Silo Fighters Blog

Car sharing at the United Nations in Laos? There’s an app for that

BY Zumrad Sagdullaeva, Jakob Schemel | June 23, 2017

How many of you have taken Uber, Lyft or Didi Chuxing to get around town? With these apps, all you need to do is follow three easy steps: set up a pickup location, a final destination, and press “request.” What if we told you that the United Nations is getting into the car sharing business too? Our goal is not to make money, but instead to save costs, be more efficient, and reduce our carbon footprint. It all started with agencies making spontaneous phone calls and sending emails to request cars when they need to conduct project monitoring or meetings with government and civil society partners.  We noticed that in Lao PDR, smaller UN agencies cannot always afford to buy vehicles and often rent cars. On the other hand, the bigger agencies own cars but do not always use them. Inspired by mobile apps that are disrupting the transportation industry, our team at the United Nations proposed a solution: a GPS-based, fleet-sharing application that allows staff from different UN agencies to book a UN vehicle and provides back-office data. Pool managers assign drivers, monitor vehicle performance, and pick up passengers as needed. In September 2016, we launched the pilot UN car sharing system. FAO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, the six largest UN agencies in Lao PDR, were the frontrunners in trying out this new system.   The system tracks fleet movement in real-time, while the back-office processes allow an in-depth analysis of fleet use and performance. It also pinpoints high-risk events such as extreme acceleration, harsh braking, and accidents. It also generates automatic monthly cost-recovery reports. Imagine the data possibilities! Join the ride As people began to use the car sharing service, we faced some uphill battles. For example,  most  drivers employed by the UN do not have smartphones. Then there’s the unit costs of the system which is US$30 per car, per month, in addition to initial investment costs. But these issues haven’t proven prohibitive, and the indications are that we are moving in a promising direction. Our data shows a 36 per cent drop in fuel costs when comparing the car sharing pilot (October 2016-April 2017) to the same period in the previous year. And there might even be a benefit when it comes to traffic and carbon emissions: we noticed a 26 per cent reduction in kilometers driven. This is surprising because we aren't all in one office - most UN agencies are located across the city of Vientiane. With all the hype and positive results that we received, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the International Organization of Migration, UNAIDS, and UNIDO have now also joined the fleet-sharing pilot.   The UN Country Team has included the fleet-sharing system as one of the key areas of cooperation under the Business Operations Strategy 2017-2021, which is how we pool logistics and other functions across the 17 UN agencies working in Lao PDR to save money and get better services.   We are planning a cost-benefit analysis after the pilot stage ends in June. The road ahead So, will the GPS enhanced car sharing app work for the UN? We are yet to find out. We do know that we can improve it by doing a few more things, such as: Systematic use of the online booking system: This will lead to using cars efficiently, which, on the long run, means more savings. Centralize the management of the pool of cars: This could be done by assigning one person a month to manage the pool of cars among UN agencies. Book cars for transfer time only: Some users still require the car to stand idle for the duration of their meeting. This makes sense for brief meetings only. Track the availability of a vehicle/driver: If drivers are unavailable, this should be noted in the system to avoid any impractical requests by users. Improve the user-friendliness of the system: Integrate a GPS-based booking function, add the possibility to book a return trip in one go, and “join the ride” auto-function. Develop a mobile application. Integrate instant user feedback feature: Upon completing a ride, the system should automatically prompt a request for feedback from users. Benefits should outweigh the costs: The monthly maintenance fee sums up to US$360 a year, per car for the post-pilot period. We should consider the functional requirements or explore using an alternate software provider.     By adding these features, we believe that car sharing could bring significant savings, improve efficiency, and it could potentially be scaled-up globally. We also hope that sharing our experience will be useful to other teams trying to do things differently within the UN!

