Policy Paper

With its unique multilateral assets, the United Nations Development System (UNDS) should be playing a key role in assisting governments and other stakeholders with their implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. But this requires change. Despite improvements in recent decades, too often the UNDS has continued to act as a loose assemblage of competing entities, undermining its effective support for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) implementation. This is all the more relevant as the world is seriously off track for meeting the commitments of the 2030 Agenda in many areas. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has set many countries back in their development and exacerbated inequalities.

The UNDS has been undergoing an extensive reform – that was decided on in 2018 and has been implemented since 2019 – to provide more coherent, integrated support in line with requirements of the 2030 Agenda to United Nations (UN) programme countries. What effects have the reforms yielded at the country level?

Published by the German Development Institute/ Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE-GDI), this paper presents the main findings, conclusions and recommendations from our research on UNDS reform implementation. It does so with a focus on reform-induced changes towards what we call a strengthened, collective offer at the country level. We distinguish an institutional and substantive element of the collective offer. The institutional element in our concept comprises the enactment of rules, mechanisms and processes for cooperation within UN country teams. The substantive element refers to the functions and services a country team offers to a country.

Overall, our research shows that reform implementation is moving the needle on the quality of the collective offer. In particular, with regard to its institutional element, we observed that the reform has fostered change in how UN country teams work together that is in line with what the 2030 Agenda demands. Institutional changes allow for increased cross-organisational and cross-sectoral coordination, which could potentially lead to increased policy coherence. But while we see substantial progress, it remains incomplete, fragile and subject to structural limitations. A more critical picture emerges with regard to change in the substantive component of the collective offer in the areas of SDG integration, cross-border work and normative approaches. While there were positive examples, we found little evidence of a systematic repositioning in these areas. The adjustment of the UNDS to the 2030 Agenda does not (yet) meet the expectations derived from the UN’s own reform ambition.






Published March 2022

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