Magdy Martínez-Solimán: Executive Board Annual Session: Remarks at Independent Evaluation Office/Office of Audit and Investigations Joint Assessment of the Institutional Effectiveness of UNDP

May 31, 2017

Ambassador Ib Petersen, President of the Executive Board,
Distinguished Members of the Executive Board,

I am pleased to present today UNDP’s Management Response to the joint Assessment of UNDP’s Institutional Effectiveness conducted by the Independent Evaluation Office and the Office of Audit and Investigations. On behalf of UNDP’s management, I would like to thank the Directors of the IEO and OAI for co-leading this review.

UNDP appreciates the effort that such a broad exercise required. Findings on the status of adoption of institutional reforms in programme and project management and on the extent to which they make the organization more effective and efficient are critical to rethink drivers of performance and set internal baselines for the new Strategic Plan (2018-21).

UNDP wishes to address the findings of the Assessment together with those emerging from the evaluation of the Strategic Plan, Global and Regional Programmes in view of the very strong operational linkages between the substantive mandate of the organization and the functions it needs to perform.

The Assessment asked the fundamental question whether reforms are likely to make the organization more effective and deliver higher-quality programmes. UNDP undertook considerable policy and organizational measures during the period 2010-2015. Necessary and profound changes are always uncomfortable, and it is always tempting to postpone them for a better time. We didn’t. We frontloaded regional presence, trimmed Headquarters, decentralised the policy structure, consolidated policy functions and eliminated duplications and redundancies, units and Bureaus doing the same in different places, and even in the same place.

On the programmatic level, UNDP country programmes have been fully aligned with the UNDAFs at the horizontal, UN country level, and with the UNDP Strategic Plan at the vertical, global agency level to ensure UNCT collaboration and corporate coherence. A strong quality assurance system with clear standards and safeguards was introduced to allow for more effective programmatic risk identification and management, higher evaluability of our programmes and projects and evidence-informed development interventions.

Our programme and project appraisal processes have further improved together with advanced monitoring and reporting practices that have been constantly well received by the Executive Board. Our management of an increasing portfolio of partnerships with the private sector, over 200 corporations now, is protected for them and for us with a thorough due diligence process that is state of the art.

UNDP welcomes that the Assessment started with the OAI-led performance audit of UNDP’s RBM, which provided a timely review of the Quality Assurance system and the related policies and guidelines. The RBM audit rated our system satisfactory encouraging us to continue the reforms while focusing on country level capacities, accountability and results. We therefore appreciate the overall conclusions of the Assessment that there are signs of improvements in the quality of UNDP programmes, that Country Programme Documents (CPDs) are now more strategic and effectively engaging multiple parts of the organization in quality assurance, and that progress has been made results-based programming and budgeting. That doesn’t mean the process is perfect. While we have more capacity in the regions, we note that the CPD appraisal process still requires advisors to return the country level drafts to the drawing board on too many occasions. Too few, on the other hand, come to us in excellent shape, needing only minor tweaks. But that’s what the process of review is for, even if we would prefer to have less to review and more to approve.  

UNDP also notes with satisfaction the Assessment's findings that the organizational measures, such as the structural changes implemented in 2014, have clarified roles and responsibilities between the regional and headquarters levels, and that the policy services provided by the regional hubs are valued by country offices.  

UNDP has however noted that, in some cases, the approach and the methodology might have led to insufficient evidence to support the Assessment conclusions. As acknowledged in the report, on some of the ongoing transformations the evidence was collected too early in the process to support any meaningful conclusions. UNDP has reservations regarding the following statements:

Conclusion 1 states that the UNDAFs and CPDs often fail to reflect the strategic comparative advantage of UNDP, how UNDP is envisaged to add value to development initiatives, and that the CPDs do not reflect a sufficient use and understanding of the theory of change concept.

UNDP wishes to note that the organization fully supports the joint UNDAF formulation and implementation processes. UNDAFs are compromises and agreements. The organization has helped to ensure that quality standards, highlighting the comparative advantages of the United Nations system and the added value of individual agencies were introduced into the new UNDAF guidance; as well as the concept of Theory of Change, which is believed to enable closer linkage between the UNDAF and the country programmes of UN agencies.

The Country Programme Document template, including the results and resources framework and the evaluation plan, has also been revised to provide specific guidance on quality requirements in line with our new standards. The integration of standards and monitoring of quality from design to implementation and closure of our programmes and projects further informs the analysis of our comparative and collaborative advantages on the ground. In short, the UNDAFs do define comparative advantages of UNDP – and all others – by virtue of division of labour, by consensus of all other agencies and by programme countries’ governments consent.

The finding that the conditions to meet the QA standards are not present in all country offices and that it is not likely that country offices will fully adhere to the standards in the short term is correct, but with the caveat that the entire Quality Assurance package was only adopted in March 2016. Hard for the country offices to fully absorb the changes into their work prior to the Assessment being conducted.

The real challenge in strengthening effectiveness comes with implementation, area in which the reduction in core resources has not helped. The capacity required to implement the QA Standards in terms of staff, support and awareness-raising at country level requires sustainable funding, which at this time is scarce and anchored in budget lines that are not sheltered. By sheltering other lines of the budget, quality assurance, that is not protected, suffers disproportionate cuts, even beyond the average reduction of core.  

The last statement that UNDP would like to discuss is Conclusion number 3, which claims that “RBM continues to be associated more with compliance-driven practices to satisfy reporting requirements, with a limited focus on learning from evidence to enhance knowledge management for decision-making and improved performance…". UNDP believes that the quality assurance systems are less about compliance and more about benchmarking performance, capturing good practices, and managing programmatic risk. The QA system will help UNDP to better understand its portfolio at various levels and generate inputs for robust value for money analyses.

The Assessment does not sufficiently capture the institutional mechanisms that have been introduced to accelerate response time, improve oversight and strengthen support to country offices. The recalibration of our regional hubs has improved the provision of policy and programme support to country offices by making the support more accessible and cost-effective. Placing policy support closer to where the programme action takes place contributed to increased relevance, enhanced adoption of corporate guidance, rapid learning and improved results.
Stronger coherence between the policy and the programme support functions both at corporate and regional levels as well as among regional and central bureaus has been underpinned by this organizational arrangement.

Furthermore, efforts are ongoing to integrate planning, monitoring, reporting and budgeting within one platform, to further strengthen the RBM culture within UNDP.

As previously mentioned, the reduction in core resources has had a negative effect on the ability to monitor results. Resources and staffing for monitoring must increasingly come from project budgets, which donors have varying willingness to pay for, in some cases their rules barring such usage. We face here a difficult dilemma, as neither core nor programme funds appear sufficient to support full monitoring.
That being said, implementation of recommendations of the 2014 Audit of Monitoring Practices has been completed; a new monitoring policy has been developed; COSI benchmarks are monitored and analyzed; and the Results-Oriented Annual Reporting is streamlined to be lessons and knowledge based.

In sum, the Assessment validates a path of organizational reforms that have allowed us to meet three objectives:

  • live within our financial means, adjusting expenditures to budget and sustaining priority investments in quality;
  • avoid duplication, overlaps and structural waste at a time of fiscal austerity obtaining best value for money;
  • increase support where it is most needed, namely field results through an ambitious decentralization effort, without sacrificing local focus and global presence in the world’s development debates.  

The central research question of the Assessment is, therefore, and with caution, answered positively: change management has moderately and gradually improved, since 2010, the capacity of UNDP to deliver better quality programmes. It is our submission that the institution is today more effective, more transparent, more sober, more collaborative and more results-oriented, than it was seven years ago.

I thank you for your attention.

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