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How twelve UN entities in Viet Nam integrated their ICT systems and optimized their workflow

BY Clement Gba | May 25, 2017

At the UN in Viet Nam, we had a hunch that sharing costs associated with IT equipment, infrastructure, and skilled staff would improve our overall efficiency and save costs. With this hypothesis in mind, we started working on an integrated One United Nations Information Communications and Technology (One UN ICT) system as part of the reforms of the Delivering as One initiative. In April 2015, 12 UN agencies unified their information, communication and technology systems and started working under one roof at the Green One UN House. This move is part of the Deliver Green initiative which aims to make the UN a carbon neutral organization by 2020. The difficult bits Technical: Integrating 12 IT systems into one was not an easy task. We also had to ensure proper separation of our IT networks for security purposes. In the context of UN Country Office operations, this is a major achievement. Financial: The integration of IT infrastructures and systems required upfront costs, with a return on investment  beyond the first years. This means that we needed to spend some time developing a strong business case and understanding of the financial and non-monetary benefits in order to get investments from the managers across 12 UN agencies. Institutional: To accommodate the administration of staff, ICT policies, compliance, and requirements, we had to create a unique set of governance and institutional arrangements. Human resources: Prior to the move, our ICT staff only supported users from their respective UN agencies. Under the new initiative, all ICT staff provide support to users from the 12 UN entities operating at the Green One UN House. To scale up the One UN ICT project, we sought help from headquarters, with two interagency missions in 2008 and 2012. We also received support from the United Nations International Computing Centre in Geneva which with us for more than a year to make the integration of the systems a success. What we got out of this effort Extension of ICT services: All UN Viet Nam staff, whether based in Vietnam or providing advisory services to the government from elsewhere, project-based staff, as well as staff living outside the capital city of Hanoi have access to telephone services. This means the whole UN system in Vietnam can now call each other for free anytime, anywhere, so long as they have an internet connection. Provision of additional ICT services: The Green One UN House, now uses Cisco Jabber, an application that enables  computers and mobile devices to function as a telephone via Voice over IP technology and uses the wire/wireless network as the medium for transmitting telephone service. The application works beyond the physical compound of our office. Provision of file server storage services: UN agencies in Vietnam have a Business Continuity Plan. The new data system provides a file storage server that can also be used by other Country Offices as part of their Business Continuity Plans. Client-focused and quick turnaround for ICT requests: All ICT services and transactions are managed by Common Services. The system triggers a ticket number that assists the back-office assign a request to an IT expert. The system is benchmarked against specific key performance indicators, and helps managers track and trace users’ requests. A user feedback survey also helps measure the quality of the services.   This model provides real-time updates on the operations of the team and is going to be expanded to other UN Operations Centers as well as Country Offices. We hope that sharing our experience will be useful to other teams trying to save money and optimize workflows. At the UN in Viet Nam, we are proud to be working with a highly skilled and a top-notch IT team. Yes, this is not an easy road but based on our experience, the benefits (in terms of systems upgrade) far outweigh the challenges! Photo caption: The Green One UN House IT Team/ UNCT Viet Nam

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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

Alexander Freese, Gerald Daly, and Helene Remling 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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Talk in Malawi isn’t cheap

