The task before us is to make existing international organizations work more effectively. A recent survey by the FUNDS (Future UN Development System) project helps us to better understand the considerable scope of the problem. FUNDS recently surveyed over 3,400 respondents from the private sector, the UN system, other governments, academia, and the NGO community regarding their views on evaluating the 30 international organizations that comprise the UN development system. There are numerous findings from this survey that are outlined here. For more information, the full survey report is available here.  Below, I focus on the answers to just two of the questions posed, and these findings demonstrate that some elements in the development system are in dire need of reform.

It’s worth stressing that the survey population is not random. This is important. The survey population comprises informed individuals that are active in working with international organizations. (Full disclosure: I responded to this survey.) This also bears note because public knowledge about international organizations is quite low. In a recent Better World Campaign survey, 1/3 of respondents from a national random sample of adults reported that they had not seen, read, or heard anything about the UN. Given the depth of questions that were asked, an expert survey is certainly ideal.

For each of the 30 UN agencies, respondents were asked to assess their effectiveness (highly effective, effective, not effective) and their relevance in supporting the UN’s development goals (highly relevant, relevant, not relevant). The full results appear as the answers to questions six and seven in this document.

Ranking these 30 organizations in this fashion raises the question of how respondents classify each organization. Are there some that are relevant for development, but ineffective? What distinguishes effective IOs from their less effective counterparts? While this second question is not possible to answer in this blog post, we can use the data from this survey to point a way forward. For each IO, I took the percentage of respondents answering “highly effective” and “highly relevant” and ranked them. Dividing the percentage of responses for each question at the sample median produces the following 2×2 matrix:

 

LEVEL OF EFFECTIVENESS

HIGH

LOW

RELEVANCE TO DEVELOPMENT

HIGH

FAO, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, UNICEF, UN Women, WFP, WHO IFAD, ILO, UNFCCC

LOW

IAEA ITC, ITU, UNCTAD, UNDESA, UNECA, UNECE, UNECLAC, UNESCAP, UNESCWA, UNFPA, UNHABITAT, UNIDO, UNODC, UNOPS, UNWTO, WIPO

The good news is that there were three times as many UN agencies listed in the top left as there were in the top right. A large number of high relevance/low effectiveness agencies would have been distressing. This having been said, it raises the question of what IFAD, ILO, and the UNFCCC are essentially doing wrong. Given that climate change is a very difficult issue to resolve, excessive criticism of UNFCCC might be a bit unfair, but the broader question remains one in which more research is needed.

UNFCCC also raises the issue of a proper baseline here. Survey respondents were not told how to think about effectiveness, but it is a rather complicated issue. One wonders whether a series of questions designed at exploring various dimensions of effectiveness would produce different results.

This having been said, it is worth noting that all of the five UN regional commissions appear in the lower right hand box. These commissions were created in part to foster greater regional cohesion. Notably, the Economic Commission for Europe received the lowest ranking of the five (28% of respondents said ‘highly relevant’) which likely reflects its eclipse by the EU as well as the EBRD. This survey raises broader questions about the fit of the regional commissions in the overall development architecture.

Finally, for each of these organizations in the bottom right, the challenge of outreach is paramount. As the MyWorld2015 campaign ably demonstrates, the UN is taking civil society engagement seriously. It is time for the heads of each of these development organizations to not only consider substantial reforms, but also to review outreach strategies to make sure that the world is aware of their successes as well as their failures. This survey demonstrates considerable demand for reform; will there be sufficient supply?

Martin S. Edwards

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