CBI facilitated priority-setting in one of the world’s most complex organizations.
Established in 1997, the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) represents more than 30 UN agencies that help countries with development challenges, from improving child and maternal health to holding free and fair elections. Historically, UN agencies with overlapping mandates often competed for donor funding and influence, duplicated programs, and failed to pool resources to reduce costs. The UNDG aimed to strengthen collaboration among its members while reducing competition and redundancy. In practice, however, these ambitions proved difficult to achieve. Agencies remained autonomous, siloed, and mostly achieved “lowest common denominator” coordination. Concern grew among governments and many UN leaders that the UN development system was not delivering quality results and was losing relevance in the global development landscape.
In 2009, the Vice-Chair of the UNDG asked CBI to facilitate the creation of a single set of strategic priorities. Working with a 13-member group of Assistant Secretaries General (ASGs), CBI used confidential interviews to clarify how each ASG and agency understood the UNDG and its mission; their main concerns about inter-agency collaboration; and, where most or all agencies saw a need and value for closer collaboration. Over a series of four day-long retreats, the facilitator helped the group focus on areas where most ASGs saw high potential for collaboration to produce results: devolving more authority from headquarters to UN agencies at the country level; improving the way the UN contributed to government policy development; and improving the ability of the agencies to share and deploy know-how quickly from global to country level.
Guided by CBI, the ASGs developed a consensus on ways to advance these priorities that were responsive to individual agency concerns. After six months of work, the UNDG approved the priorities and detailed two-year work plan in full. Over the past seven years, the UNDG has returned to and revised the Strategic Priorities twice. The UNDG’s commitment to the Strategic Priorities demonstrates that effective intervention at a moment in time can help a complex group of development actors make a permanent shift toward efficient collaboration, achieving better results for families, societies, and governments in more than 130 countries.