Silo Fighters Blog

Crowdsourcing the campfire: how our data visualization contest opened doors

BY Abigail Taylor-Jones | November 14, 2018

“Visualizations act as a campfire around which we gather to tell stories.” - Al Shalloway, founder and CEO of Net Objectives. Telling our story well is key to ensuring we can influence policy and other key decision-making processes. In order to do so, it is important to get new insights from the evidence we generate from the data we collect. To give a sense of the scale, we collect data from 130 UN Country Teams, serving 165 countries. The types of data we collect ranges from operational data, socio-economic data, financial data, data on coordination and results. Sitting behind the walls of the UN can sometimes be lonely ploughing through all this data (other times it is quite daunting). So, we have to think of creative ways to gather new insights to tell a good and compelling story. The UN is known as an organization that brings people together globally to participate in various ways, for example working towards realizing the goals set for 2030 Agenda. For us, being open and inclusive about the UN’s work is always at the forefront of our minds, even when it comes to data. We started thinking about ways to include others from outside the UN in our analysis and data visualization process. As the Secretariat to the UN Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG) we have access to a wide range of data, so we thought, why not launch our first ever UNSDG data visualization contest and find out what others can see in our data? So, my colleague Kana Kudo and I did just that. In collaboration with Tableau, we launched the contest and invited data scientists and anyone interested in data visualization to use our data from the UNSDG portal, which pulls UN specific data, published by several agencies, using the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standards to report how the UN is contributing to the global development agenda. Data is powerful but we don’t always know how to tell a story with it After launching the contest, we realized there were blind spots that we failed to see. For example, some of the submissions did make use of the IATI data sets, while others did not. The guidelines we provided were clear, however the research questions were a little unclear. We ended up receiving several stunning visualizations, but they were not exactly what we were looking for. We learned that when it comes to data, it’s best to be specific. Another learning was that data scientists wanted the option to work with other data visualization tools and not be limited to Tableau; so we had to broaden the scope of tools for the contest. We brought a selection panel together to assess the submissions, and we selected two winners. The first winner crafted “Visualizing Malaria: The Killer Disease Killing Africa,” an impactful visualization that analyses malaria deaths in the world, how they have changed, and how funding has evolved over the years, particularly in Africa. The contestant explained that she had been inspired by the experience of a dear friend who had been infected with malaria. We also liked this visualization on malaria because it focused on both the positive and negative aspects of the fight against this diseases. Whilst lives are been saved through the use of mosquito nets, there’s also a downward trend in other aspects, which means more still needs to be done. [caption id="attachment_10399" align="alignnone" width="542"] Visualization by Rosebud Anwuri[/caption] The second data visualization titled “Leave no one Behind”, included the UN’s spending on each Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) per country, looking at the financial distribution among the SDGs. The underlying calculations were just as impressive as the visualization itself! We liked this visual and we were interested in how the participant highlighted the leaving no one behind aspect, which is the central promise of the 2030 Agenda; and an overarching programming principle. Looking at how we are doing from a financial expenditure perspective is key to assessing the UN’s contribution to the SDGs. Behind the scenes, our team in Headquarters was tinkering with developing UN Info, a tool that integrates the UN contributions to the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. This is an important aspect because it keeps us accountable and helps UN Country Teams with programme management. From this contest, it was clear to us that data is obviously powerful but we don’t always know how to tell a story out of it. We were very impressed with the contestants’ interpretations and the visualizations. As a bonus, we also gained unexpected and useful insights that helped us refine our UN IATI data set.   [caption id="attachment_10400" align="alignnone" width="570"] Visualization by Pedro Fontoura[/caption] One of the things that we also discovered, is that data scientists like to get involved. Chloe Tseng, founder of Viz for Social Good contacted us to find out how she could collaborate with us. Although she didn’t participate in the contest, we were keen to work with Chloe and her team of volunteers just as she was to work with us. Goal 17 of the SDGs relates to partnerships and we know how important it is work with others to realize our goals. We gave Viz for Social Good a particular set of data related to the partnerships that the Country Teams have beyond the UN. If you haven’t read Viz for Social Good’s journey working with us, and the beautiful visualizations that came out of our partnership, check it out here. Our data was too fat! The contest was a great learning opportunity for us. From our collaboration with Chloe and the Viz For Social Good network of over 2000 data visualization experts, we learned that our data is good but we need to look at ways of improving the way data is parsed through our systems and ensure that it is formatted in a manageable and easy way for data scientists to work with it. Chloe also gave us feedback on moving from larger chunks of data to smaller chunks. We took these recommendations very seriously and have made significant changes in our data systems for optimum use by data scientists. We trimmed down our data in smaller chunks that requires little time for data cleaning which allows for quicker analysis. This experience was definitely an eye opener in terms of telling a more powerful and compelling story than we will ever be able to do if we stick to large sets of data in an excel format. The campfire is still with us Collaborating with Viz For Social Good and with the contest participants inspired our team to adapt our digital strategy work.  Seeing the way these artists take data and communicate with it opened our eyes. Our taste has changed and boy have our standards gotten higher. We are designing dashboards for future projects and seeing the artistry has upped our game for the long run.   Photo: Wenni Zhou

