Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Where is the “Worst and Best List” in the development debate?

Alan Beatti of the Financial Times in The Great Unknown, July 7, debates lucidly the Development Debate and to that effect enlists the opinions of some of the most prominent Development Talkers. What again is left out from the debate, perhaps as it is another inconvenient truth, is the fact that just a little bit more of real accountability for the actions of the developers could go a long way to stimulate better thinking and better implementing.

The following is an extract of my Voice and Noise where I recount part of my experience as an Executive Director at the World Bank.

"The standard feature of any evaluation and monitoring system we know of, is the use of some sort of distribution function, be it the normal bell-shaped curve or any other type. It somehow indicates the extremes; for instance, the worst 5% of the organization’s performance and the best 5%.

Any board, if it wants to be effective, cannot spend a lot of its time in the grayish middle area of the function, but has to concentrate its attention on the extremes of the curve, weeding out poor performance and learning from bad experiences, so as to avoid being dragged down into mediocrity, while guaranteeing the promotion of the best and learning from its successes, so as to advance the organization’s goals.

These distribution curves are totally absent in the evaluation brought forward for the Board to consider . . . it behooves us to make certain that they are adequately introduced. On a daily basis, the needy people of our constituencies are harshly evaluated by life in very cruel terms, so we might as well ask ourselves whether we should not be a little stricter in our assessments, living up to the accountability we so much preach to others."

Lacking the worst and best lists, budgets are allocated more on a per capita or on a per program basis than on the basis of what is working and what not. What private organization could function or survive this way?

Lacking the worst and best lists, scarce resources are further diluted. The possibility of concentrating the use of resources on a few countries and on a few programs to get some issues completely right in a sustainable way is almost non-existent. What private organization could function or survive this way?

I am absolutely sure that Robert Calderisi, William Easterly, Joseph Stiglitz, Andrew Charlton, Jeffrey Sachs and even the raconteur Alan Beattie are all great professionals and are all doing a splendid role verbalizing development issues but, except for passing some exams and delivering some papers in time, has anyone of them really been in a position of “either you deliver or you get out?” I wonder, not because I have anything against them, on the contrary, I wonder because it is our duty to wonder whether that might be part of the Problem, most especially since because of the Problem people are dying and the world is getting to be a nastier place. Friends, can we really afford not to step up our requirements that World Bank, IMF, and UNDP really deliver?