BY Patrick Byrne | October 10, 2016

Currently, Malawi is among the most expensive African countries in which to make a phone call.  This is further shown in a study carried out by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), who claimed that network rates for phone calls in Malawi are among the highest in the world. This results in the following inefficiencies: Operating charges are costing the UN agencies far more than they should Joint programme and operations meetings are expensive and less effective as a result of the cost of communication between agencies and are becoming increasingly difficult to administer due to the growing volume of such programmes This issue is particularly pertinent during the implementation of joint programmes, those that bring more than one agency together to address multi-sectoral issues such as gender equality.  Regularly, separate agencies will have to discuss activities and outputs over the phone, driving up operating costs.  What’s more, in times of humanitarian response when programmes have to be monitored from Lilongwe, the costs associated with implementing activities increase sharply. Installing VOIP to Increase Efficiency We conducted a thorough analysis and then pitched a method of interconnecting agencies through a VOIP system, reducing the costs which are currently being incurred.  The VOIP system had a relatively low implementation cost, with agencies dialing each other free of charge thereafter. The implementation phase included the following: Install the VPN system, connecting all the agencies Use the existing switchboard equipment, of which the majority are VOIP compatible Procure voice cards for those agencies whose switch boards are not VOIP compatible This system, which was fully installed in September, will be complemented by cable technology, which is leased from local cable phone operators. This will also allow for UN agencies to be interconnected with agency switchboards programmed to use these lines when calling each other. Savings for Programmes Using a three month baseline from data within each agency switchboards, we think that the savings from the VOIP system will be impressive, with up to $95,000 saved every year. We plan to measure the savings by first, measuring the changes in the telephone bills from month to month and, second, by tracking  data on the agency switchboards quarterly.  What we save on telephone calls will be re-directed into programmes, increasing the development effectiveness of the UN in Malawi. We would love to hear others’ experiences making talk cheaper. Let us know what you have tried and what works.

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The Sustainable Development Goals go mobile in Uganda

BY Gleh Huston Appleton | September 2, 2016

We are always running these days, as we are constantly on the move. We run to catch the bus, run to get a coffee, or run with a coffee to make an appointment. As people deal with the many issues of life, they run with one thing in hand: a mobile phone. When we run around with our phones, we carry family, love ones, associates and friends, and stay in touch. We also have all the world’s information at our fingertips. “Nothing new here,” you might think. But wouldn’t it be great if the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) touched people in a personalized, simple, intuitive, timely and interesting way through the one thing most of carry around in our pocket or purse? Tapping into innovative initiatives In Uganda, we ran with this idea, concluding that we could reach people best through a mobile app. Which channel could we use to feed this app? Like many UN country teams, Uganda is developing an intranet (through which we publish announcements and information for public consumption and headlines) and we have a UN website. Unlike others, we can tap into other innovative UN initiatives in data management and information such as Pulse Lab big data analytics (including the famous radio-mining project for development and the mobile air-time data for development), and the UNICEF U-Report (capturing the perceptions of young people on critical social issues). We realized that all these initiatives enable us to make information related to the SDGs and other social issues accessible to the Ugandan people in real time, in one go. We will constantly share data on the issues that matter the most to Uganda, Africa and the planet. Through our notifications we will increase awareness, facilitate the creation of communities of action and the exchange of experiences on common goals with national relevance such as the SDGs, the climate agreement, and the World Humanitarian Summit. The benefits that we see The mobile app will allow public users to access push notifications on UN-specific interventions nationally, regionally and globally. Messaging may include headline stories on human rights, education, healthcare, and employment as well as on UN partnerships, joint UN initiatives and new UN initiatives on data revolution, amongst others. Other information may include pop-ups of deadlines, recruitment notices, and procurement notices. …and then we kept dreaming While we place the SDGs at the center of the public’s mobile lifestyle, the app will also allow UN internal users to access key internal information on-the-go wherever they are. For internal users, feeds in the app will include: Agencies vehicle movement schedules pushed from the fleet management system that would enable agencies and staff to jointly plan their field movements; Feeds about the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) and business operation strategy delivery rates and; Announcements of new joint common operational initiatives including new long term agreements and memorandum of understandings, internal announcements, etc. This will further integrate the UN in Uganda, allowing for the ease of communications wherever a staff member is. Most importantly, however, is what the app will provide external users. Through the many push notifications, users will be able to run with information about the SDGs in their hands, work with it in their pockets, and work out with it by their side, while paying attention to the very many issues of life on the go… putting the SDGs at the center of the mobile world for many people in Uganda!