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Five ways the UN is experimenting together in 2018

BY Maria Blanco Lora | May 3, 2018

Here at silo-fighting HQ, for a fourth year in a row, we are trying to incentivize the UN to innovate together. This is our annual moment to listen to how UN country teams plan to go beyond business as usual and model next generation practices to meet the demands of Agenda 2030. We love this time of year, as the proposals themselves are great intelligence on the front line, and we get to know the problems teams want to solve and what tools they have at their disposal to solve them. We were looking for joint efforts across UN agencies to innovate in the areas of data, behavioural insights, finance, collective intelligence and foresight. With thanks to our donors, these are investments in innovations which can either be scaled from one agency to the rest of the system efforts, from one sector or field to another, from one country to another, or from one geographic area to country-wide applicability. We are also funding UN teams that want to break new ground and test hypotheses for more proof-of-concept type innovations. The competition among country teams for the funding was tough, but thanks to our review team, after 100 proposals, we finally decided on 34 experiments and scaling efforts that we are thrilled to present in this blog. Data for preparedness, prevention and prediction Innovations in data was the most popular area in the proposals this year. A good chunk of winning pitches focus on new ways of gathering and analysing data to allow countries better prepare and respond to natural disasters along with citizen-generated data for predictive analytics.   In the Pacific, the UN country team in Samoa, will use new technologies to analyse households preparedness to cyclones, while Fiji will be scaling VAMPIRE to measure the impact of cyclones through data mining and build predictive analytics. In Viet Nam, the UN team will develop digital tools to link baseline data on vulnerability and resilience to preparedness to long-term planning disaster recovery planning. To prevent food insecurity, the UN in Malawi will be using geospatial information to assist farmers and, in Ghana, the team will use remote sensing and drones to provide the government with timely data to respond to food security threats. In Iraq, crop productivity mapping through the use of mobile data collection and satellite imagery will explore new ways of measuring poverty beyond traditional surveys.  Sudan, PNG and Jordan will use participatory methodologies, based on mobile phone data, to test water and sanitation projects in camps for internally displaced persons to predict development investments and to look for future development trends.    The UN team in Dominican Republic will build on their previous experience to develop a national SDG data lab to integrate sustainable development into the development planning in the country. Also, Serbia will be developing an algorithm to assess the alignment of the national development plan and sectoral strategies to the SDGs. Last but not least, Uzbekistan will be using blockchain to improve public services testing whether this will reduce transaction costs and increase transparency. Ramping up participatory programming with collective intelligence Lots of UN teams are trying to tap into the best collective minds in the countries they serve, with an increase in the use of  new methods and technologies to engage the general public in policy development, budget allocation and monitoring. Based on what we got for our call for proposals, UN country teams feel comfortable using mobile tech to tap into collective intelligence to triangulate data or test their hypothesis while undertaking planning processes. Albania and Mexico are using mobile technologies and social media to gather perceptions on the progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Digital tools, such as Rapid Pro, will be used by Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Somalia to enhance the dialogue with local authorities and, in the case of T&T and Suriname, to engage young people in policy monitoring and development. Colombia, through automatic speech recognition, and Lesotho, through open challenges, will also use collective intelligence for participatory planning and accountable governance respectively. In Senegal, the UN country team will be supporting community health workers with a real-time monitoring tool, SMS-based, to prevent health emergencies. Monitoring will be also the scope of the project in Honduras, where women will be able to share and identify safe zones in the city of Choloma through crowdsourced audits facilitated by a real-time data collection app. The UN country team in Iraq will engage youth IT developers and activists to harness the power of new technologies to oversee public investments in the documentation, conservation, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the country's cultural heritage. In China, the UN team will link up farmers with tech companies to find solutions to connectivity gaps among poor farmers and decision makers using mobile technologies, e-platforms and drones. The Pulse Lab Kampala in Uganda will advance their machine learning driven radio tools to develop an open software platform for the UN country team to enable open access to existing software applications developed by the Lab that will allow programme colleagues harness collective intelligence for their work.  The UN team in Moldova will be on a quest to experiment, test and fine-tune a platform-based organizational model to explore if this type of platform would be feasible in the case of the UN global mandate. Behavioural insights to meet people where they are 2018 was the first year we opened up to proposals in the area of Behavioural Insights. We will be funding initiatives to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse (Nigeria), to learn from devients to halt male violent behaviour towards women (Palestine) and to eliminate female genital mutilation/cutting (Mauritania). In Costa Rica, the UN country team will use behavioural insights to understand and tackle structural development gaps among the most excluded communities. Popular technologies in these proposals are social media, SMS polling, big data and the use of radio. Innovative finance to channel private funds to development UN teams in three countries will be experimenting with new forms of financing in 2018: Colombia, Somalia, and Armenia. Team Colombia will develop innovative blending finance solutions to support enterprises with peacebuilding impact in remote locations in the country. The UN in Somalia will set up open innovation challenges and crowdfunding platforms and the UN and the government in Armenia will be leveraging private finance for SDG-related objectives through social impact bonds as part of their SDG innovation Lab. Imagining possible futures and seeing the future that is already here To begin to use the future as a tool for development work today. Two UN teams will be using foresight and alternative futures as part of their sustainable development work. In Egypt, the idea is to build scenarios to encourage foresight dialogues as a tool to increase civic engagement to define Egypt's future. The team will make use of forecasting tools such as Three Horizon Framework and Verge Foresight Framework. In the same region, Lebanon will apply a participatory approach to foresight, asking citizens to contribute to a foresight exercise using a mapping tool.    Pinky swear: we promise to work out loud…. This work will be led by a growing community of innovators within the UN. We are proud to have colleagues from almost every agency working in the field leading these innovations and we are aware that there are many more out there. The idea is to connect and learn from each other, so we are looking for mentors to help us (data scientists, human-centered design, machine-learning among others. Webinars and our One UN Knowledge Exchange group will be our main channels to support our innovators. We will also tap into the UN Innovation Network. This was just a taste of the innovations that are coming up this year, for more, keep showing up to our Silo Fighters Blog. The UN innovators will be sharing their own stories in this space. And while you are at it, follow us on Twitter.     Photo: Trevor Samson / World Bank

