Fit for Purpose: Integrating UN services for SDG implementation

A major principle of the 2030 Agenda is the push for greater integration and coordination– across levels of government and sectors and across social, environmental and economic concerns. It is an imperative to improve mechanisms and incentives for more integrated planning, implementation and monitoring of development actions, with the objective of accelerating progress, avoiding conflicting or counter-productive policies, and better balancing across the three pillars of sustainable development. For governments this involves the creation or strengthening of inter-departmental structures for planning, review and consolidation of programming, and data management.

This emphasis on greater integration is intended to be one of the key transformational aspects of the new agenda and it was a resounding message of the lessons learned from the implementation of the MDGs and from the global consultations on the development agenda. It is a message that the UN has been promoting for some time, crafting a myriad of tools, guidelines, and research to support efforts for better planning and alignment across sectors.

However as we at the UN embark on this agenda we must also review our own practices and examine whether we have a system that is fit for this particular guiding principle of the 2030 Agenda. It is no secret that UN Agencies have coordination and integration challenges of their own, often competing between themselves for funding and profile and creeping across their highly overlapping mandates.

At the UNDP RIO+ Centre we were recently presented with the opportunity to convene international organizations around the sustainable development agenda for Rio de Janeiro, as a part of a multi-stakeholder partnership, the Pacto do Rio (Rio Pact), to bring together commitments for the sustainable development of the city. In the process we discovered that we had had rather limited knowledge about the efforts of other UN agencies in the metropolitan region, much less on how they were adapting their planned activities to the 2030 Agenda. While this is partly due to being a policy centre with an international mandate, this nonetheless signaled the potential for a more integrated approach to UN service delivery on the SDGs at the local level.



As a first step we designed the international organizations panel at the Rio Sustainability Forum to showcase a sampling of UN agency tools and programming that can contribute to the implementation of the 2030 agenda at the local level in Rio de Janeiro. For some senior UN colleagues it was the first time they had attended an event in the city with multiple other agencies. At the panel they learned about programmes of other agencies that are highly relevant to their own work and met colleagues that are, in some cases, working just a few buildings away or on different floors of the same building.  Through this process, potential synergies were identified between the ongoing and planned activities of agencies, sowing the seeds for future collaboration.

This is not to suggest that processes and mechanisms for UN coordination are not in place in Brazil. On the contrary, Brazil has been identified for its exemplary good practice for UN system coordination, particularly with respect to supporting the country to prepare for monitoring and reporting SDG data. Since December 2014, the UN country team in Brazil has a Task Force on the post-2015 Development Agenda (now the 2030 Agenda), composed of 18 agencies, co-chaired by UNDP and the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and dedicated to supporting the government to implement the agenda. A major output of the Task Force is a comprehensive report that identifies existing SDG data sources in Brazil, amounting to 574 indicators for tracking the 16 thematic SDGs[1]. It is the result of nine-months of intense coordinated efforts across 16 thematic inter-agency task teams.  Following its publication, the report is being updated by the Task Force to be aligned with the global SDG indicator framework and will be accompanied by a set of glossaries of key terms encompassing national and internationally agreed definitions.

Whether it is across government departments or across UN Agencies, the effort to integrate sustainable development initiatives requires a tremendous coordination effort. The mere identification and tracking of all relevant existing programming to address SDGs is a task unto itself. To this end, UNDP Brazil has launched a portfolio of its own projects that links them with each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and targets[2]. This mapping exercise is an important first step for more integrated programme delivery. It could be accompanied by more regular formal and informal information exchanges and sharing of experiences across agencies to move towards better integration of service delivery under One UN.

If we hope to rise to the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda while in this context of budgetary constraint and faltering faith in governments and the UN system, UN agencies will need to move beyond competitive and narrow interests to identify relative strengths and synergies at local and country levels. In short, we need to practice what we preach on integrated planning and delivery for the SDG Agenda.

[1] (in portuguese)

[2] (in Portuguese)


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