According to an in-house review of World Bank projects, over the past five years only 2 percent of programs had been properly evaluated to see whether they had made a difference. Last summer, World Bank chief economist Francois Bourguignon launched an initiative to change that by requiring evaluation in all big projects the bank funded.

Already, one surprising finding has rolled in. Its evaluation of school enrollment in 21 of the world’s poorest countries found that building more schools did...

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