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Bringing Brazil back office innovations into the spotlight

BY Maria Helena Mizuno Moreira | December 6, 2017

At the beginning of 2016, Nesta predicted that back office innovations would take center stage.   In the case of the UN in Brazil, this prediction was spot on. If you work outside the United Nations system you might assume that we consistently pool our resources. But we don't. This is largely due to the fact that the UN organisations were created one by one by the UN Member States over the last 70 years, and the different UN organisations therefore had to set up their own internal management structures - not unlike different ministries in a government. In the past, cost savings have been pursued UN agency by UN agency within their sometimes very different business models. As part of the drive for better services and reduced costs, however, the UN has been reconsidering this model, and are trying out new methods for pooling back office functions to better serve the populations we work for.    The UN in Brazil is one of the four integrated business centers across the UN system that are piloting this new way of working. We named it the Joint Operations Facility, or the JOF (yes, we love acronyms in the UN!). The other integrated business pilots are in Cape Verde, Copenhagen and Viet Nam. In Brazil, we began 18 months ago with the idea of simplifying business processes and integrating services across UN entities. Out of 22 funds, programmes, and specialized agencies working in Brazil, six agencies endorsed this project: UNDP, UNFPA, UNESCO, UN Women, UNOPS and UN Environment, with UNAIDS as a partner agency. With the support of the UNDG Business Operations Working Group and the UN High-Level Committee on Management, we conducted a strategic review of business operations in the country. We assessed our procurement, IT and human resources needs and created a business case for pulling these back office functions together. This analysis was the official start of our Joint Operations Facility in Brazil. What does integrating business operations really mean? Setting up this facility meant creating a new team to fully address the new needs of these agencies in country. We created new positions for procurement, travel, ICT and a manager that oversees the work of the team. The JOF Manager reports to the UN Resident Coordinator, who shares the governance of the facility with the six agencies participating in the initiative. For decisions, we follow the General Assembly “one vote one voice” principle, so each agency has an equal say regardless of the size or volume of goods or funds they channel through the facility. Now 18 months later, we are proud to say that the members of this facility are working together on a single service platform centralizing procedures and business operations in the areas of procurement, travel, information and communications technology. Centralizing services allows for several benefits such a sharing the costs and risks, and allowing staff to specialise and therefore increase the quality of services. The bumpy parts As with any new endeavor, the UN in Brazil faced several obstacles including entrenched practices, cultural clashes, and different ways of thinking. Some entities felt that they took an unfair financial hit and perceived a disadvantage in their business services, while smaller entities already counted on the facility to sustain their activities. Other lessons that we learned during these 18 months of journey are: Never underestimate transition periods: What we realized during the process is that setting up solid administrative support services requires an investment, and the transition period shouldn’t be underestimated. Technology to the rescue: The ICT tools that the facility used were initially connected with specific UN entities’ requirement. We soon learned that this was too complex. A second generation of ICT applications and portal will be released soon allowing automated monitoring to improve control, transparency and operational efficiency. When duplication happens, breathe, and phase it out: Some of the participating agencies preferred to keep parallel internal operational structures. This was redundant to the purpose of the Joint Operations Facility, and agencies quickly realized that it was not sustainable and these structures are being phased out gradually. The lack of a global UN-wide common procurement manual has been a challenge, and we are trying to identify and adopt already existing operational good practices across the UN system to have a common framework. As a work-around, we are now working on our own common manual for procurement to consolidate practices including the adoption of a harmonized procurement manual. This has been a difficult and time consuming process. We believe that by expanding and providing additional procurement services, as well as launching the shared human resource services, we will ensure the sustainability and relevance of the facility. We are currently negotiating the provision of services to more agencies through service legal agreements, we will keep you posted in the number of agencies joining us! The silver lining It’s safe to say that our hard work ultimately paid off. Since launching the facility in March 2016, we are developing new procedures and tools to streamline our work. By simplifying and revamping our internal business flows, we are reducing our common operation footprint while improving the collective efficiency and saving costs. What’s next? In terms of next steps, some already see the opportunity to expand this facility into a regional hub. As the only integrated service center in the Latin America and the Caribbean region, building in the current structure we would have the potential to provide business operations services to multiple countries to increase cost savings and improve quality of office services. So we feel that this is just the beginning of an exciting project. Despite the hurdles, we trust that we are on the right track and will continue to support the United Nations to think outside the box and construct innovative, efficient and effective mechanisms to achieve the 2030 Agenda.

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Taking pilots to standards: Marking 10 years of ‘Delivering as One’

