No.38-February 2016

by Sally Fegan-Wyles

Delivering As One: Could it Help the 2030 SDG Agenda?


Delivering as One (DaO) is the most recent comprehensive UN reform program. It is now synonymous with converging UN operations at country level through a single leader, office, program, budget, fund, and voice (six “ones”). In this briefing paper, an architect of DaO reviews its record and asks how this process could be applied, or modified, in the SDG era.

The premise driving DaO (launched in 2007) was to increase national ownership, enhance the impact of UN support, and reduce the transaction costs on national governments generated by working with a fragmented UN. It was also intended to test different models for UN coherence.

An independent evaluation in 2012 found strong evidence that national ownership had increased, especially through the use of a single budgetary framework and DaO ‘One Fund’. But, one of the original objectives of DaO—the search for different approaches—was not examined in the evaluation. The report was therefore a missed opportunity to consider different options to make the UN more coherent in large LDCs or fragile states, or provide an alternative model for UN coordination in countries where the UN support does not justify a large presence. 

The Next Generation
The UNDG tried to improve support to the DaO countries in two ways: Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to highlight linkages and provide more guidance to RC/UNCTs; and an action plan at HQ and national level to harmonize business practices and procedures, and IT systems.

Currently there are 52 countries that formally have adopted the DaO approach: 19 Low Income Countries (LICs), 23 Low Middle Income (LMICs), 8 Upper Middle Income (UMICs), and 3 High Income Countries (HICs). All 134 Regional Coordinators/UN Country Teams (RC/UNCTs) are urged to apply the SOPs, whether their governments are formally requesting the DaO approach or not.

There have been great changes in the development landscape over the last 20 years. In 1990, 95% of the world’s poor lived in LICs, and around 25% of ODA came from the UN. By 2012, many of these LICs had graduated to middle-income status and the number of poor people in LICs had dropped from 1.6 to 0.3 billion. In real terms ODA channeled to LDCs through the UN has fallen to 16%. Along with greatly increased direct foreign investment and remittances, the net impact has been to reduce the relative importance of UN technical assistance outside the LDCs and fragile states.

These changes have enormous implications for the UN development system (UNDS) and DaO. As countries now have better capacity to solve their own development problems, UNDS operational support is increasingly marginalized  while other UN functions have grown in importance, especially peace and security. The 2010, 2012, and 2014 FUNDS global surveys polled some 10,000 respondents from governments, civil society, the private sector, the aid community, and the UN itself. Respondents judged the UN’s development functions as less crucial than its work in peace and security, the establishment of global norms, humanitarian action, or human rights and crisis recovery. The surveys also found that the role of providing technical assistance was still valued, but not in higher-income countries.

The SDGs
The 2030 SDGs are very different to anything that has come before, and the role of the UN in supporting their achievement will also have to change.

The UN’s normative and convening role in the development and adoption of the new agenda is accepted and appreciated, and it will be relevant in all countries for the promotion and monitoring of the 2030 agenda. However, it is not yet clear what mechanisms the UN will use to interact with HICs, where there is no shared UN presence on issues relating to the promotion, adoption, or monitoring of the agenda.

The UN is also uniquely placed for peace operations, post-conflict/post-crisis support and human rights. While human rights will be relevant in all countries, there are about 30 countries that are fragile, in which the peace and security and post-conflict functions and humanitarian assistance will be essential. Many already have UN peace missions. Aligning the work of the UN to national priorities and ensuring coherence between the UN mission and the work of the UNCT will be crucial given the importance of the UN investment and the weak national capacity for coordination in such countries. Significant resources are usually available to support UN coherence, from the office of the special representative of the secretary-general (SRSG), the deputy (DSRSG/RC), and the emergency relief coordinator.

How can the UN best support national efforts to implement the new SDG agenda?
As countries become more affluent and the relative importance of UN development assistance diminishes, the number of agencies with in-country presence will fall. While the need for coherence remains, the capacity to apply complex processes is reduced. The UN field presence must also change if the UN is to offer value for money. It is time to use different models for organizing coherent UN support in different types of countries.

The UNDG has decided that their “fit-for-purpose” conversation should focus around five elements that are integral to sustainable development in any context: developing a universal agenda for both rich and poor countries; reducing inequality; the centrality of human rights; integrating UN support; and harnessing the data revolution.

As the UNDG explores these issues, it should examine alternative models for coherence. Based on the models already in place, the following four have great potential:

1. Fragile & Post-Conflict Countries—SRSG/DSRSG model The SRSG and DSRSG could use their authority to prioritize and focus UN operations in the 18 UN peace missions in fragile and post-conflict states that have significant resources already in place. The DaO principles and the SOPs are relevant and useful in these large UN operations. There are currently eight UN peace operations that are DaO countries. In some of them, the SRSG and DSRSG have been able to align both the UN mission and the UNCT support behind a national “peacebuilding” plan, bring coherence and convergence between conflict prevention, humanitarian assistance, and reconstruction. The examples of such coherence are still few, but they show that it is possible to realize the UN’s comparative advantage.  A variation of the SRSG/DSRSG model could be used in 20-25 countries (mainly fragile states), without necessarily involving the Security Council.

2. Poor Countries—Traditional RC/UNCT Model In LICs and LMICs with a large UN presence and large budget, the most appropriate approach would be to continue the RC/UNCT model with the DaO and the SOPs. The cost of coordination should be proportional to the total investment by the UN. Excluding 25 fragile or post-conflict countries, there would be around 60 countries that could still use this model.

3. Very Small Countries—Modified Joint-Office Model  In some countries, the size of the UN investment is so small that the cost of the RC/UNCT model is not justified. This could include many UMICs and some small LICs and LMICs. A modified Joint-Office model could have a single person who is both RC and representative of the funds and programs, supported by a single operations unit and including some of the specialized and non-resident agencies. This would simplify interactions with the UN for small governments and make coordination of the participating agencies less demanding. However, it requires agencies at regional and HQ levels to be more committed to teamwork and coherence than in the past.

4. Rich Countries—Joint-Office “Lite”  In HICs and UMICs, the UN presence is normally funded by the countries themselves. A Joint Office “lite” model could use IT to provide a “virtual UN shop window” through which countries can view the resources of the UN, including studies, data, programs, funding opportunities, and individual experts. The UN person in country would act as a kind of relationship manager, not work for any specific agency, and endeavor to enhance participation in ongoing normative processes, and support countries to access knowledge and services across the UN.

The UN is faced with a radically changed development landscape and a newly agreed 15-year agenda, which demands rethinking of the UN’s operational presence. It should be better tailored to the different needs of fragile, poor, small, and wealthier developing countries. By adopting four different models for DaO, the UN can better arrest its progressive marginalization, enhance impact, and yield cost-effective solutions. 2016, especially the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR), offers a valuable opportunity to develop a revamped DaO program.

Download the full briefing paper 'Delivering As One: Could it Help the 2030 SDG Agenda?' in pdf.

Sally Fegan-Wyles retired as Assistant-Secretary-General of the United Nations in October 2015. She had worked in Africa for UNICEF and UNDP for two decades, ending as UN Resident Coordinator in Tanzania (1998-2001). Following that, she was Director of the Development Operations Coordination Office (DOCO) in New York (2001-2008); led the team within EOSG to establish UN Women (2009-2011); and was Director of the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), Geneva, (2012-2015). As DOCO Director, she was involved in designing the Delivering as One concept and putting it into practice.


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