UNICEF Assessment on Joint UN Interventions 2021
The adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the approaching timeline for the Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs) calls for Member States and the UN Development System (UNDS) to act in a concerted fashion to ensure acceleration of the SDGs achievement. Guided by the various UN Reform streams and the principles of the Funding Compact, UN sister agencies are increasingly engaged in joint UN interventions to deliver various sectoral priorities.
Common indicators are used to measure progress against such joint efforts. For example:
- Percentage of country offices that are engaged in joint programmes to which UNICEF has registered progress, i.e., from 62 per cent in 2017 to 84 per cent in 2020, exceeding its Strategic Plan milestone for 2020, which was 72 per cent, as well as the target set for 2021, which was 74 per cent.
- Percentage of non-core resources received from inter-agency pooled funds is another indicator, showing an increase from 9.6 per cent in 2017 to 11.1 per cent in 2019 with a slight decline in 2020 (9.4 per cent) due to a decrease in humanitarian contributions from interagency pooled funds.
In UNICEF, despite these trends, the contributions of joint UN interventions towards results for children is not yet well documented. The majority of joint UN interventions (58 per cent) are driven by availability of funds and donor encouragement. Lack of donor recognition and visibility of UNICEF’s significant investments and efforts are also gaps observed.
For these reasons, an assessment of UNICEF’s engagement in joint UN interventions was carried out in 2021 with the aim to establish an organization wide perspective on (i) what is working and not working; (ii) systems issues pertaining to efficiencies around programmatic and operational aspects; (iii) contribution towards UNICEF’s results and the SDGs; and (iv) potential strategies to maximize the benefit derived from joint UN interventions.
Data collection for the assessment involved a review of secondary resources, an internal survey involving respondents from five sections in Headquarters (HQ) Programme Division, 80 from country offices (COs), and 13 from regional offices (ROs). Focus group discussions were also conducted with six government donor partners and all donor partner focal points in the Public Partnerships Division.
UNDP, UNFPA, and WFP were also involved in the survey. A verification and validation exercise were also undertaken through sharing of the first draft of the report with donor partners, UN Resident Coordinators Offices (UNRCO), UN Agencies, UN Development Coordination Office (UNDCO), UNICEF HQ Divisions and UNICEF internal reference group composed of HQ, regional and country offices. The lack of similar assessments in recent years focusing on systems issues following the introduction of UN Reform within and outside UNICEF has limited the assessment to qualitative data and perceptions on joint UN interventions.
Findings of the assessment outline the potential benefits derived from well-designed joint UN interventions. These include a shared recognition of the UN working together as a platform for the most efficient use of limited resources; the value added of a multisectoral response; acknowledgement that no single agency can provide a comprehensive response to national priorities in silos; and recognition of the contribution of joint UN interventions to government ownership and sustainable results. The assessment also identifies that joint UN interventions are not adequately explored and understood. A full-on success requires a balanced approach towards agency-specific and UN-wide priorities, including the active engagement of UN agencies’ senior leadership.
UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF) results groups should be strengthened to guide sector-based dialogue for more organic and programme-driven partnerships, leading to the most effective use of quality pooled resources.
The recurring programmatic and procedural issues demand further study to bring in much-needed systems of harmonization. Donor partners can also contribute to improving effectiveness and efficiencies by reducing conditionalities. Less earmarking would allow the flexibility to engage in programmes that are fit for purpose and adaptable to a changing environment. The high expectations placed on the Resident Coordinator system by UN Reform should address accountabilities and division of roles. The wealth of knowledge that each agency brings should afford them visibility and independent engagements where they make the greatest difference.
