09 January 2015

The Future of the UN Development System

A new book from the co-Director of the Future of the UN Development System (FUNDS) project (can't believe they didn't call it the "FUN" project). Mark Malloch-Brown (former UN deputy-secretary-general and UNDP administrator) says;
"There is no better compilation of insights about the UN’s lack of cohesion, growing turf battles, declining capacity, clumsy implementation, and cooptation by bilateral and private interests of the family of organizations that calls itself—somewhat awkwardly—the UN development system."

One of the inputs to the book is a global perceptions survey of the UN system, summarised thus:
Four views emerge across the survey: 
• The UN’s development functions are less crucial than such other functions as security, humanitarian action, and setting global norms with teeth. 
• The UN’s development organizations are still mostly relevant, but some are not particularly effective. 
• The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF consistently receive the highest rankings among operational agencies; regional commissions receive the lowest rankings. 
• The UN faces two major institutional challenges: poor internal organization and the predominance of earmarked funding.
What the survey misses, and what is really crucial, is that what we should care about is not just the effectiveness of organisations but the cost-effectiveness, or value for money. Houses in London are "effective" at keeping people dry, but they aren't exactly great value for money from a cost per square metre perspective. 


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William Hayes said...

Why? Why is cost-effectiveness more "crucial" than effectiveness? You don't attempt a justification. There are great difficulties both measuring effectiveness and channelling funds towards effective activities. The claim that we need to be concerned with something more difficult to measure (cost-efffectiveness) seems, at best, moot.

rovingbandit said...

Apologies, I didn't realise that point was non-obvious.

When we have limited resources (we do), we should try and get the most for our money. If there are 100 children hungry or out of school, it is better to feed and educate as many of them as possible. So an "effective" intervention which is very expensive and for which we can only afford to feed one child, is worse than a more cost-effective intervention which allows us to feed all 100 children with the same limited budget.

William Hayes said...

Your point was very obvious. The difficulty is not understanding what you suggest, but finding some way to implement it. Something like putting the bell on the cat: the difficulty is not seeing the benefit, but getting it done. Consider aid to Haiti: billions committed, lesser amounts delivered, most channelled through foreign contractors. Total on the ground benefits? It would have been "better" to channel aid through Haitian govt and local agencies, but how was that to be done?

Gates Foundation and others that are big on data and results are making great efforts to be attentive to effectiveness --and getting great criticism for doing it, too. The notion (which seems to be your premise) that it is no great thing to increase that attention from effectiveness to cost-effectiveness needs not just arguing, but also evidence. Your examples don't do it for me.

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