Platform for African – European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How the Bank Learns

Published on 1 Aug 2014
The "Learning and Results in World Bank Operations" evaluation was launched at the World Bank HQ in Washington, D.C. in July 2014.

The blog Wanted: A New Approach to Assessing Learning and Results provides a snapshot of some of the findings and what is going to happen in the second phase.


During an event about the first phase of the evaluation on Learning and Results, WB had panelists asking tough questions about how the World Bank can succeed in sharing knowledge and effectively learn through lending.

The discussion covered a lot of ground, which centered around five points:
  1. People are central. The Task Team Leaders who care about learning do so for their clients. They want clients to get the best possible outcomes and will go the extra mile for that. They have an ability to engage with stakeholders in the Bank and in client countries and internalize learning as they do. And they succeed in spite of “the system.” So, is it just a matter of getting the right people on board? Certainly, but the reality is that very few people are leaders in this way, and even their life can be easier, more efficient, and more fun if they don’t have to fight “the system.”
  2. The system as the beast. All of us who work in large organizations – public and private alike – know what it means when bureaucracy becomes an end unto itself. Things are done because “the system” requires them to be done. They either have nothing to do with the client service, or we have long forgotten the reasons for doing these things. We all resent and struggle with the rigidities, and yet we are all part of “the system” and sustain it. Panelists and the audience alike were in tune on this issue: the formality and inflexibility of the system hasgot to go.
  3. Systemic learning, nonetheless. The discussion brought up many calls for getting to a better place where learning is not dependent on chance, but where good practice is handed from one person to another, and shared in a much larger circle than happens now. Ideas included everything from mentoring to short write-ups of success and failure stories, and “blind” peer reviews.
  4. Leaders to the fore. Above all, the evaluation and the audience called on management to lead by example. What should that look like? Simple things like asking during review meetings: what have we learned from the past, have we tried this before, what are some of the mistakes we should avoid? Living the commitment to learning will be essential to becoming the Solutions Bank Group.
  5. Learning to learn. And finally, having the space and time to learn, be conscious of what it takes to learn and invest in those incentives and activities. The second phase of our evaluation is coming and will have even more information and recommendations on how the Bank Group can do a better job of learning.

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