Five steps forward for the UNDAF

BY Diana Torres | March 16, 2017|Comments 0

In the world of development, UNDAF is one acronym you must know if you are interested in the UN’s work. The UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) provides a multi- year strategic plan for the UN’s work in a country. UNDAFs are critical for the UN at the country level to channel coherent support to governments and partners to achieve results for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Given the newness of Agenda 2030, the 2016 UNDAFs were one of a kind: they set the benchmark on new trends and practices to illustrate the role of the UN in supporting governments to achieve sustainable development goals. Last year, a small team in the UN Development Operations Coordination Office embarked on a review of 27 UNDAFs that will be implemented over the next 5 years to see what we could learn.

What did our review reveal?  

1. UNDAFs are slowly moving away from sectoral approaches towards more integrated and multidimensional results.

One of the most significant paradigm shifts of the SDGs is the multifaceted and interdependent nature of the SDGs. Distinct from the sectoral approaches that marked the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs require complex and multidimensional thinking. Our study showed early progress in this direction: 55 percent of the UNDAFs reflect integrated approaches and outcomes to tackle national development issues. This is a critical area that needs rapid improvement if we want to meet the expectations of member states.

The UNDAFs of good examples of integrated approaches, where gender, environment and human rights underpin the strategic results. These UNDAFs outline a collaborative approach: there are detailed roles and contributions of different UN agencies in achieving results, linking the shared roles and expertise of the UN across the areas relevant to these cross-sectoral challenges.

2. There is an increased focus on strengthening data capacities at the country level, with room for improvement.

One of the main demands of member states from the UN is supporting data-related capacity in countries. We found significant progress compared to previous years, but not all UNDAFs articulate a coherent approach towards strengthening the quality of data and national statistics in countries. Only 60 percent of the 2016 UNDAFs included strategies to support national statistics organizations, particularly supporting data relevant to the SDGs. Some examples of UNDAFs that incorporated strengthening data capacity include Georgia, Indonesia, Turkey, and El Salvador.

3. There is some progress on joint humanitarian and development approaches

The challenges the world faces today require a coherent approach, one that brings together the humanitarian, development and peace communities to ensure long-lasting results for countries.

Our review found that some of the UNDAF (particularly those from Central Asia) show progress in this direction. For example, five UNDAFs (Armenia, Syria, FYR Macedonia, and Uzbekistan) make reference to humanitarian response, in the context of refugee migration. Nine countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kosovo*, Syria, Tajikistan, FYR Macedonia, Turkey and Zambia) include indicators tracking support to refugees and/or internally displaced people, and linking development and humanitarian responses. This is an area where we hope to see more progress in coming years – it is essential to reengineer how we work together and provide preventive, rapid and long-lasting responses to the humanitarian and development challenges many countries are facing today.

4. Revitalizing global partnerships through south-south cooperation is top on the agenda.

Around 80 percent of the 2016 UNDAFs that we looked at are from middle-income and/or high-income countries, with the rest from low-income countries. This reflects the reality of our operations across the world. A significant number of UNDAFs have a specific focus on partnerships at the regional and global levels. Eight of the 27 UNDAFs have a specific outcome related to south-south cooperation. Examples include the UNDAFs of China, Kazakhstan,  and Uruguay, among others.

5. UNDAFs are keeping track of UN contributions to the SDGs.

Already in 2016, governments and UN country teams in most countries reflect a shared understanding of the linkages between the UNDAF results and support to partners on the  SDGs. In our review, up to 78 percent of UNDAFs link outcomes to the SDGs. In Argentina, for example, SDGs and recommendations from international human rights mechanisms were fully linked to each of the UNDAF outcomes.

However, there are challenges. Some UNDAFs identified only one or two SDGs per outcome, when there are likely multiple relationships to other goals. Tracking contribution to multi-sectoral goals like the SDGs will be a challenge in coming years.

We hope that the findings and recommendations from this analysis are useful for countries starting a new UNDAF process this year. Kudos those country teams that have raised the bar during this period of transition from the millennium development goals to the SDGs.


* (Administered by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1244)


Diana Torres Diana Torres is a former Programme Specialist at the UN Development Operations Coordination Office. You can follow her on Twitter.

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