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Evaluative lessons for building back better post COVID-19

Evaluative lessons for building back better post COVID-19

Posted on: April 27, 2021

Written by Vinod Thomas and Xubei Luo, authors of Multilateral Banks and the Development Process: Vital Links in the Results Chain, available in open acess under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND licence

One year after the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the world economy shrank and years of progress in poverty reduction was wiped out. Strengthening the links in the chain connecting development efforts to development results is crucial for building a greener, more resilient, and inclusive future. Evaluations can help development practitioners understand what has worked, in what context and through what channels, and identify ways to seize opportunities for better development outcomes.

We believe making our book, Multilateral Banks and the Development Process: Vital Links in the Results Chain, a common good and sharing knowledge widely through open access will bring benefits to the development community. Lessons, marshalled from evaluations after the 2008/09 global financial crisis with a focus on the vital but often underemphasized links in the results chain, remain pertinent in the current context and can have large impact at this critical juncture.

A lesson of wide relevance is that to build back better, it is essential to put in place not only short-term responses to save lives but also longer-term investments to rebuild livelihoods. The needed attention to the immediate ought not to crowd out what is important for the long term.  To be sure, the top priority must be to save lives. But when things are rushed and resources are tight, it is crucial to ensure immediate steps feed into long-term solutions. The benefits of preventing climate change, water crisis, and major calamities might be fully visible only in the future, but efforts are needed now to avoid costly corrections. There is great value in using a part of the post crisis spending for investments—in transport logistic and electricity grids, in basic healthcare, in skilling and reskilling individuals, and in green technologies and digitalization.

In turbulent times after crises, careful counterfactual analysis is more important than ever for measuring the impact of development programs. The direct and indirect effects of the interventions must be both assessed for the social well-being and economic performance of the beneficiaries. Country program outcomes are more often conditioned by interventions outside projects, some within and some beyond the control of many players.  Gains are impressive when vital links among related areas are capitalized on. The reconstruction post pandemic may span multiple sectors and themes. Getting vaccines into people’s arms requires not only well staffed health clinics but also efficiently maintained cold chains logistics as well as sound public awareness. Synergies among multiple sectors and public-private partnership must be exploited to improve service delivery. Regional approaches may offer good potential to strengthen the aid architecture for multi-country efforts.

The COVID-19 pushed 120 million people into extreme poverty in 2020 (1).  The pandemic and lockdowns had a differential impact on economic activity and jobs disproportionately affecting the vulnerable, particularly, workers in the informal sector and women. The new poor are more likely to live in urban areas, work more in non-agriculture and as paid employees, and have a higher number of years of education compared with the chronic poor (2).    Past success of projects in an area notwithstanding, direction may need to shift in view of new challenges. Supporting households would require not only implementing policies that protect the existing poor but also adaptation of safety net programs targeting the new poor as well as designing new supporting programs in both rural and urban areas, particularly for informal workers and women.

The global economy stands at a crossroads post COVID-19. It may not be enough to do things right when changes can enable us to do the right things. In a rapidly changing environment, it pays to change the mindsets in policy making and focus on the vital links in the development chain in decision making. As actions interact and their results are often interdependent, it is imperative to capitalize on the big effects cross disciplines and countries as well as over the time horizons. Tarry not - time is now to take actions drawing from lessons learned with agility and flexibility to address the immediate and enduring needs of rebuilding a better future.

The book has country examples from around the world and themes of relevance in every continent. Making the book open access and eliminating the paywall can help readers across the world, particularly those in less developed countries or with lower income, to access the information. We believe the findings of this work are a public good, and open access functions in the spirit of sharing free a public good.


(1) Updated estimates of the impact of COVID-19 on global poverty: Looking back at 2020 and the outlook for 2021 (worldbank.org)

(2) Profiles-of-the-new-poor-due-to-the-COVID-19-pandemic.pdf (worldbank.org)

The views expressed here are the authors’ and do not reflect those of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, their Executive Directors, or the countries they represent.