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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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Paradise has its own challenges or why we love our new video system

BY Asaeli Sinusetaki | May 25, 2016

A video conference system is not just a piece of infrastructure. Don’t agree? Ask the UN in the Pacific. Or even better: Keep reading and I will tell you their story, which also happens to be mine. First of all, a brief explanation to put you (the reader) in context: The UN in the Pacific region covers 14 countries. Spread over vast ocean territory these island nations are small in population and land size, yet as members of the UN General Assembly they all rightly demand a UN presence and programme in their island state. Everyone equals the Pacific region to paradise, but even paradise has its own challenges. The geographic characteristics of the region (which basically means 20,000 to 30,000 islands) makes programme implementation and the operations needed to deliver it expensive and difficult. Infrastructure is often poor, transport by flights or boat is expensive and inconsistent, especially to remote islands. Maintaining the UN presence is very costly and with the declining of funding, we can’t have a full-fledged programme and operational presence in each of these states. This is a huge issue and unfortunately we are not alone. The Caribbean for example faces exactly the same challenges. Member States asked…and the UN answered Pacific Member States asked the UN at the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in September 2014 to develop new ways of working that will allow the organization to support these states despite challenges. The UN Joint Operations Management Team developed a business strategy for 10 countries covered out of Fiji, which serves as a central UN hub. We have out posted small teams on the rest of the states, and these teams represent the UN and serve as a liaison with 10 governments. These programme teams work under a common UN strategic framework (what we know as UN Development Assistance Framework in UN jargon) so they are bounded to work together. This is a bit hard if you are 10s of thousands kilometers away from everyone else and sitting there alone or (in the best case scenario) with only a few colleagues. The geographic features of the region have an impact on the programme when teams cannot engage with the central hub. But this is not the only problem. It has an impact on morale. This is where the video conference facility comes in and revolutionizes everything. A simple solution to a complex problem With a view to reducing the costs of regular communication and coordination, the operations team sought to introduce improvements in communication across the region by putting in place ICT equipment in the UN joint offices. Setting up video conferencing in these offices was the answer to reducing travel costs, increasing connectivity between UN colleagues, and looking at innovative ways to strengthen their engagement across distance in ongoing programming. This system facilitates the remote teams to dial in through videoconferencing every week and engage in the programme meetings. Communications, in terms of quality, availability and good equipment has improved a lot and will improve both operations harmonization and overall UN coordination. We should be able to observe the changes soon. The quality and alignment of programming across this fragmented region will be enhanced. Teams in small islands can directly access UN agencies in Fiji and obtain advice and guidance. Also, because the teams feel more connected to the rest of the UN, the system has an impact on our colleagues’ moral. Last, we all have to travel less as we can engage from afar, so it lowers travel costs. We strongly believe that this simple solution is changing the way the UN does business and will have a tremendous positive impact on coordination among us. We learn to work with fewer resources but innovate to still be able to deliver on the things that matter. Looking forward, we are planning to make full use of this technology in the rollout of the new strategic plan and to consult our partners and stakeholders in this process. So, just to recap: with this video system we see an improvement in morale, reductions in cost and better coordination, maybe even better programmes. This is how a simple but crucial operational intervention enhances programme. And that is why we love our video conference system.

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UN Liberia comes together to fill IT gap

