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Delivering a well-managed and effective UN: building international consensus [WP1184]

In association with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Multilateral Policy Directorate


Following publication of the UN Secretary General’s Five-Year Action Agenda, in which Ban Ki Moon identified the need for a stronger UN, this conference sought to build on international momentum for management change and innovation, identifying concrete ways to strengthen the UN’s effectiveness and efficiency.

Key points:

There was agreement on the importance and value of the UN, along with a great desire and need for change in the organisation, but some debate about its ability to make major change. Recognition too that the UN is not just the organisation but also the Member States and that engagement by all top leadership will be needed to effect change. Key themes related to:

  • lack of trust: within the UN, between it and Member States and between Member States. Shown by the increased tendency by donors to earmark funds and micromanage; competition between agencies instead of coordination; politicisation of the change debate.
  • lack of coherence: of vision and priorities, as well of UN delivery systems, methods of evaluation and in ability to learn and apply lessons; and of staffing systems (recruitment, mobility, promotion, performance appraisal)
  • variable impact and accountability: deriving from dislocations between longer-term strategic goals and 12-24 month budgeting which disempowers UN managers and leaves them reluctant to be held accountable for areas beyond their control. Consequent focus on short-term deliverables and activities instead of maturity of impact in the longer term

Many detailed proposals and recommendations for removing or circumventing obstacles to change and delivery were put forward, centring around:

  • empowering UN officials by simplifying, standardising and streamlining the decision-making, planning, monitoring and evaluation processes;
  • lifting Member States back up to the strategic level instead of micromanagement especially on budget monitoring and routine human resource issues;
  • reforming, or at least simplifying, the dysfunctional budget system and promoting effectiveness, efficiency and cost-control across the UN system by rationalisation and introducing varieties of shared services.

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