The Social Observatory: Adaptive Learning in Development Projects

May 10, 2016 - “Scaling-Up” is one of the biggest challenges in development. Interventions that work well with small populations routinely face challenges in expanding to a larger number of communities. This is particularly true of interventions that have unpredictable trajectories of change such as participatory and community-based interventions. Such projects hinge upon their adaptive capacity —the ability to be nimble, to learn by doing, and to make mid-course corrections in management and design—in order to be effective.

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The Social Observatory has been working for five years with a $2 billion portfolio of livelihoods projects in India to improve their capacity to adapt. A team of economists, sociologists, behavioural scientists, and management information system specialists has been engaged in a constructive collaboration with operations staff to improve implementation on the frontlines.

On May 10, 2016, Vijayendra Rao, Lead Economist, The World Bank, was in Ottawa and shared his work with the Social Observatory. Dr. Rao discussed this interdisciplinary approach to improve development impact. He highlighted findings from impact evaluations and in-depth long-term qualitative research to show the “how and why” of when livelihoods interventions succeed and fail. He also demonstrated a new method of Participatory-Tracking that allows communities to generate census data with which they can monitor their own progress, make better allocation decisions, and provide a source of information to engage with the government to improve public services.

For more on the Social Observatory please see: http://socialobservatory.worldbank.org/.

To watch the webcast from the event, please click on the video below:

To learn more about The Social Observatory, watch this video here:


Vijayendra Rao
Lead Economist, Development Research Group

Vijayendra Rao is a Lead Economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank. He integrates his training in economics with theories and methods from anthropology, sociology and political science to study the social, cultural, and political context of extreme poverty in developing countries. Dr. Rao has published on a variety of subjects that include dowries and domestic violence in India, the economics of celebrations, sex work in Calcutta, participatory development, village democracy and deliberation, and inter-disciplinary approaches to public policy. He co-edited Culture and Public Action, and History, Historians and Development Policy, and co-authored the 2006 World Development Report on Equity and Development. Most recently, with Ghazala Mansuri, he co-authored the World Bank's Policy Research Report on Localizing Development: Does Participation Work?

Dr. Rao obtained a BA (Economics, Statistics, Sociology) from St. Xavier's College - Bombay (now Mumbai), a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, was a post-doctoral fellow at the Economics Research Center and an Associate of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies at the University of Chicago, and taught at the University of Michigan and Williams College before joining the World Bank's Research Department in 1999. He serves on the editorial boards of several journals, and is a member of the Successful Societies Program at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), and affiliated with research institutes and NGOs in India, the US, and the UK.


Undertaken with the financial support of:

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Read 4494 times Last modified on Tuesday, 21 March 2017 19:29

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