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(How) does the World Bank learn? Insights from a New Evaluation by the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015 - 17:45 to 19:00
John Snow Lecture Hall (B), LSHTM, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT
Marie M. Gaarder & John R. Heath, World Bank

Abstract: • What’s new? In 2014, 70 percent of bank staff reported that the pressure to lend crowds out learning, just as Wapenhans observed in 1992.
• Operational staff make limited use of knowledge emanating from the bank’s Development Research unit—let alone external research.
• The bank has just been reorganized into Global Practices intended to facilitate the flow of knowledge across the institution and between client countries—but if all knowledge is ultimately local, how fungible is ‘global good practice’?
• Is the bank adaptive enough? Most operational staff resist revising project development objectives when the project is failing—partly because there is a stigma attached to restructuring. 

Based on reviews of the academic and management literature, surveys and interviews with World Bank employees and case studies in seven countries, IEG has developed a set of recommendations for strengthening the governance of learning in World Bank operations. Learning is an integral part of the project cycle but it is poorly understood and its potential for boosting the quality of the bank’s operational work is underexploited. In this presentation, John Heath examined the evidence about how the bank learns in the course of lending, with particular reference to the role of tacit knowledge and the scope for applying the recent findings from behavioral science to make project teams work more effectively. Marie Gaarder addressed the link between learning and results, asking whether the current approach to measuring outcomes is sound enough for us to be sure that results have occurred, let alone learning. She assessed the quality of the evidence on World Bank outcomes that may be derived from impact evaluations, systematic reviews and M&E. Both presenters concluded by summarizing the broader implications for development work. 

About the speakers:

Marie M. Gaarder is Manager in the Public Sector Department of the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group (IEGPS) where she oversees thematic, sector, corporate and project evaluations. She joined the IEG from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), where she was the Director of the Evaluation Department in charge of independent evaluation of programs and activities financed over the Norwegian aid budget. Prior to joining NORAD she was the Deputy Executive Director of the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, 3ie, responsible for the impact evaluation programs, the promotion of evidence-based development policies and systematic reviews. Marie has over 15 years’ experience managing operational and research projects with a development focus and her publications cover areas including evaluation of conditional and unconditional cash transfer programs, evaluation in fragile and conflict-affected states, the institutionalization of government evaluation, and the use of evidence in decision-making. Prior to joining 3ie, she worked as a Senior Social Development Economist at the Inter-American Development Bank, specializing in social protection and health programs in Central America. Marie holds a Ph.D. in Economics from University College London, an M.Sc. in Economics from London School of Economics, and a Masters in Arabic, Political Science and Economics. 

John R. Heath is Senior Evaluation Officer in the Public Sector Department of the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group (IEGPS) where he is co-leader (with Soniya Carvalho) of the two evaluations on Learning and Results in World Bank Operations. He has been a World Bank staff member since 1990, initially working as an agricultural economist in the Africa and Latin America and Caribbean Regions. He has worked in the agriculture and rural development cluster of IEG since 1997. From 2005 to 2007 John was seconded from the Bank to work as an adviser in the Evaluation Department of the Department for International Development (UK government). Before joining the Bank he held research and teaching posts at the University of London, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and The American University, Washington, DC. John holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Cambridge, an M.Sc. in Agricultural Economics from the University of Reading, and a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Sussex. 

This seminar was part of the 3ie-LIDC Seminar Series 'What works in International Development'.

Download the PowerPoint presentation