BY Alexander Freese, Gerald Daly, Helene Remling | November 2, 2016

We’ve all felt the touch of coordination. Whether for a hiking trip, a wedding or a picnic in the park: planning together who does what, working on more challenging treats in a team (that barbecue, photo book or treasure hunt!) leads to better results than anyone could have achieved alone –  and it is always more creative and fun too! When it comes to complexity, organizing the activities of 32 UN entities with development operations in 165 countries and territories and a total budget nearing 17 billion US Dollars can hardly be compared to a picnic in the park. But still, coordination in either scenario is essentially about common sense, pooling ideas and resources. Underlying is  the conviction, that one needs to go together instead of alone to achieve common goals. In November 2016, the UN has perhaps a less known anniversary to celebrate. Ten years ago a process was initiated that put the common sense of coordination for better development results on center stage for the UN development system: ‘Delivering as One’ was born.  Aimed at supporting the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, this initiative was launched by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006 based on recommendations by Member States to strengthen coordination and management of the UN development operations. Test, evaluate and standardize But what does it take to bring to bear the full potential of a cooperative and collaborative UN on the ground? ‘Delivering as One’ equipped UN teams in 8 countries with flexibility and resources to experiment and find answers to this crucial question.  Some six years later,‘Delivering as One’ was formally recognized by Member States as a valuable business model for UN development activities. Building on five crucial pillars of the UN at the country level, namely one programme, a common budget, one leadership, and to communicate and operate as one, the UN set off to formalise the approach. Mandated by the UN General Assembly, senior UNDG leadership launched a unique interagency process  to come up with  Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for ‘Delivering as One’. These procedures were to codify the approach and bring together the lessons learned from the pilot countries for the benefit of all UN teams across the globe. If you would like to return to the travel analogy, the ultimate survival guide for a successful camping trip. In 2014 the UN Secretary General and 18 Heads of UN Agencies signed the SOPs, making the SOPs document the UN guidance document with the largest ever number of signatures by UN leaders. We’ve learned a number of valuable lessons in this two year journey of reviewing, drafting and negotiating a guidance document that would help unite UN efforts on the ground. With Ban Ki-moon’s term ending and a new resolution to guide the UN development system underway, the UNDG is at an important crossroads and  these lessons could inform future UN change processes:  1. Maintaining momentum: Reforming big institutions takes time. But with concrete yet strategic requests such as for the SOPs, change can happen fast. New resolutions and leadership create momentum for necessary change that should be harnessed. Sometimes this does not allow for in-depth preparatory research, but this time around much data has been collected on the functioning of the SOPs at the country level, paving the way for speedy progress in taking the SOPs to the next level. 2. Co-create change with those who will implement it: The UNDG set up a dedicated high level group to develop the vision of the SOPs, and a series of working groups to flesh out technicalities. Even though the high level group included colleagues from the regional and country levels, due to the very ambitious timeline, little time was left to consult and communicate intensively with important stakeholders such as country level agency staff who would be the eventual implementers of the SOPs. This might have caused delays in the behavioral change required by UN staff at the country level. 3.Keep the big picture in mind, even as you work out the detail: Developing the SOPs was a technical consolidation of experiences with ‘Delivering as One’ At the same time it was a political negotiation as to what extent agency procedures would later align to the the new standards. The UNDG focused on the technical aspects, and could have informed senior leadership and communicated to its governing bodies better about the strategic goal of the SOPs along the way: A UN system at country level ready to provide integrated policy support and solutions to multidimensional development challenges as versatile and complementary teams and has the internal procedures in place to fully support it (e.g. to allow for truly joined upfront analysis and planning). 