2004 Global: Assessment of UNICEF Contribution to UN Reform and Its Impact on UNICEF: UN Reform Under the UN Development Group
Author: Mendelsohn, S.; Mackenzie, A.
Although UNICEF has been actively involved in the UN reform process over the last six years, there has been no comprehensive review of UNICEF’s contribution to UN reform. There was a need to take stock of what has worked well, what has not and why. The timing is opportune because of the initiation of the second phase of the UN reform process and because of the mid-term review of UNICEF’s Medium-Term Strategic Plan.
The objective of the evaluation was to complete a comprehensive examination of UNICEF’s involvement and contribution to the mainstreaming of UN reform over the last several years, with a specific emphasis on the impacts at country level programming.
The methodology included documentation and information review, a limited number of key informant interviews, country office interviews using an in-depth e-mailed questionnaire, headquarters consultations with three Working Groups, consultations with the evaluation management team, and feedback from the Reference Group. A separate, but linked, study provided an overview of UNICEF’s contribution to Humanitarian Assistance. Budgetary and time constraints affected the choice of methodologies. No field visits were carried out, nor were interviews held with regional offices.
Findings and Conclusions:
UNICEF has made a strong effort to engage in UN reform at the headquarters, regional and country level. It is generally recognized both by external and internal observers that UNICEF has provided intellectual leadership and has been a strong proponent of normative approaches such as the Human Rights Based Approach to Programming. At the headquarters level, UNICEF has contributed significantly to a number of initiatives undertaken in the resident and humanitarian coordinator system, simplification and harmonization of country level programming procedures, and the regional quality assurance system. UNICEF has also contributed heavily to advances in common premises and services, and to the conceptual base for thematic groups, joint programming and resource transfer modalities. In short, both internal and external observers agree that UNICEF has been a key partner and an essential contributor to progress in UN reform in the UN Development Group.
The study found, based on a survey of country offices, that while UNICEF sometimes does not have the impact it seeks, in most instances, the progress in UN reform is significantly due to UNICEF’s involvement, or almost no UN reform issue is decided without UNICEF involvement. The country offices believe that they play a significant role in assisting the UNCTs push ahead with UN reform. The study indicated that:
- UNICEF is often given a leadership position in their countries;
- Only UNDP and UNICEF have the resources to fully engage in each of the multiple aspects of UN reform; and
- Significant progress in UNCT often results because of UNICEF’s involvement.
However, while UNICEF has made a great deal of effort to ensure the harmonization of its systems with those at the interagency level, it has not paid sufficient attention to the needs for simplification and rationalization of its own internal processes. This has resulted in a heavier workload for staff. The Evaluation indicated that staff members feel that they have invested a lot of time in UN reform, and although staff believe that there have been benefits, they now feel that, qualitatively, the costs in time exceed the returns. Most importantly, both UNICEF and external observers have not seen returns to UNICEF as a result of what should be increased confidence in the UN system by donors or an upturn in the flow of resources to the UN system as a whole, including UNICEF, as a result of UN reform.
An important issue for the evaluation was assessing benefits to UNICEF of UN reform. The study concluded that most of the country offices benefited in some way from UN reform. Primarily, country offices noted that UN Reform permitted UNICEF to exert more influence over the UN system in terms of the issues of importance to UNICEF, such as the human rights-based approach, and child protection issues. Some offices also noted that UNICEF’s participation and influence on the CCA permits a stronger focus on issues related to children.
UNICEF country offices note that the CCA and UNDAF have been discussed at the highest political level (e.g. presidential level), which has enhanced both the visibility of UN coordination, UNICEF programming, issues affecting women and children, and how the UN will jointly respond. UNICEF was seen as a team player by other agencies and government partners, thereby promoting collaboration both ways. Finally, UN reform also improved the inter-agency dialogue and the ability of UNICEF to promote its agenda in an inter-agency forum.
However, the study also concluded that the heavy commitment of time needed to manage the many aspects of UN reform and the concern that UNICEF’s image and ability to dialogue directly with government may be lost, pose some of the fundamental negatives in the minds of country offices.
It is widely recognized that in the early years of UN Reform, there were recommendations made that suggested a merger of the UN development agencies. These threatened the independence of UNICEF as an organization. Although they were never implemented, they have left a lingering concern in the minds of some UNICEF staff about the institutional consequences of UN Reform. As a result, although UNICEF has largely engaged in UN Reform, and although broadly speaking, staff have worked hard to ensure that UNICEF plays an important role in UN Reform developments, there is some evident ambivalence internally towards UN reform.
This ambivalence is seen by some as reluctance to fully engage in UN Reform efforts and a belief by external observers that UNICEF still has “lines in the sand” that it will not cross. This ambivalence was also reflected in surveys of country offices, which do not always have a clear idea as to how far UN Reform will progress, and how far they can or should go in joint programming efforts with other agencies. Some internal observers have said that UNICEF must develop a clearer long-term vision of where it wants to go with UN reform.
Some of the reasons for ambivalence on the part of UNICEF and hesitancy to fully engage relate to the perceived risks to UNICEF staff of a loss of identity. UNICEF has a strong brand image and an excellent reputation internationally as an effective on-the-ground organization that can program effectively in developmental, transitional and humanitarian situations. UNICEF has also been effective in public fundraising through its network of national committees.
UNICEF will continually face a challenge in balancing its identity and visibility objectives with the need to be part of one UN and participating in broader goals of coherency of the UN system. External perceptions as reflected in interviews and evidence from case studies indicate that ensuring that the UNICEF image and credibility are retained remains a challenge for UNICEF.
Finally, the Evaluation underscored the difference between true leadership and strong participation in UN Reform efforts. External observers perceive UNICEF as an exemplary contributor to UN Reform, but that it has not used its leadership capacity to push the system to greater levels of coherence and effectiveness. Some believe that UNICEF is the cornerstone of the UN Development Group. If UNICEF does not fully embrace its leadership role and does not work with donors and other UN bodies to undertake broader changes within the system, there is a danger that the UN Development Group will be further marginalized.
There remain a number of challenges, however, for UNICEF’s engaging in UN reform. These risks, which can only be addressed strategically, include:
- Taking on a coordination/leadership role at the country level without sufficient resources;
- The potential organizational merger with other UN Agencies, resulting in a loss of UNICEF’s distinctive identity;
- Helping the RC role achieve greater independence, without generating tensions with other UN system members.
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