Helen Clark: Statement on "Innovative Approaches to Programme Design and Implementation to Support the Operationalisation of the post-2015 Development Agenda" at the Joint Meeting of the Executive Boards of UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS, UNICEF, UN Women, and WFP

Feb 2, 2015

As Member States move closer to adopting a new global development agenda, the UN system is reviewing how it works to ensure that it is in good shape to help deliver the new agenda. This involves not only the work on becoming fit for purpose, but also the range of innovative approaches to development practice which agencies are increasingly using. We heard a good deal about agencies’ enthusiasm for innovation and Member States’ support for our efforts at the session this morning.

Today’s development challenges are complex and interconnected. We live in a world of volatility, uncertainty, and unpredictability. This calls for innovation in the way we collaborate across UN agencies, so that we ensure we bring our collective strengths to the task of sustainable development. And it calls for innovative approaches to development which employ the whole range of new technologies and media to improve service delivery and engage citizens. Innovation is not an end in itself. It is about using the most up-to-date concepts and means available to get the best development results.

All six agencies, funds, and programmes represented here today have invested in dedicated staff to advance innovation in their organizations - to ‘disrupt’ business as usual, encourage change in the search for ever greater effectiveness, and identify new ways of doing things which could be of wide benefit.

The Government of Denmark is generously supporting a number of agencies and funds in the UN system to innovate by identifying new ideas and ways of working which can be brought to scale.
Colleagues working on innovation in the UN System are exchanging lessons in an informal cross-exchange network. One result of this collaboration is the formulation of community principles for innovation. These have been agreed by nine UN agencies, funds, and programmes, as well as by partners including the Gates Foundation, the IKEA Foundation, USAID, and SIDA.

Consulting stakeholders when designing a development initiative is not a new concept – it has long been development practice. But placing the “end-users” at the heart of the process, and engaging them in identifying the challenges and in co-creating solutions, can contribute a lot to implementation of the post-2015 agenda.

Indeed the way in which the global citizenry has been engaged in the dialogue on post-2015 shows how new technologies can be employed to reach very wide audiences. More than seven million people worldwide, from many different backgrounds and walks of life, expressed their priorities for post-2015 through the MY World survey. People were also reached by more traditional means in the national consultations.

This broad grass-roots consultation then informed the deliberations of the Open Working Group (OWG) on SDGs. The proposed goals and targets reflect much of what people have said they want in the new agenda.

Following-up on the post-2015 consultations, eighteen UNDP Country Offices experimented with a micro-grants scheme designed to address the priorities people proposed during the post-2015 national consultations. These micro-grants were used to engage citizens in processes of co-defining development challenges, co-designing and co-implementing solutions, and jointly monitoring and evaluating progress against these specific priorities. For example, in Rwanda, one of these micro-grants paid for an online platform, Youth Connekt, to link innovative young Rwandans with businesses and with relevant authorities which could help them address bottlenecks to employment and entrepreneurship.

UNICEF and UNDP are addressing economic inequalities in Eastern and Central Europe through Social Innovation Labs, and the one in Armenia is a joint-venture of both agencies.  These labs are social venture incubators for initiatives which are conceived, designed, and led by young people to tackle pressing societal challenges.  The Lab in Armenia is turning social innovators into social entrepreneurs and supports them to make the initiatives financially sustainable.

In Egypt the UN development system has partnered with universities, innovation hubs, and start-up companies in order to identify ways in which public service delivery could be re-designed using a human-centered design approach.

In Haiti, the UN is working with government, local businesses, and young entrepreneurs to pilot a roving innovation lab designed to bring skills to young people in remote areas. The government has expressed an interest in scaling up the initiative.

Innovative approaches to planning are now complementing traditional forms of national planning with strategic foresight.  Strategic foresight builds the capacity to envisage various alternative futures; to consider them in planning and adopt early-warning mechanisms; and not to lose sight of opportunities and risks along the way.  The Governments of Rwanda and Tonga have been working with UNDP’s Global Policy Centre on Public Service Excellence in Singapore to make national strategies, policies and plans more sensitive to complexity and emergent risks by using foresight methodology.

Using “big data” generated by mobile and online communications also offers major opportunities for designing and implementing both the post-2015 agenda and humanitarian responses to crises. 

For example, analysis of big data can inform early warning systems for rising food prices - and for strategies for food security as we heard from WFP this morning. Big data is also being leveraged for disaster management. In Mexico, for example, WFP worked with the Government and a major mobile provider to see whether analysis of mobile phone traffic could help provide information on how people communicated during and after flooding, and then to use these insights to guide response planning. Correlations were found which helped inform where relief efforts should be focused.

UNFPA is exploring how mobile phone data can help determine people’s migratory patterns in real time, and then how to use this data to predict where there might be potential disease outbreaks, or where a new health centre would best be located.

Mobile technologies per se have broad applications for development:

• UN Women is addressing inequality in access to education for women and girls by leveraging from these technologies together with UNESCO, ITU, and partners from the private sector. As a first step to designing mobile-based learning solutions, UN Women invests in understanding the ecosystem and in designing solutions together with women and girls living in the most remote and disadvantaged communities.

• UNDP has partnered with mobile phone companies in its work to ensure that salaries are paid on time to Ebola response workers in the epicenter countries. The partnership has helped both to validate the payrolls and transfer salaries electronically.

• In Liberia, the so-called “UNDP Smart Phones” are allowing contact tracers and community workers to be more effective and fast when monitoring Ebola Contacts within hotspot communities. In Montserrado County, National Volunteers' Supervisors and Monitors of the UNDP Supported Montserrado Community Based Initiative have been issued new ZTE V795 dual SIM smartphones to enhance monitoring and supervision of Active Case Finders in the field.

• The phones are loaded with various applications that allow effective collection and uploading of data from Active Case Finders to the Emergency Operations Center. Over 1,300 community volunteers support the tracking of cases and contacts, and carry out door-to-door community sensitization in Liberia.

Innovation: Improving the way the UN works

Operational effectiveness across the UN is crucial to implement the post-2015 agenda.  UNOPS is currently leading the work on innovative procurement, which offers tremendous opportunities to use government buying power more effectively for the benefit of the public.

More generally, the UN system must innovate in the way it works together to draw on its collective strengths and expertise. The sustainable development challenges we seek to address cannot be successfully tackled in silos. The Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) we have developed are a step change in streamlining and co-ordinating our work, and we hope they will be widely embraced. The background paper prepared for today’s meeting contains more information on the SOPs.


To contribute to sustainable and equitable development, the UN system must continue to invest in innovation in its programing and in its ways of working.  New partnerships must be built. We must continually improve our processes to become more agile. We must be calculated risk-takers. We should openly share what works and what doesn’t.

To repeat, innovation is not an end in itself. It is about continually examining our work to make it more effective, legitimate, and nationally owned. We look forward to hearing feedback from Board members in this afternoon’s discussion. 

UNDP Around the world