4.The plan-monitor-adjust loop: The adoption of the SOPs falls in a period of change for many agencies, with shifting funding structures, calls for reform of governance mechanisms and the Agenda 2030 that requires taking policy integration and coherence to the next level. The SOPs embody a whole-of-UN approach that mirrors the whole-of-Government ethos that is called for to find the ideal balance between the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda breaks new ground. In the same way, the SOPs allow for continuous adjustment of technical details while maintaining their broader strategic intent. To this end, the UNDG has set up a system to track progress in the implementation of the 15 core elements of the SOPs to allow for the analysis of bottlenecks and accountability towards Member States. Challenges ahead: Changing the way we work In 2015 the UN turned 70, a year that will always be remembered as a year marked by major agreements signalling a paradigm shift in tackling global challenges. But while it was an opportunity to look back, it was also a chance to look ahead.  To help us deliver on the universal and transformative 2030 Agenda, the main challenge going forward is to enable UNCTs to provide equally integrated support to Governments through fully implemented SOPs. We need to gather more evidence on the value addition of the SOPs towards the UN’s contribution to the 2030 Agenda, and in continued reduction of transaction costs and duplication in the UN development system. On average, 16 resident and non-resident agencies in each of our 131 UN Country Teams make an incredible breadth and depth of expertise available to  Governments and societies. They provide pooled expertise, policy support and resources at country level. The SOPs allow us to harness the opportunities inherent in this vast offering by the UN system. As the recently published first Progress Report on the SOPs shows, much has been achieved in the short time span of two years since the launch of the SOPs: They have contributed greatly to improved inter-agency collaboration and enhanced the strategic positioning and relevance of the UN development system at the country level. A growing number of UNCTs are now organized around results groups and the most advanced ones focus their policy capacities around joint policy products and joint work plans. Around one third of UNCTs are implementing, or are in the process of preparing, common Business Operations Strategies in support of their United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF). Programme Country Governments that have formally requested the UN to ‘Deliver as One’ are responding much more positively to questions on the UN’s alignment with national priorities, its overall contribution to development, and its focus on the poorest and most vulnerable people. The SOPs were agreed upon, signed and rolled out. Nevertheless, more time and effort is needed to fully implement them across all UN Country Teams. To realise the full potential of the SOPs, we also need to bring the required actions at headquarter level to the governing bodies of UN entities. Member States should understand that this change does not come overnight. Persistent follow-up is required from all stakeholders. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. As John Hendra, Senior UN Coordinator “Fit for Purpose” for the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, put it we can build on the SOPs as the “floor” – for UN support to the 2030 Agenda at the country level. They are flexible and common sense principles of working together, transparently, efficiently and effectively. They also ensure government oversight and ownership, helping the UN to better align with national development needs and objective. In this sense, progress made in the past 10 years on ‘Delivering as One’ makes for a great campfire story perfecting a journey towards a UN that delivers better together. A story told jointly by so many UN colleagues from a diversity of organizations, based in countries across the globe, united by the UN values, vision and mission. This is an encouraging result from the 2012 quadrennial comprehensive policy review (QCPR) resolution and positive signal going forward into the negotiations of the next resolution on the UN’s operational activities for development.

