Monday, January 03, 2005

On our own (World Bank) governance: The Normal Distribution Function is missing

Dear Colleagues,

The 14th of October we discussed the 2003 Annual Report on Operations Evaluation, and I must admit that I felt a bit unsatisfied with the debate because, when it ended, I left without a real feeling of what was working well in the Bank and what was not. It was only later that I suddenly realized what was missing from the report, so although perhaps a little late, let me share this worry with you.

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

Only hours away from completing my first year at the Board, I cannot honestly tell you, with any degree of certainty, about what is working and what is not, and this is quite frustrating. I know I share this sense of frustration with most of you and perhaps the root of our problem lies in the fact that these distribution curves are totally absent in the evaluations brought forward for the Board to consider. If so, it behooves us to make certain they are adequately introduced.

In general terms, I have felt a generalized difficulty of the Bank to manage criticism, as just the utterance of minor questioning, or even withholding praise, makes one sometimes feel somewhat of a traitor to that esprit de corps that is expected to prevail. We have also reached a point where it is even hard to congratulate one another on extraordinarily good performance as the value of praise has been diluted by its ridiculously excessive use.

All this is wrong and clearly to the detriment of the efficiency of our development work that so many poor depend upon. 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.

I wonder: does anyone join me in challenging our evaluation and monitoring systems to come up with a list of the 4 worst and the 5 best activities? of the WB? What if our own Board effectiveness is among the worst?


Extract from Voice and Noise 2006