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New World Bank corporate scorecard: adding value?

18 November 2011


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After discussions with the executive board and staff, but no public consultation, the Bank released a “corporate scorecard” in September, aiming to provide “a snapshot of the Bank’s overall performance” to help “strategic dialogue between management and the board on progress made and areas that need attention.” The Bank will issue the scorecard annually, though it is not clear how it will relate to existing annual reports on performance, such as the Independent Evaluation Group’s (IEG, the Bank’s arms-length evaluation unit) annual assessments and the Bank’s annual report.

The scorecard covers the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the Bank’s middle-income country arm, and the International Development Association (IDA), the Bank’s low-income country arm, though many of the indicators are drawn from the IDA results framework agreed at the end of last year (see Update 74).  Previous Bank president James Wolfensohn proposed a corporate scorecard in the late 1990s, which sank without trace, while the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Bank’s private sector arm, has had its own version for several years.

The scorecard has four “tiers” of indicators ranging from the high level development outcomes of tier one, such as population below the $1.25 poverty measure, to organisational effectiveness issues covered under tier four. The Bank recognises that tier one results “cannot be attributed to the Bank”. Tier two covers “country reports supported by the Bank”, such as “people provided [by Bank projects] with access to improved water sources”. Outcomes are measured at tier two, but no specific targets are set: such targets are restricted to the organisational issues of tier four, and tier three’s “development outcomes and operational effectiveness”, which examine the performance ratings the Bank gives to its portfolios.

In a September blog, World Bank vice president for operations policy and country services (OPCS), Joachim von Amsberg, described it as “really an accountability tool designed to provide a snapshot of the World Bank’s overall performance”.

Some board members, such as the UK, are hoping it will drive performance at the Bank (see Update 77). However, availability of data heavily influences the selection of indicators, with the Bank admitting that “most scorecard indicators were largely selected from a broader set for which reliable data already exist.” Recognising some of these problems, the Bank has said it is working on how to include qualitative assessment for activities such as technical assistance that don’t fit neatly into the scorecard’s parameters.       

The scorecard may risk falling foul of many other problems associated with trying to quantify results, such as the potential for selecting indicators which may drive performance in unintended directions. For example, tier two indicators include numbers of “people provided with access to electricity” and “people provided with access to improved sanitation” through Bank projects, leaving the Bank potentially liable to falling into the trap of focussing on the easiest areas in order to show improvement, rather than focussing on the poorest or most vulnerable populations. Finally, the scorecard covers only a selection of issues, with many indicators likely to surprise – either by inclusion or omission.

Elizabeth Arend of US-based NGO Gender Action said “the scorecard’s narrow approach to gender issues is extremely disappointing. Critical indicators on health and agriculture, for example, are not sex-disaggregated, making it almost impossible to judge whether real progress has been made. Criteria for other indicators is also questionable. For example, the scorecard measures ‘projects with gender-informed design’, but does not hold the Bank accountable for gender-informed project implementation, monitoring and evaluation.”

Most of the data for tiers three and four comes from existing World Bank internal systems, though some is described as IEG data. In fact the IEG validates internal Bank assessments of performance, and only conducts independent reviews of a proportion of them. The Bank intends to update the scorecard regularly and is focussing on adding more indicators on priority areas such as gender, institutions and governance, knowledge services, private sector development, and food security.