructure lending could “compete with the focus on outcomes”. Worse still, interviewees feared “negative consequences for slow disbursements, but not for failing to achieve outcomes or for failing to distill and act on lessons of experience”.

Only 44 per cent of staff agree that they are rewarded according to their job performance. Meanwhile 29 per cent have experience work pressures that have harmed their health.

A ‘results secretariat’ has been established at the centre, along with ‘results focal point’ in each network and region. Again, the report finds that these staff “are not clear about their mandate” and are “lacking a phased plan”. The Bank’s matrix management structure has led to “excessive management and transaction costs, task proliferation, and dilution of the results focus”. There is a “lack of clarity” about the roles of networks and sectors. Overall, the report concludes that Bank efforts to address the organisational culture and incentives have “been lacking or, at best, weak”. Shocking findings for an institution that has claimed the right to judge entire nations’ progress in achieving development results.