In greater effectiveness, transparency and accountability

UNDP is blazing a trail amongst development agencies on the theme of ‘practicing what you preach’ with regards to these three leitmotifs of sound institutional management

February 4, 2020

The 1945 Charter of the United Nations mentions on its very first page that “The Peoples of the United Nations are determined…to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples.”  This, amongst others, for the ends of “uniting our strength to maintain international peace and security and promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” No short order.

Even with its noble purpose and mission, the UN is often accused of being an inefficient bureaucracy. While there remains broad agreement on the broader purpose and “what” of the UN, the one that has increasingly come under scrutiny is the “how”, and especially the “how well”.

Promoting democratic institutions, giving a voice to minorities, preventing conflict and much more is hard to argue against, but is the UN effective in doing so, and if so, how do we know? These questions have increasingly come to the fore as new and competing development organisations, both public and private, give decision-makers more policy and partnerships options.

To answer the “how well”  an industry of public sector performance assessments has blossomed in recent years to inform policymakers, legislators and citizens about performing and underperforming partnerships options. Among these, the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN), an initiative of the OECD/DAC and its Member States, and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) are the most prominent, complementing UNDP’s own extensive Partnerships Survey (PDF).

Before UNDP begins a new round of all these assessments and rankings in 2020, for all of these, it’s worth reviewing how far UNDP has come and where it is today.

In greater effectiveness

Partners wish to invest in an organization that can deliver results and does so effectively. UNDP thus cooperates extensively with these external actors in the ratings business to demonstrate its commitment to operational excellence.

In 2018, AidData, an independent US research lab that benchmarks 35 donors on two indicators of performance; influence in shaping in-country policy priorities, and helpfulness in implementing policies, found that UNDP ranked as one of the top 10 development partners on both indicators.  

Not only did decision-makers see UNDP as a trusted and reliable source of development information for policy making, but they also found it more efficient than any other entity in terms of value-for-money. The World Bank and the European Union were also consistently ranked along with UNDP as the top three sources that government leaders and decision makers go to for information about global development policy trends and ideas.

In greater effectiveness, transparency and accountability

Source: AidData, March, 2018

Another assessment by the MOPAN in 2017 found that UNDP, rated along with 11 other international organizations, demonstrated strong corporate commitment to results-based management and a clear commitment towards the principles of results-based budgeting.

UNDP’s own 2017 Partnerships Survey, an externally-led assessment based on the results of 3,787 respondents, asked programme governments, bilateral partners and UN agenices specific questions related to quality of results, engagement, management of resources, quality/timeliness of reporting, and visibility. These were mostly favorable at 74 percent with UNDP, buoyed by high ratings in transparency and the delivery of quality programmes.

The survey also revealed that you can never do enough on “value for money” and cost effectiveness in a competitive and demanding environment and that UNDP should continue to strive for excellence in these.

In greater transparency

Now, it can certainly be argued that one may be effective, but not transparent. UNDP’s own 2017 survey revealed that 67 percent of respondents viewed UNDP as “accountable and transparent”, denoting some scope for improvement.  But like “value for money”, can one in absolute terms ever have enough “transparency?”  Perhaps such a pursuit should also be placed in a relative, not just absolute, context as the IATI does.

In greater effectiveness, transparency and accountability

2018 IATI Transparency Index, Publish What You Fund

For three consecutive years, from 2015 to 2017, the IATI found UNDP to be the most transparent aid organization in a ranking of multilateral and bilateral development agencies. While UNDP was second in 2018 behind the Asian Development Bank, it remains the most transparent institution in the UN system, ahead of many of its actual funding partners, which provides a strong argument for multilateral funding.

Member States and partners welcome such rankings, in a spirit of friendly competition between development actors, but also to demonstrate to taxpayers that multilateral organisations have the will and wherewithal to be transparency leaders. This is a hard-fought ranking and UNDP will continue to strive for top billing. 

In greater accountability

Having spoken of the “what” and “how well”, the “who” is of interest as regards accountability.

UNDP reports on its results to its Executive Board of 36 Member States and to governments across 140+ programme countries where 90 percent of UNDP’s US$4.6bn expenditure in 2018 was spent on programmes and services to achieve development results.

An important aspect is the integrity in the connection between resources and results. After all, partners wish to invest scarce taxpayer development dollars in an organisation that can deliver results according to high expectations.

UNDP’s programming was considered to have a strong results-based focus, which was rated as highly satisfactory in the 2016 MOPAN assessment, stating that UNDP “demonstrates a strong corporate commitment to results-based management” and its “interventions are relevant to the needs and priorities of beneficiaries and aligned with national priorities”.

In better machinery

Performance assessments and rankings such as the MOPAN and IATI are important aspects of instilling faith in this ‘international machinery’ by establishing greater trust between citizens and the national and global institutions that serve their needs.

National and international organisations will continue to be under the spotlight in terms of effectiveness, transparency and accountability. And rightly so, for taxpayer funds should not be taken for granted even if for the noblest of objectives.

Of course, in a fast and changing world of needs, expectations and systems, there will always be scope for improvement. In 2020, UNDP will be cooperating with new performance initiatives and will again be assessed by the MOPAN, for which it has already committed to further improvements (PDF).  

Finally, in 2020 UNDP will be undertaking another extensive Partnership Survey (PDF)which has already registered 11,000 entities from its world of partnerships and clients that will tell whether since 2017 they still consider UNDP “to be a valued partner” (89 percent), “has a favorable image” (87 percent) and whether UNDP needs to continue improving in its crisis response systems (48 percent).

After all, if you are in the business of advising governments on effective institutions, value for money and transparent elections, it’s always good to have your own house and machinery in order first.

In greater effectiveness, transparency and accountability