Cooperation UN-style

“(The Evaluation Team) believes that the One UN approach is basically a good idea. However, the team has become aware that the management and transaction costs under a joint UN Agency Programme are significant. Therefore the team suggests that, for the future, in particular for: (a) managing funds … and (b) a possible follow-up phase, the UN Agencies should consider the idea of a programme led by one agency alone”

That is from a recent evaluation of UN environment-focused project that came my way. It doesn’t really matter which one. Elsewhere the report provided a bit more detail:

“The institutional, partnership, and coordination arrangements actually provided additional challenges to reach the intended objectives. It required three UN agencies with different setups/rules/regulations to collaborate”

Just about every grant we’ve ever been involved in has involved partnership and collaboration. Sure sometimes a bit of politics gets in the way – that’s human nature – but you push past it. It certainly should not get in the way of basic organisation effectiveness. If things get really bad then someone senior will arrive to knock heads together, and if that doesn’t work, then a few arses should be fired.

The UN is supposed to stand for international cooperation, not institutional fiefdoms. Some bilateral donors are known to behave similarly. I have a simple message for them all: please grow up or just get out of the game. Development is a challenging enough business without having to deal with squabbling donors.


One response to this post.

  1. In the whole One UN debate, a fundamental issue is often missed. Normally (the world is not normal), the UN-agencies have different mandates. This means that for most of the expenses, the environment where the expenses are made will NOT be the other UN agencies, but the wider world (the departments of the partner, civil society,NGO’s, research, some specialized donors).

    As coordination has a cost, and useless coordination has little benefit, this is a huge drag on the system. By coordinating with irrelevant partners, coordination with relevant partners will get less priority.

    The efficiencies of division of labour are huge. Division of labour is not a top down planned economy, to the contrary, it is a process based on efficiency. Division of labour builds on the real world effect that if you delegate responsibility to a capable entity, more results will be attained than when everybody tries to do everything.

    Analogy: what percentage of the health department and the education department’s budget ar normally used for joint programming in a developed country? If mandates overlap too much, the wiser approach is to eliminate this overlap. If they overlap because of inefficiencies in delivery, it might be better to have them compete than to have them team up.

    PS, of course there must be coordination, but only where it matters.


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