BY Albert Dayyeah | May 19, 2016

Many people see the internet as the best means of communicating, reporting and sharing information while others see it as a link between people, offices, countries and the rest of the world. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, founder, chairman and former CEO of the global media company News Corporation, said that “the Internet has been the most fundamental change during his lifetime and for hundreds of years.” Liberia is no exception to the information revolution referred by Murdoch. Recently, the UN in Liberia has embarked on an innovative project to provide fast internet connection to agencies in the field at a reduced cost following the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) transition and drawdown. The project, which is currently being implemented in three locations (Lofa and Grand Gedeh and Bong), will ensure UN agencies use the same internet connectivity for voice and data in these areas allowing a complete terrestrial network for both our operations and our partners. Thanks to this innovation, projects supporting refugees, rural women’s empowerment, school feeding and livelihoods will be able to keep running their operations smoothly. The challenges in the field Since the deployment of the UN Mission in the counties, UN agencies have heavily relied on it for basic support in running their field offices. The UN Mission provided office space, internet connectivity and fuel supply among other services. In most of the regions, the UN Mission building hosts UN agencies’ personnel. June 2016 is the date in which the UN Mission will finalize its security transition in Liberia. The UN Mission has reduced its foot print in the counties from 15 to 5 counties.The Mission planned transition will be finalized in 2017 or as mandated by the Security Council. When the timeline was announced, we all started getting prepared to guarantee that our programmes and projects will be affected minimally especially in the counties where the UN programmes had a more concentrated presence.From an information and communication technology (ICT) point of view, this meant to address challenges such as providing the technology to guarantee implementation, monitoring and reporting from the field to the central offices so that colleagues do not face challenges in communicating with each other or sharing communication with different stakeholders due to lack of internet connection. This will ensure that programmes are implemented in time and issues are addressed as they occur. Upon completion, the network will facilitate the operations of nine agencies (IOM, UNHCR, WFP, FAO, UNOPS, UNICEF, UNIDO, UNFPA and UNDP) with field presence in the three separate locations. It will also reduce the recurring monthly cost for these agencies by 50 percent. The implementation of this innovative ICT project will also decrease the call costs by agencies based in Monrovia to the ones in the field. The network also enables cheaper international calls helping agencies to reduce a 3,000 USD monthly phone bill plus a monthly charge of 600 USD for internet connectivity. In short, this project will also release more resources that agencies will be able to invest in other programme activities. After all the preparations, the project will be officially lunched this month. Stay tuned to read how it goes!

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Riding off each other’s procurement coattails in Ethiopia

BY Saman Mastiyage Don | May 5, 2016

Promoting sustainable technology. Protecting biodiversity. Training peacekeepers. The UN in Ethiopia is active on many fronts as we move towards the future. For much of this work, we use consultants to complement our in-house expertise and resources. Now we have a way of streamlining this system: a joint UN common procurement system. Our new online monitoring tool tracks our use of long term agreements (LTAs) with external vendors, calculates and analyses cost savings, and uses this information to ensure minimum waste and maximum efficiency. With the new tool, we can monitor the use of LTAs on a quarterly and annual basis so that we have a clearer picture of how each of the LTA is used. We can identify the gaps in common services, and work to develop more joint LTAs in the future. Last but not least, the tool provides data for informed advocacy calling for increased use of joint LTAs by the UN agencies in Ethiopia. This is no small thing. We use LTAs a lot. There are currently 28 UN agencies, funds and programmes in Ethiopia, making it one of the largest UN country teams in the world. As an example, just in 2014 we conducted 12,500 transactions to the total sum of over US$15 million. We used 120 individual LTAs dealing with travel, printing, advertising, etc. The opportunity costs of uncoordinated procurement Undertaking procurement itself is an opportunity cost – which is why we are working hard to see where we can save times by riding off each others’ LTAs. If one agency has undertaken a procurement process for, let's say' printing services – ensuring value for money and a fair competitive process, why should another part of the UN have to redo the whole process? The development of joint UN LTAs brings into play the stronger bargaining power of the UN. We can act together to bring about financial benefits by establishing more stable and predictable bulk purchases, and stronger relationships with suppliers. Here in Ethiopia, sharing LTAs has saved 9.5 million in labour costs. This is compelling evidence that LTAs help make us “fit for purpose.” Starting in 2015, the UN agencies in Ethiopia have been introducing joint UN LTAs for use by all agencies in the categories dealing with printing, travel, and purchase of drivers’ uniforms. By 2020 the UN expects cost savings of $6.9 million, with the categories of joint LTAs increasing from the current three to 25. All part of a bigger plan The online monitoring tool for LTAs was developed as part of the UN’s implementation of the Business Operations Strategy for Ethiopia. We started this kind of work in 2013, targeting common services such as premises in order to increase the efficiency, effectiveness and quality of the UN’s operations in the country. Our new plan (2016-2020) will focus on the development of more joint LTAs and common rosters; negotiate better exchange rate savings in order to channel more funds to development and humanitarian interventions; and build on the capacity of local implementing partners. Currently we are dealing with a drought affecting 10 million people in Ethiopia. We are working to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. We are coping with climate change, gender issues, and so much more. We are proud of what we have achieved and excited on what is yet to come. It is a perfect moment to make sure we have the right tools to tackle all this in the most effective way, and use our resources as intelligently as possible. We know we are not alone in this effort, so anyone out there working for the same goal, please do reach to us so, as the saying goes, we don’t end up reinventing the wheel.

