Inclusive UN strategic planning: a survivor’s guide
BY Bruno Pouezat | November 13, 2015|Comments 1
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In addition, in today’s rapidly evolving world, any analysis or programming framework will soon become outdated.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!).
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