I am writing this at my desk on the 12th floor of the World Bank Group (WBG) headquarters it feels a long way from the hospitals where I began my career. I’m a doctor by training and I often get asked how I ended up running the WBG’s delivery unit. But actually, my medical background prepared me for this role in three big ways: understanding the nature of triage (prioritisation), formulating a differential diagnosis (troubleshooting), and using data to track prognosis and outcomes. All three are fundamental to my role at the Bank, as well as the new approach to development at the Bank under President Kim’s leadership.
Our ambitions here are to end extreme poverty by 2030 and boost shared prosperity. To help us do so, we are in the midst of a major reform programme both cultural and operational which involves breaking down silos between the different organisations within the WBG to enable stronger knowledge transfer and efficiency savings and better align budgets with strategy. President Kim who like me is a doctor by training came in with a very strong belief in the science of delivery. Some see it as an art, others as a science but personally I think “delivery” means a very healthy mix of both.
The President’s Delivery Unit (PDU) was established in August 2013. We monitor performance and provide a forum for identifying the planning or implementation issues that relate to institutional priorities, setting out progress and results on an external website. The work involves linking operations and processes to poverty goals, bringing together resources to accelerate progress, and promoting coordination in cross-cutting areas. There is also a formal and strong collaboration with WBG colleagues who work on the wider corporate scorecard. This close alignment ensures that the organisation’s indicators and metrics remain connected at all times.
The challenge around calling our team and collection of priorities a ‘delivery unit’ here is that it is we are only a part of the story, as we depend on our country members and our partners to deliver they’re the ones who do the heavy lifting in the field. We provide world-class knowledge, financial resources, convening power and help grow partnerships so we do our best to track progress against what we actually do. The president certainly supports and follows the scorecard metrics, but it would be impossible for him to track every single one. So we do our best to identify and cascade metrics that are indicative of larger issues or represent key drivers of change in order to monitor performance as a group.
The indicators tracked within the PDU include poverty-focused delivery commitments such as financial access, climate change and Ebola crisis response, and reform-focused commitments like project preparation time and citizen engagement. Our reform targets about the institution’s internal activities help demonstrate how we are taking steps to improve our own performance. But more importantly, we also have poverty-focused targets that help us make sure we make progress towards our 2030 deadline for ending extreme poverty.
So, how does the delivery unit actually work? There are a little more than a dozen people on the executive team and we all work together in different ways to support the priorities, but the PDU itself has a different structure and function than those in government which have line ministries that report in. What we try to do is establish alliances and relationships with the teams at the working level, while having constant dialogue with the leaders. When we troubleshoot with the teams, we aspire to be a friendly voice. We try to collaborate, enable and encourage. We want to hear about problems before they reach a crisis point, advocate for great work as it evolves and provide a safe space for discussion.
For us, the magic happens when there is robust data. Some of our priorities offer a quarterly or even more regular frequency of collection, which ensures we can iterate and adapt along the way. Finding the right targets is critical but we just don”t see a downside to putting everything out there. We are about transparency. We want our data to be open and the more we share the better, since more people tracking, sharing and learning together keeps us all honest and focused.
But man, this stuff is hard and there is always more for us to do. Ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity are the twin goals which act as the framework for our collective efforts. But as a friend of mine at the Gates Foundation once told me, ‘if you’re not keeping score you’re just practising’. Well, we’re not practising we”re taking score and we”re serious about ending poverty.
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