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From Science of Delivery to Doing Development Differently

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17 March 2015

The World Bank has a question; how can it improve its Science of Delivery? The Science of Delivery means "to learn better and adapt more quickly when things work well or when they don't work well and take some of the lessons of that learning and apply them elsewhere." And this comes with structural reforms as well as a change of culture. "We are quite excited about it", said Jeffrey Lewis, Chief Economist of the Global Practices at the World Bank.

Science of Delivery does not try to predict how delivery will happen, but rather to develop a cumulative body of knowledge and take a scientific approach on “the what and how” to deliver outcomes for citizens.



Science of Delivery involves 5 elements: 

  1. Focus on welfare gains of citizens
  2. Use of evidence to inform experimentation, learn, adapt, and measure results
  3. Being adaptive, flexible, and iterative when implementing solutions
  4. Multi-sector, interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder approaches and partnerships
  5. Change management, leadership, and learning from practitioners

The Doing Development Differently (#DDD) manifesto was signed by more than 400 members of the development community in November 2014. The signatories include those advocating for: 

  • more evidence before action,
  • more flexibility,
  • more chances to make small bets, to sometimes fail and adapt, and
  • local approaches for local problems, with credible partners and a true understanding of local context, including political economy, society and psychology (see the World Development Report 2015: Mind, Society, and Behavior).

As Mr Lewis underlined, #DDD is also "the need to spend more time listening to what the citizens want. It is not about us knowing what works best".

#DDD advocates include members of academia from Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Oxford, and Cambridge, as well as development practitioners, government representatives, donors, and local stakeholders.


Learn more through the online platform of the DDD Manifesto Community, including videos


And this is not all words. The World Bank is changing its practices. The next steps? To organise units according to delivery challenges instead of sectors, to apply to the extent possible the new approach on "high profile transformational projects", and to implement a "100% citizen feedback" on low income facility finance projects. 

Peter Vowles, Head of Programme Delivery at the UK Department for International Development (DFID), said Science of Delivery is also "to flex and adapt to changing context … breaking down the idea that you can plan everything five years out".



At DFID level, this has been translated by major organisational changes.

DFID has developed its programme processes (Smart Rules) to provide a clear operating framework for programme delivery.

"We are trying to strip back on process, to rethink how project management works. The project cycle management becoming [instead of] a set of control, more a planning tool", Mr Vowles said.

In moving away from rules towards a set of principles, DFID has scrapped 203 compliance tasks and replaced them with 37 rules and "that's all there is that's compulsory, after that you have discretion to use your judgement, to use context". A drastic change that should facilitate the work and enhance efficiency, effectiveness and results.

The ultimate aim is to move from "Science of Delivery" to "Art of Delivery". "We are trying to move away from standardised templates for everything to provide more space and discretion" said Mr Vowles.

But this has also an important impact on human resources and this is perhaps where the biggest challenge lies. In this context of more accountability and empowerment, you need to build the leadership capabilities of your programme leaders.

"All of us are international development leaders. If you are a programme leader in Somalia or DRC you have a leadership role, you have to lead the environment around you,” Mr Vowles said. “It is a different way of thinking. You are not a transactional manager, you are a leader.”

More globally, the World Bank wants to involve its partners in Doing Development Differently.

"The World Bank is big but not big enough to do everything by itself," said Mr Lewis.

More than 30 organisations have joined the Global Delivery Initiative. More information is available about the initiative on capacity4dev, here



"We want to co-create a community of knowledge about what happens in implementation" said Maria Gonzalez Asis, the Lead Operations Officer at the Global Practices office of the Vice-President of the World Bank.

One of three main objectives of the initiative is to work with partners to build a global library of delivery case studies.

For the World Bank, "the case study method encourages researchers to ask questions about under explored complex delivery problems and processes that development stakeholders routinely grapple with: what they are, when they arise, and how they might be addressed, including detailed accounts of delivery techniques, strategies, and experiences of the twists and turns of the implementation process."

These case studies should build a strong case for #DDD, together with research on "delivery gaps" and operational support to test the approach.

In December 2014, the World Bank organised a meeting in Berlin with key partners to discuss the Global Delivery Initiative. Peter Failer, the Director General, Multilateral Development Policy at BMZ concluded saying: "There must be more room for smart implementation. That means dynamic adjustments, feedback loops and very, very, important: a better knowledge-sharing during implementation." 



Learn more about the Science of Delivery on the Public Group on Aid Effectiveness, including:

Science of Delivery at the World Bank Group,

Five Science of Delivery Approaches: An Introduction, and

Science of Delivery at the World Bank - FAQs


This piece was written by Arnaud de Vanssay, with support from the Coordination Team.  

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.


Use judgement instead of 203 compliance processes, that seems like a reasonnable point of view.
Very good article, thanks.

I like this article too as i have written an article in this direction:

The role of Why? | What? | How? in Knowledge for Development to unlock development complexity where development efforts are still having resistances.

Here our ongoing support efforts:

Here our official Website:

Our official Website:

very good article. I like the idea of empowering programme managers and breaking the "matrix - myth". A bit more skeptical about a huge library of standardized case studies and the idea of "science for delivery". we need more heathy and contradictory debate.

Less boxes may free energy and space to think and explore. Still and understandably so, the perspective is donor centric. What do "partners" think about the new "smart rules"? Involving partners countries representatives in defining our systems may help challenge boxes, matrixes and burocraucratic reflexes.

Please here is how our development Case Studies process works across our Development Aid Support Mechanism:

Local volunteers are educated (Awareness is raised among communities about MDGs and SDGs. The volunteers’ capacity is strenghtend through trainings,
seminars and workshops. In addition to that, volunteers might take part in projects and social networking events.
Local volunteers go into their community to note any issues (Being aware of the MDGs and SDGs, local volunteers are able to raise awareness in the
communities and a variety of stakeholders (ex. village elders, sub-county and county administrators, families, churches, institutions, charities,
foundations, and volunteers). Volunteers are able to point out and report problems, by raising a request for development aid. Doing so:
We collect live data which we can proof and everybody can see and not fictive data or report data
We assess the data and if possible we could reject the data or we recomend expert field visit for proof
We build from the data our Development Case Studies (DCS)
We make it available to the party or universally accessible to all for actions.

See more at:

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