Knowledge Solutions for Development: An Evaluation of ADB’s Readiness for Strategy 2030
In 1966, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) was created to foster economic growth and cooperation in Asia and the Pacific. The past five decades have seen remarkable progress in this endeavor, with economic growth leading to a precipitous drop in poverty in Asia and the Pacific. Most developing member countries have now left low-income status.
As a result of this extraordinary transformation, ADB’s public- and private-sector partners are becoming more sophisticated and demanding. For ADB to maintain its relevance, it must address these demands by accelerating its evolution. ADB’s new strategy, Strategy 2030, is quite explicit in recognizing the challenge. It places a heavy emphasis on ADB providing value addition through greater integration of knowledge in its financial support.
Against this backdrop, the evaluation’s underlying question is simple: How ready is ADB to meet the new demands of its partners? The evaluation asks this question in the context of the transition taking place in the region and the world economy, with knowledge itself becoming the force driving change even if access to knowledge has not been equal—many of ADB’s partners are falling behind. The question is also asked in the context of Strategy 2030, which has set new aspirations and targets for the institutional contribution to regional development.
Most evaluations put a strong emphasis on understanding performance and results to support the institutional accountability and learning functions; this evaluation is different. It looks at ADB’s past performance along with current and emerging practices with the primary purpose of identifying opportunities for improvement in a rapidly evolving area. It is geared towards providing frameworks, understanding institutional practices and identifying issues, lessons and recommendations to help the Board and ADB Management make the strategic and tactical decisions needed to reposition the institution so it can deliver knowledge for development.
The evaluation team compared ADB with benchmarks, drawing from the experience of peer organizations and leading knowledge organizations. It took a holistic approach to knowledge, with the understanding that formal knowledge products and services represent only a fraction of ADB’s knowledge support. While recognizing the many attributes and resources that ADB has to achieve the vision stated in Strategy 2030, the evaluation also makes it clear that success is by no means assured and that there is ample room for improvement. The challenges that ADB faces are not unique and have been faced by many organizations—being stifled by too many “silos” in the organization being just one. To remain relevant, ADB needs to leave its comfort zone and promote change. Building on its substantial resources, its regional knowledge, and strong regional goodwill, ADB will need to change its incentives and develop a more horizontal knowledge-oriented and teamwork-based culture.
Repositioning the institution so it can provide knowledge for development will require a significant strategic decision on the part of the Board of Directors and ADB Management. IED offers a set of recommendations on the way forward. The evaluation argues that ADB can continue its gradual reform within the context of its Finance++ model (a focus on low-cost finance supported by partnerships and knowledge) or it can adopt a more significant reform, moving to what the evaluation calls the Knowledge++ model (a focus on a high-quality valued-added blend of knowledge and finance and partnerships with implications for resources and costs). This decision requires clarity on ADB’s strategic intentions and long-term commitment. We trust that this evaluation fulfills its objective by providing the critical knowledge needed to move this agenda forward in a significant way.