Last week the Center for Global Development hosted a roundtable on “Program-for-Results” (P4R) – the World Bank’s proposed new lending instrument, which, as Bill Savedoff notes, marks a huge step for the Bank and potentially big changes to how it does business.
The World Bank Operations Policy team responsible for developing the new instrument joined experts in the development community to discuss issues raised by the proposed policy. Participants were generally supportive of the new lending instrument, which is designed to respond to client requests for support of government programs, and to disburse against the achievement of results. They noted some concerns – a key one being a tension between the Bank’s fiduciary, social, and environmental safeguards, and the effort to focus on results (discussed in greater detail here and in comments by Bill Savedoff and Alan Gelb). There is a concern that in addressing multiple safeguard and systems issues, and compromising among different stakeholders, the proposed policy as it stands may lose some of its capacity to be an effective outcome-driven instrument. Participants noted the need for clear and simple operational guidelines to appeal to a range of stakeholders.
Several roundtable participants also viewed the new policy as an opportunity to increase the role of civil society, perhaps in the monitoring or independent evaluation of progress under new policy loans. As we at CGD have said about Cash on Delivery Aid, making contracts public information (and as simple as possible) creates mechanisms for citizens to monitor progress and to understand how their governments are spending money.
When it comes to results-based funding, views were mixed on whether the donor agency needs to know where disbursed funds are going after results have been achieved, again perhaps revealing a tension between safeguard issues and a pure results-based approach. Participants agreed however that, if payments are to be made against results, independent verification is needed to ensure that there is confidence in those results.
World Bank staff emphasized that the P4R policy will provide a guideline under which a range of country operations could be designed, and that the instrument will not be appropriate in all settings. A view supported by many at the meeting was that it would make sense to roll out the new instrument in a progressive way with close monitoring, and gain experience and evidence of its success before opening it up more widely across the full range of countries where the World Bank has programs.
Nancy Birdsall, moderator of the discussion, summarized key points of the discussion as being an emphasis on learning-by-doing (scale up gradually as we learn how P4R works); creativity (think of new ways to address the tensions raised); simplicity (don’t overburden the new policy); independent verification (to alleviate concerns about reported results) and transparency (about the rules, criteria, implementation, and results of the new policy).