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Which came first: The ICT chicken or the joint operations egg?

BY Ognjen Krstulovic | April 26, 2016

It’s the eternal question: form before function or the other way around? It is hard to tell which came first – joint operational processes in UN in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or the ICT tools that support them. As early as our move to a One UN House, it was an important question: Can we have an ICT system that will help us all to manage conference rooms in the new building in a transparent and efficient way? If not, we might not be able to share space, each agency would end up having its own conference room, and the whole point of coming together under one roof would be lost. Fortunately, we were able to set up a system to meet this one simple business need. But, as we spend more time together, more and more operational processes would obviously be more efficient if done jointly, or at least in the same way by everyone. So we ask ourselves: Which other processes could benefit from new technologies? A few examples came to our minds, but we asked around for everyone’s feedback… the response was overwhelming. Colleagues immediately came out with processes that could benefit from a 21st century approach and we were thrilled! Here are some (the list is long): vehicle and driver booking system, translator roster, intern roster, ICT support request and consultancies management. Prioritization After the great response from our colleagues across all UN agencies, we got on task to see which processes could be made more efficient, which processes matter for the whole UN community, and which everyone is doing in the same way but separately from each other. It was a challenging activity, because there is no single process that matters equally to all of the UN community.  For example, a smaller organization may not need an application to book a vehicle whereas a larger one might do. I am reading your mind… getting colleagues who report to different bosses to agree on something? Good luck with that… Well I guess we were lucky or we just followed the right path. We identified those processes that could be turn into applications, We gave everyone an equal shot at expressing their needs, And prepared specifications for every application we wanted. It worked! After a tedious and complex procurement process, I am proud to say that the UN in Bosnia and Herzegovina will shortly have a few new great applications in our One UN intranet available to make everyone’s life easier. We have about 10 “design” teams composed of stakeholders in different roles from various agencies working together – analysing business processes openly, learning from each other and laying the groundwork for innovation. And it doesn’t end there! We only have sketches of the future processes but one can already see possible improvements – steps we will be able to skip, papers we will be able to omit, information that will flow easier. All in all, as we move through our packed meeting schedule we are getting closer to our first look at the new system. Will keep you posted. Looks like the chicken and the egg are equal partners…

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Prototyping continuous collaboration in Kosovo*