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How would Napoleon have approached the 2030 Agenda?

BY Lars Tushuizen | August 25, 2016

For months the trumpets sounded and the drums beat on a new milestone in UN development -- a beautiful baby, called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), was born. It's neither a boy nor a girl,  it’s gender balanced -- a small step for men, but a giant leap for mankind. So our development problems are solved. We have a “plan”. Which, as we all know, means we are all but there. Or so we would think. Truth be told -- the Millennium Development Goals did address a range of significant development issues and created a common cause that rallied the development world. But there is a thing that bothers me about these sweeping development frameworks. A fundamental thing that few know about and is not even discussed while thinking through implementation of programmes to achieve the SDGs. To address this fundamental notion in development programmes, let’s look back in time.  The Russian Campaign in 1812 During  the Russian Campaign in 1812. Napoleon tried to engage the Russian army for a decisive action at the Battle of Maloyaroslavets. His generals were planning their attack (programme) without consulting the logistics officers that needed to aptly plan the logistics and operations support for their plan. His troops exhausted, his operations disarrayed from the start --  with few rations  and no winter clothing -- Napoleon lost and was forced to retreat. His vision was solid but he failed to achieve his objectives and lost 95 per cent of his assets, including his men. Reflecting on this historical occurrence, let’s add a relative perspective to our action plan with the SDGs. We talk about how we will engage universally with all the people we are to serve, we talk about recruiting the best and the brightest the world has to offer, we talk about using big data and real time data to inform our programmes, and most of all, we talk about impact and results. Don’t get me wrong, the SDGs are a great achievement from a planning, monitoring and evaluation, and reporting perspective. And it will have a great impact if we manage it. But to achieve these lofty goals, there is very little thinking going on about the need and the resources for business operations to be reformed. Programmes consist for a large part of business operations processes- one way to look at a programme is that it is a collection of procurement of supplies and services, recruitment of the right staff with the right skills, logistics to move people and supplies around to the population that needs it, ICT to support the planning, reporting and collaboration, and increased analysis  analysis of ever growing data sets. If business operations is from Mars, programme is from Venus There for sure is a fundamental difference between business operations and programme. After all they involve very different skills and expertise. But this does not mean we should approach them as separate areas, where we plan and strategize in a very siloed approach. Especially in an environment where the focus is on integrated programming across agencies and mandates, joint annual planning and advanced collaboration in resource mobilization and implementation. This separation does not have to be. It should not be. We have the instruments to bring operations and programme planning together (as outlined in the Standard Operating Procedures for Delivering as One). Programmes and operations are two sides of the same coin - both are indispensable in delivering development impact. We cannot afford to have separate strategic planning and implementation. They are too closely linked to keep them separate. There is always more room for improvement The UN has introduced innovations in business operations through the business operations strategy, which is closely linked to the UNDAF and programme planning. This is a great start and the UNDG outlined quite an ambitious vision for the role of business operations under the SDGs. But what is needed is a change of mindset of both programme and operations staff, both of senior management and our rank and file. Instead of treating business operations to engage once the programme is set and treat them as an external force that needs to deliver services to the programme, business operations needs to be engaged in the projects. What is needed is a change in project development and implementation to ensure business operations as well as programme staff are part of the same team. Some agencies already do this, but there is more room for improvement. In the end it is like a war, a development war We think about the attack plan, the maneuvers that will get us to our goal and not to forget, the victory speech we will give to position this development war that ends all development wars (or all development, but that is besides the point). But what war is ever won without ensuring the logistics and operations of the army are developed at par with the strategy so the soldiers of reform and development don’t die from cold at the battlefield? We all know what happened to Napoleon. He had a plan, but he did not think through the operations and logistics to implement that plan. Based on the epic defeat and learning from his mistakes, how do you think Napoleon would implement the SDGs? Would we repeat history without learning from key events such as the Russian defeat?