The assessment has identified the need to employ strategies that pertain to a results-oriented approach; a culture of continuous learning for evidence generation to map out realistic entry points for results; the need to incentivize efficient engagements; and, more specifically, the need for the proper interpretation and application of the UN Reform streams in alignment with agency systems for seamless integration. To this effect, the following recommendations map out areas to be addressed by UNICEF individually and collectively with all stakeholders, i.e., UNDCO, donor partners, the Resident Coordinator system, and UN sister agencies (for detailed recommendations please see section 6):
1. Recommendation 1: Adopt a structured and evidence-based approach to priority setting.
This includes sector-wide dialogue at all levels facilitating efficient UN Country Team (UNCT) common priority identification and UNICEF’s selective engagement in areas where joint UN interventions make a difference, including sustaining UNICEF specific undertakings leading to long-term results for children.
2. Recommendation 2: Measure results visa-vis UNICEF and UN-wide priorities and targets. This includes the adoption of the 2020 Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) results and expenditure indicators for impact measurement with guidance to periodic aggregation of results from joint UN interventions towards UNICEF outcome level results, complemented by the proper application of the Results Assessment Module (RAM) and Programme Information Database (PIDB) codes.
Recommendation 3: Respond to recurring procedural and capacity gaps by establishing conceptual clarity on ‘jointness’ for joint UN interventions, addressing lack of interoperable programme and operational approaches, and clear interpretation as well as application of the UN Reform streams, such as the Management Accountability Framework, common management features, and mutual recognition.
4. Recommendation 4: Promote value add of joint UN interventions including through donor UNRCO and UNCT visibility It is essential to build donor confidence by showcasing results for joint UN interventions, issue-based fundraising targeting big-ticket items, and a long-term partnership as opposed to approaching donors when funding needs arise. In addition, it is important to promote shared visibility to and recognition of the value that each agency brings as a building block to the One UN.
5. Recommendation 5: Facilitate the Resident Coordinator system engagement for programme-driven approaches through delineation of accountabilities between RC Office and UN agencies, in accordance with the MAF on programming, resource mobilization, and partnerships with host governments and donor partners. This includes leveraging the RC system as needed to complement agency specific undertakings.
6. Recommendation 6: Address donor conditionalities and non-compliance with United Nations Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG) standards, which will help to identify the root causes of (i) current low capitalization of some of the pooled funds despite commitment to the Funding Compact; and (ii) the varying donor conditionalities and deviations from application of the UNSDG standards. It will also help to advocate for reduction of donor conditionalities.
7. Recommendation 7: Incentivize evidence-based engagement for feasible entry points by instituting periodic evaluations of joint UN interventions for continues learning and informed decision-making to identify feasible entry points and to promote innovation. In addition, put in place performance indicators allowing staff recognition and systematic documentation as well as dissemination of good practices and lessons learned; and ensure expert time investment in areas that are guaranteed to bring adequate resources for result.
In conclusion, this assessment exercise is the first of its kind for UNICEF, providing evidence on the pros and cons of delivering programmes through joint UN interventions. It identifies potential areas for consideration to guide a meaningful engagement with UN sister agencies, especially as the UN Development System is increasingly expected to work together. The findings and recommendations resulting from this exercise are also clear indicators in terms of the need for a concerted effort among the UN system and partners to bring about the required improvements to make UN inter-agency programme and funding arrangements fit for purpose.
Overall, the outcome of this exercise serves as a baseline encouraging future similar assessments with more country, regional and thematic focus. It also serves as a building block on areas that should be further unpacked and improved:
1. Internally focusing on policy, programmatic, operational, and resource mobilization to establish streamlined and structured approaches among the various divisions in Headquarters, regional offices, and country offices.
2. Externally focusing on key engagements at the political and technical level with UN sister agencies, the Resident Coordinator system, UNDCO, and donor partners.
3. More specifically, proper interpretation of the various UN Reform streams and their alignment with individual UN agency rules and regulations, if they are to serve the intended purpose. As a next step, UNICEF should consider operationalizing the proposed recommendations and strategies in consultation with UN sister agencies and partners, supported with a clear workplan and timelines. Within UNICEF, a coordinated plan should be developed between HQ and regional and country offices to take forward the recommendations from this exercise.