Creating Effective International Development Partnerships with the United Nations

CBI develops a long-term partnership with several levels of the United Nations Development Group's leadership, providing facilitation around key strategic priorities and plans; assessment on key issues; and, training and capacity building for essential collaboration, negotiation, and consensus building skills.

Background and Challenges

The UN’s development agencies—UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the UN Development Program, and many more—work in more than 130 low and middle income countries around the world. Each of the UN agencies provides specialized assistance to governments and citizens, ranging from humanitarian response in natural disasters and conflicts; to capacity building for government agencies to better deliver health, education, and other public services; to policy advice and advocacy on democracy and human rights. Each agency has its own Board, leadership, staff, budget, priorities, policies, and procedures.

Since the mid-1990s, the UN’s development agencies have been seeking closer coordination both at the country level and globally. Many donor countries have asked the agencies to reduce overlap in their programs and projects, and to increase efficiency by sharing administrative costs. Many developing countries have asked the agencies to coordinate their engagement with the governments they are assisting, so that the UN development system provides more coherent support in setting and achieving government development priorities.

The UN agencies have responded by organizing the UN Development Group (UNDG). The UNDG’s members are the heads of the 34 UN agencies, funds, programs and offices that work at the national level in developing countries. The UNDG meets regularly to coordinate the agencies’ global work. At the country level, the agencies’ representatives meet as UN Country Teams to exchange information, coordinate planning, and collaborate on specific initiatives.

In the past 15 years, the UNDG’s efforts to improve “coherence” at the global and country levels have produced some significant successes. Nonetheless, the agencies’ diverse mandates, constituencies, budgets, and priorities continue to pose real challenges to reaching agreement on global policy and strategy, and to effective collaboration at the country level.

The CBI Approach

CBI's partnership with the UNDG begins with a series of negotiation and consensus building training programs and has since grown to include a wide range of facilitation, capacity building, and assessment efforts. CBI now has a Long Term Agreement to provide support to the UNDG.

Since 2007, CBI has been working in a long-term partnership with the UNDG to:

  • define and build the skills that UN agency Representatives need to be effective in managing highly complex and politically sensitive development challenges and partnerships at the country level (See case study);
  • facilitate strategic planning and inter-agency collaboration at the global level, and in more than 20 countries (See case study);
  • build the capacity of UN development, peacekeeping and political staff to collaborate in crisis and post-conflict countries (See article);
  • assess efforts by UN Country Teams to engage national counterparts in policy dialogue on sensitive development issues (See article). 

CBI's partnership with the UNDG developed “organically,” beginning with a series of negotiation and consensus building training programs we delivered for UN Representatives. CBI then facilitated joint strategic planning by UN Country Teams and government counterparts; helped build the capacity of UN development, peacekeeping and political staff to work effectively together in crisis and post-conflict countries; and, facilitated the development of global strategic priorities for the UNDG with senior UNDG leaders. Today, we are a recognized resource across the UNDG, and have a Long Term Agreement to provide support through the UNDG’s secretariat, the Development Operations Coordination Office.

In all of our work with the UNDG, we have brought to bear our core expertise in interest-based negotiation, collaboration, and consensus building, and our ability to contextualize that expertise to the issues facing our UN colleagues. We have helped our UN colleagues build skills in stakeholder analysis, worked jointly to apply those skills in planning retreats with national government policy makers, and facilitated challenging dialogue on how to strengthen headquarters accountability for supporting interagency collaboration at the country level. Throughout, CBI has helped UN development leaders clarify issues, create options for joint gain, and institutionalize more effective skills and strategies for collaboration.

Results

CBI's cross-connecting partnership with several levels of UNDG leadership has key impacts, leading to agreement on strategic priorities and plans, and improving Representatives' capacity for collaboration, negotiation, engagement, and consensus building.  

CBI’s facilitation and capacity building has contributed to the work of the UNDG on several levels. Globally, we have facilitated agreement among agency leaders on the UNDG’s first-ever set of Strategic Priorities; helped define the skills that UN Representatives need to work effectively on highly sensitive development issues; contributed to clearer, simpler and more useful guidance on how to collaborate effectively in strategic planning, including planning by integrated Missions in post-conflict countries; and assessed the efforts of UN Country Teams to engage senior national policy makers to influence policy development.

At the country level, we have helped UN Country Teams reach agreement on strategic priorities and plans in more than 20 countries, and we have trained more than 500 UN agency Representatives to integrate stakeholder assessment, strategy and role choice, negotiation, and consensus building in their approach to highly sensitive development issues.

The most distinctive aspect of CBI's work with the UNDG is the way that the partnership has deepened and the network of collaboration has spread over the past five years. It has been especially valuable to move between the global level of UNDG leadership, the interagency training setting of the UN System Staff College, and the “on the ground” situations that individual Country Teams and UN Missions face. This “cross-connecting” has built both CBI's credibility and our ability to help global leaders and Country Teams see each others' perspectives and learn from each others' experiences.