Development that Works
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    This blog highlights effective ideas in the fight against poverty and exclusion, and analyzes the impact of development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Do we learn more when we make mistakes?



    deo2013-cover-final-02-EN-sampleIn 2013 the Inter-American Development Bank financed 168 projects for a total of 14 billion dollars. Every day we ask ourselves if our projects are contributing to the well-being of the region; if they are improving quality of life for the girls, farmers, and retirees we had in mind when we planned the interventions; if we really know if the projects failed or succeeded; if information and methods with which we try to measure the gains or losses are rigorous and, of course, accurate.

    These are some of the questions we try to answer with our “Development Effectiveness Overview” report.

    The central theme of this year’s report is learning. The IDB seeks to and must learn from the good and the bad results of its work. In this context, this year’s report includes several articles on our learning in operational experience, the way in which we measure ourselves, and how we measure the effectiveness of our work.

    Just as with people, the lessons that can be learned from mistakes can be more powerful than those of our successes, and therefore improve our future projects and increase their development impact.

    In a novel way, we document a series of failures in six areas of our operational work and how we are learning from them.

    For example, we learned that the privatization of water service does not always produce positive results and that institutional, political and legal aspects can derail the best technical designs. These lessons help us to formulate better projects in the future.

    If we do not learn from failure, what can happen is what Coco Chanel once famously sentenced: “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.”

    The report is a compendium of data that broadly reflects the results of the Bank’s work. But we want to go beyond that and show how the figures reflect projects that are under way every day in Latin America and the Caribbean. For this purpose we tell, in simple language, 45 stories ranging from the expansion of access to electricity in isolated communities in Guatemala, to the improvement of solid waste management in Belize, to a project that promotes ecotourism in Brazil, to another that seeks to support Caribbean countries efforts in mitigating the effects of climate change. We care very much about results, and we care a lot about measuring them rigorously. We also report on the results of ten impact evaluations on projects that had Bank funding.

    In this report we also showcase some of the millions of voices in our region. You will find interviews, videos, and stories of those who benefit from our projects and those who make it possible to bring them to fruition.

    Finally, to search for results and not repeat failures is at the heart of what we do. However, if we do not communicate this message clearly and in a way that is understood by all, our work is in vain. In today’s interconnected world, a report on paper alone is like an urgent message in a bottle that never arrives because it breaks against a cliff’s fierce and inhospitable rocks.

    This year we are introducing a dynamic DEO web site where you can navigate and dive into our successes and our errors. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message.

    I hope you read it, enjoy it and tell us in the blog’s comment area what you like and what we could improve. We want to continue to learn.


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