BY Nora Sahatciu, Andrew Russell, Mjellmë Doli | April 6, 2016

When we set out to design a new Common Development Plan for the UN Kosovo Team in the fall of 2014, we decided to do things a bit differently. We were very interested in determining the substance of our new plan (the “what”) but we also wanted to use the planning process as an opportunity to take a critical look at the quality of our approach to collaboration (the “how”).  So we decided to take a two-track process to the design of the plan. The “formal” track was derived from the standard UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) guidelines while the “informal” track took its inspiration from design thinking methodologies that would allow for a wide variety of participants to work together to analyze the challenges to effective inter-agency collaboration and to collectively design and prototype solutions. These new ways of working together could then potentially be tested out in the context of new and ongoing joint initiatives related to programming (“One Programme”), advocacy (“Communicating as One”) and operations (“Operating as One”). The second, informal track began with an initial prototyping workshop from September 15-16 2014. The purpose of the prototyping workshop was to create a space for over 70 interested staff members from 15 different agencies to come together and explore new ways of thinking and working together. The workshop focused on identifying and naming the key challenges or patterns of thinking and behaviour that would need to be addressed in order to achieve more effective inter-agency collaboration. The idea of “Unwanted Repetitive Patterns” (URPs) was presented and the group was asked to think in terms of the “recurring patterns” that tend to block or impede efforts to collaborate. During the workshop participants also identified eight potential prototypes for practicing new ways of collaborating on programming, advocacy and operations, using “Open Space Technology”. Four of these prototypes have since moved forward in one way or another, a 50 percent success rate.  One of the prototyping ideas suggested at the workshop that received the most interest was that of promoting youth engagement. UNDP, UNICEF, UNV, UNFPA and WHO have since applied a highly participatory human-centred programme design approach to create the first UN joint programme in Kosovo that is derived entirely from the collective creative energies of young people. More recently, UNDP and WHO have been exploring crowdsourcing and citizen-generated data for more effective advocacy on environmental impacts on health. Six months later, at a second Prototyping Lab, the team reviewed what had changed. A third set of prototyping working sessions were held in early 2016.  In this way, we are treating prototyping as an ongoing dialogue process on collaboration and as a sustained platform for strategic conversations. Ultimately, what people talk about is what they pay attention to.  And what they care about is also what will help them join others moving beyond their own agency or issue-based silos into broader, more effective partnerships. These most recent working sessions have focused on internal inter-agency business processes. We have used business process reengineering (BPR) to review processes related to joint programme design and website communications, with the aim of increasing efficiency but also to acquire a shared vision on these processes can and should work to incentivize a stronger culture of collaboration. With the support of UNDP’s Management Consulting Team (MCT), we convened technical and communications staff from all agencies to identify pain points, rooms of improvement and new tools.  This includes a complete, collaborative re-design of the new UN Kosovo Team web-site. We should have a beta version ready to share very shortly. During these working sessions we also tackled processes related to UN Common Services. Teams from all agencies helped to identify common problems and to recommend viable solutions. This same participatory approach will be used in implementing the improved processes. We used video to help illustrate some of these problems and to propose solutions. Support from the UNDAF Innovation Facility has allowed the Office of the UN Development Coordinator to increasing serve as a hub for these kinds of experimental activities. This way of working has begun to spin off into unexpected directions.  We recently facilitated an ad-hoc collaboration by the UN Kosovo Team with the Kosovo Emergency Management Agency in piloting the first Big Data prototype for emergency response in Kosovo. We also served as liaison for UN Kosovo Team agencies with the Kosovo Office of the President to coordinate data gathering for Kosovo’s application to the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which resulted in the MCC Board of Directors selecting Kosovo as eligible to develop a compact. This opens the door for Kosovo receive up hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. assistance for the fight against poverty and corruption. So what have we learned from our journey so far? In these rapidly changing times, where it appears that even time travel is now possible, we need to be much more agile, responsive and adaptive in the way that the UN engages in development assistance. And we need all be willing to think “out-of-the-box”.  Creating time and space for collective dreaming and creativity is not a luxury, it is a necessity. We strongly believe then that co-design of joint UN solutions and prototyping should: Be a standardized operating procedure. Be a collaborative and engaging process. Be used as a means of incentivizing a stronger culture of collaboration. What are your own thoughts and experiences? We’d be happy to hear them and share more details of our prototyping journey, including business process maps and other specific outputs from our working sessions. We can be reached through unkt.ks@one.un.org and look forward to hear from you!   *References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).