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Inclusive UN strategic planning: a survivor’s guide

BY Bruno Pouezat | November 13, 2015

Having survived the UNDAF process, I provide these reflections in hope that my personal experience and personal convictions will help you and your United Nations Country Team (UNCT). These comments reflect personal experience – and where experience failed to meet expectations, personal convictions. Most will be self-evident, yet not applicable everywhere; and all may be totally misconceived. UNDAFs and Delivering As One: Tools to help the UN and its partners work better together UNDAF is a process, not a document. The document will only be as good as the process that led to it. The document will soon be forgotten; the governance structure and work practices will durably transform how we work and how we are perceived. In addition, in today’s rapidly evolving world, any analysis or programming framework will soon become outdated. The Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) allow for documents to be revised by consensus when needed; smooth-running governance structures will make this easy. Sweat the process, keep the document short. Delivering as One is a Swiss knife with an infinite list of options (‘SOPs’). Compared to earlier guidance, it represents an incremental step towards integration, not a revolution. Beyond the government formally asking for the application of the approach, there is no set minimum. The government and the UNCT can pick and choose how far to go along each of the pillars. 100 percent of any one pillar may not fit a given situation. Choose an option that works for you and adds value. Better to aim low and ratchet up the ambition once something is seen to work, rather than try for the moon, hit a snag and undermine the credibility of the entire effort.   Governance structures must be inclusive, participatory and transparent. Not only do they underpin programming quality, they contribute to our accountability, which goes beyond the national authorities. In line with the SOPs, I suggest: One national steering committee; Vertical thematic groups, one for each result area; Horizontal groups for cross-cutting issues (gender, human rights, youth, disaster risk reduction etc.); Monitoring and evaluation (M&E). All of the above to be co-chaired by a government and UN agency head; Communications and Operations – unless included in the local version of Delivering As One, these last two do not require a government co-chair nor reporting to the national steering committee. The national steering committee should be representative of all our partners at country level, keeping overall numbers reasonable – government, civil society, private sector, media, donors etc. Thematic groups should include anyone interested in the subject matter. All those interested should be on a mailing list or shared workspace. Only some will show up at every meeting, but all must be members, receive all the information and be able to come when they feel like it. The composition of the M&E Group is more technical. It should include the national statistics authorities, the national M&E association if there is one, M&E specialists in donor offices, etc. With regard to their contribution to the UNDAF, the groups are accountable to the national steering committee. The UN co-chairs are accountable to the UNCT. Collaboration, consultation and common work for a purpose Thematic groups function as forums for information exchange, and contribute to project formulation and monitoring. They also drive the drafting of the UNDAF and feed regular (annual/semi-annual) reporting. They should meet often and spend most of their time discussing development issues, not UNDAF bureaucratic requirements (best handled by a core group). People will come to meetings only if they gain something – information, understanding. Keep the meetings and the minutes short, the chairmanship lively and participative, and hold UN co-chairs up to their responsibility of representing the whole UN family, not their agency interests. Thematic groups can also contribute to resource mobilization to fill gaps in the resource table. The support of effective and representative groups provides credibility to a funding request to a donor with regard to a project/programme included in UNDAF. Thematic groups should not duplicate existing sectoral coordination arrangements – ideally, there should be only one coordination mechanism per sector, chaired by the government, which, as a line-item activity, would meet the needs of UNDAF and Delivering As One. Piggy-back on existing arrangements. The M&E group has essential accountability responsibilities: during UNDAF (and later on individual project/programme) formulation, it validates indicators and targets. During implementation, it provides the common format for thematic groups to report progress, and it validates the data they present. Focus on development results, and where working together adds value Joint programming is the aim; joint programmes are an optional tool – for use where and when clear benefits offset the administrative burden. Results framework and M&E constitute the core of the UNDAF. Get that part right. Convincing reporting demands sound M&E. Invest in M&E human resources at the agency and inter-agency (UNCT) level. Use national data systems – and strengthen them through a programme activity if need be. Use indicators that show the UN improving people’s lives, not the number of conferences/meetings/seminars/workshops – or even laws passed. As far as possible, avoid duplication by using UNDAF-wide reporting mechanisms to answer Agency-specific requirements – review meetings, results frameworks, reports etc. The UNDAF Annual Review report should cover most of the reporting requirements of the agencies/ funds/ programmes. Ownership – theirs and ours. Place government counterparts front and centre in annual reviews. Let them own the UNDAF results and be the ones reporting on them to their national peers (consider offering prior training on the effective use of PowerPoint). Consultants kill ownership – use consultants to facilitate the process and polish up the documents if need be; rely on UN staff and their partners for drafting, etc. UN staff’s participation in joint UN work must be reflected in their performance plan, and actual contributions highlighted in their performance appraisal. UN co-chairs can be asked to provide inputs. Break the agency silos at work and at play: between UN staff, familiarity breeds sympathy. The more exposure to each other as individuals, not agency flag bearers, the better. Even short of a UN House, shared premises and facilities like a kitchen/cafeteria help staff meet informally. Joint work increases familiarity with each other’s working practices. Shared accountability towards shared clients builds solidarity. Inclusive email lists spread information and feed a sense of a shared identity. This also applies within the UNCT: each agency representative should have a well-defined share of responsibility in the work of the whole, and be accountable for it to the whole (not to the Resident Coordinator!). Leave comments; let’s talk!

