Joint Sweden-UNDP Portfolio Dialogues in Bangladesh

December 31, 2023

The system and portfolio approaches in the development domain are crucial in addressing complex challenges like climate change, inequality, governance issues, and pandemics. These approaches provide a dynamic framework for continuous learning, adaptation, and the exploration of alternative policy options, steering away from rigid and singular approaches. The Embassy of Sweden and UNDP, recognizing the need for a transformative direction, initiated an exploration of how the Swedish-funded portfolio contributes to Bangladesh's environmental and climate priorities. Earlier in 2023, the Embassy of Sweden and UNDP Bangladesh organized the several portfolio dialogues to set up the priorities and learning agendas of the joint portfolio. 

Both Sida and the UNDP team brainstormed to understand the process going forward to see the portfolio-level outcomes and impacts from national to local levels through their development interventions. They agreed on a systematic way of regular dialogue, follow-up and learning on the results being achieved at the portfolio levels. Both the organizations agreed that they will jointly work on identifying key questions and indicators relevant to both portfolio and project/program levels and follow up through dialogue, monitoring, analysis, learning, and future program design.

In August 2023, UNDP and the Embassy of Sweden organized two and half day long sensemaking workshop aimed at propelling their portfolio development journey in Bangladesh. UNDP’s Strategic Innovation team facilitated the portfolio sensemaking workshop  focusing on a systems design approach, the workshop brought together a diverse group of participants, including officials from the Embassy of Sweden, UNDP representatives, and online participants from various strategic units.

The contemporary context of complex development challenges necessitates a broadening of the approaches used by governments and development agencies. System and portfolio approaches provide a continuous flow of policy options, organizational learning, and commitment to transformative change. These approaches facilitate the generation of new perspectives on complex issues, coherence in interventions, high-frequency insights and adaptation, and a different path to scale.

A diverse group of participants, including representatives from the Embassy of Sweden, UNDP, and online participants, collaborated in the workshop. Facilitators from the UNDP's Strategic Innovation Unit guided the sensemaking exercise. The workshop commenced with a scene-setting by Stefan Liller, Resident Representative, UNDP and Maria Stridsman, Head of Development Cooperation, The Embassy of Sweden, providing an overview of the collaborative journey undertaken since February. Maria highlighted the importance of considering individuals perspectives, their aspirations and changes in their lives while shaping development priorities. The presentations on shifts and intent, along with project presentations, shed light on transformative approaches in the proposed portfolio.

At the workshop, the UNDP team presented on nine joint Sweden-UNDP ongoing and completed projects/programmes. The exercise was useful to reflect on the existing Sweden-UNDP portfolio and building coherence with strategic intent, identifying synergies, and exploring spaces for new interventions. Key questions were addressed, such as the relevance and coherence of current projects with the strategic intent, opportunities for synergies, and reframing the understanding of the portfolio.

Systems and portfolio approaches require a shift in monitoring, evaluation, and results measurement. Recognizing the complexity of challenges, the workshop emphasized the need for continuous learning and adaptation, longer time horizons and capturing impact, and focusing on contribution over attribution. The workshop aimed to systematically review and fine-tune the Theory of Change components, identify missing links among social, environmental, and climatic drivers, develop indicators for system measurement, establish a portfolio-level learning agenda, and finalize next steps for portfolio advancement. This exercise also highlighted critical aspects such as strategic partnerships, relationship ecosystems, financial inclusion, long term, and scalable programme designs and inclusion of non-traditional partners.

The sensemaking workshop between the Embassy of Sweden and UNDP marks a significant step towards a more innovative and adaptive approach of portfolio design and implementation in Bangladesh. The UNDP Bangladesh team in association with Sweden has been taking initiatives to harvest portfolio level results from their joint projects/programmes in 2024. In parallel to this initiative, the country office team will design future portfolios that reflect the emerging development needs of Bangladesh and bring in more partners for achieving sustainable development in the country.