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We can’t wait for a 21st century Noah to build an ark

BY Kay Schwendinger | March 17, 2016

Did you demonstrate for women’s rights, walking the streets on a “Reclaim the Night” march? Did you sit in a crowded room on Friday afternoon writing letters for Amnesty International to try to free prisoners of conscience? Did you adopt a whale? Did you boycott Barclays Bank for supporting apartheid or MacDonald’s for contributing to the decimation of the rainforest? Well I did… believing that human rights and the environment were everyone’s business, that they were my business, and, well...I had to do something, right?  Yet then we get caught up in our jobs, our families, our everyday lives, it is so often easy to forget that we make the choices that shape our world. The UN was established on the principles of human rights and respect for the environment, these principles still govern our work. Aren’t we are supposed to be those who don’t forget? Going beyond greening the blue We have long recognised that although considering human rights and environmental sustainability in our programmes, this is only part of how we can make a difference. Although some attempts at greening procurement and operations have been made in headquarters, very little has been done at the country office level. Although I do note that in many field missions solar panels are thankfully replacing diesel guzzling generators. The “Greening the Blue” initiative (see www.greeningtheblue.org , it’s full of fab resources) does provide solid guidelines for environmentally friendly operations and procurement, but with very few exceptions, these are hardly known about in the system and aren’t even mandatory. Human rights in general has only ever received a cursory glance by operations, although some vague stabs at ethics have been infused into some work contracts. When processes really matter The UN in Pakistan is trying to ensure that UN operations, in particular procurement, in Pakistan are just as compliant with the fundamental UN principles of human rights and environmental sustainability as our programmes. I’m not usually one for process, but in this case the process really does matter as much as the result. We are trying to establish a human rights and environmental due diligence policy for operations. Specifically, this includes developing human rights and environmental sustainability assessment and recommendation protocols and procedures for Long Term Agreements (LTAs). We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, where the guidance already exists, like with the “Greening the Blue” initiative, we intend to put it into practise. We are currently hiring consultants which are specialists in human rights and environmental science (we’ll send you the links to the consultancies so you can spread the word). Improving the way we do business We want to change the way companies do business, not just ease our conscience, so we’re planning on developing a scale of compliance of companies. If a company or vendor is within a certain tolerance range, recommendations will be made to the company of how to become complaint, and if the vendor agrees to work on those areas, we can work with them. Of course we are intending to build a review system into the LTA review process so no one drops the ball. There will of course be some issues which fall under the “zero tolerance” bracket which will render a vendor ineligible for a UN contract. Buildings built with bricks made with labour of dubious origin are my personal favourite. The “Green Protocols” as I like to call them, are only one third of the CND circle.  Did you ever notice that operations colleagues never get training in human rights or the environment? A key part of the masterplan is to provide operations personnel with training sessions in human rights and environment in general, and for carrying out assessments. We also need to build an information management system that enables us to fully monitor that our conditions are these areas are complied with on a rolling basis. Towards an ethical and green due diligence We don’t have the resources to make this happen – yet - but in a later phase, it would be fabulous if we could link up with a UN agency or private sector partner who could establish support initiatives for companies/vendors to convert their processes to be more human rights and environmentally friendly. In the longer term, I believe that if we can implement this holistic due diligence / risk management approach, we could attract funds. Donors such as the European Union are very much prompting eco-innovation and gradually taking a harder line on human rights. They look with interest at any initiative that proves it is bringing the public and private sectors together to generate positive change in a way that has a positive impact on humans and the environment will be a selling point. In the era of “trade not aid”, we could offer a new generation of UN partnership. But just for now, I’d be happy if we change the face of how we do things at the UN in Pakistan, and help us change a small corner of our minds. We will start small, but I hope eventually we’ll have changed the way people make decisions in their lives, not just at work. Ethical and green thinking gone viral! I read that the Kiribati Isles in the Pacific may have disappeared 60 years. No one knows where their inhabitants will go, whether they will have anywhere to go. Seriously, are we waiting for a 21st century Noah to build an ark before we move it? What are you going to do?

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