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Silo Fighters Blog

Delivering as one: Now more than ever

BY Helen Clark | February 5, 2015

At the national level, public sector institutions need departments and divisions - they help keep the focus on results. But when they don’t work together, they don't help their governments solve complex problems. The same applies in the UN. If we can't join forces to be more effective, we would be of less and less relevance to governments addressing the cross-sectoral challenges of sustainable development. Throughout the post-2015 discussions, member states have reaffirmed that economic growth, environmental protection, and social justice can no longer be pursued as separate agendas. There is broad awareness that we all need to break out of our silos. A call for integrated solutions Take energy policy as a good example of how segmented solutions will never suffice. Governments look for solutions which bring reliable and affordable access, support delivery of basic services, and stimulate economies without damaging peoples’ health or the environment. Achieving all that requires integrated decision-making. Inclusive development cries out for cross sector thinking - we know that economic growth which doesn't translate into better services does little for those who have been marginalized by illness or disability, or by lack of identity documents. And if the growth has come from poisoning the air and water, everyone suffers. The truth is that there there is no one sector, silver bullet solution for most development challenges. No one agency, ministry, or department can solve them - and no one UN agency acting alone can be much help either. These challenges call on us all in the UN Development Group to work together to help craft coherent, multi-sector support to governments aimed at achieving inclusive, sustainable, and resilient development for their countries. Forging ahead, together In our efforts to improve how we deliver together, we have seen progress. We have hammered out ways of working together in countries through Delivering as One. We have worked together on how we plan, programme, we communicate, co-ordinate logistics, and demonstrate results. Inside the system, the new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) point the way forward for all UN Country Teams. The UN Secretary-General and the whole UNDG are behind these, and we are advancing them in a growing number of countries. The new development agenda needs joined up ways of working more than ever. We know the theory, now it’s time to build up the evidence of how it’s done in reality. How do inter-sectoral initiatives work best? What are the factors for sucesss (and failure)? How can we find ways to demonstrate the impact of working together? We want to hear from you. Tell us your stories, and give us your feedback.  We need to Deliver as One, now more than ever.

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