Measuring Project Scale Resilience: Five Ideas Gleaned from the World Bank

The World Bank recently released a document I find myself coming back to again and again: Operational Guidance for Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) in Climate and Disaster Resilience-Building Operations. I talked with its Nathan Engle, its primary author, to learn more about its genesis and intent. 

Nate is a senior climate change specialist with the World Bank’s Climate Change Strategy & Operations team. He has spent over a decade leading research, dialogue and solutions around assessing and monitoring adaptation, vulnerability and resilience.

Here are five insights gleaned from our conversation that I consider valuable for the resilience field:

1.    Nate worked for two years with dozens of resilience experts from the World Bank and elsewhere to determine how to measure resilience at the project scale One thing they did differently: Their measurement approach started from the monitoring and evaluation system for a project. Often, resilience measurement efforts start by trying to derive a resilience indicator by way of an investment screening or through aggregate measures or indices.

2.    Nate and his collaborators determined that the best way to measure resilience involves stepping back from an indicator focus and, instead, embedding indicator development as a vital element as part of a broader M&E system. The guidance focuses on a measurement process that considers robust theories of change, pathways to resilience, indicators specific to a project based upon its sector or geography and a project’s intended outcomes.

3.    Ultimately, they found that no resilience measure applies universally and neither does one indicator per sector. Rather, particular sectors need their own measures that are context-specific and provide scaffolding for further understanding of resilience building over time. In their resilience measurement work, Nate and his team discovered early that trying to make a single resilience indicator could incentivize bad, or maladaptive projects, and at the very least, be misleading.

4.    Since resilience building can be complex with longer-term outcomes and impact, to create more resilience in the near term, Nate advises that project managers build in mid-term reviews that invite restructuring. Harvesting insights from the implementation process to date may even spark changes to a project’s foundational theory of change. This comprises a culture shift since most evaluations seek to show the project is doing well and should keep going, without a feedback loop shaking the project up.

5.    The guidance suggests setting aside money up front to build in evaluation mechanisms, given how critical it is that we learn from resilience projects, many of which in this early era are testing new approaches.

I encourage you to read the guidance, all the way through the appendices, to reflect on these highlights and draw your own conclusions.