Background

The High Level Committee on Management held its twenty-ninth session at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, on 19-20 March 2015. The meeting was chaired by the Committee’s Chairperson, UNESCO Director General, Irina Bokova, and Vice-Chair, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Jan Beagle.

In her opening remarks, the HLCM Chair recalled that 2015 marks the seventieth anniversaries of the founding of both UNESCO and the United Nations. It will also be a turning point for the international community, requiring the organizations of the United Nations system to adapt to provide efficient and coordinated support to Member States in the transition to the post-2015 development agenda. She stressed that the United Nations system must rise to meet high expectations and continue to advance efforts to ensure that it is more “fit for purpose”.

The Chair highlighted the relevance of the HLCM’s mandate to promote and coordinate system-wide management reforms to shape a more innovative, agile, results-oriented United Nations system. Noting the relevance of issues such as governance and the evolution of institutional structures, she urged the Committee to consider bold changes across the HLCM mandate and to not shy away from crucial areas such as institutional alignment with the post-2015 agenda and the provision of financial resources across the system to align promise with performance.

Guided by the overarching principles of transparency, accountability, cost-effectiveness and results-orientation, the HLCM Strategic Plan (2013 – 2016) provides a clear road map for the Committee with a focus on the redesign of operational and management functions. The HLCM Chair underscored the need to work hand-in-hand with the United Nations Development Group to ensure coherence from global to country levels.

The HLCM Chair warmly thanked Mr. Francis Gurry, Director-General of the World Intellectual Property Organization, for chairing the Committee for the last two years.

HLCM started an internal assessment of its own fit for purpose in early 2013, with a process of reflection and analysis that culminated with the development of its Strategic Plan 2013-2016. At the time of approval of the Strategic Plan, HLCM agreed to review and adjust it as necessary in the course of the reference period, to reflect any emerging management priorities and inter-governmental mandates.

Discussion

At its October 2014 session, the Committee discussed its contribution to the CEB Post 2015 - Fit for Purpose Strategy, which was then finalized and submitted to the Board, together with the Summary of the Chairs from the joint HLCM/HLCP session of 9 October. The HLCM Strategic Plan, with its five strategic priorities, provided a strong basis for the Committee’s contribution to this discussion.

Following these discussions, the Committee had now an opportunity to review the strategic directions set in its Strategic Plan. In her introduction of this item, the HLCM Chair noted that a significant body of work had been completed over the last two years and that the Strategic Plan was an important tool for system-wide action in the area of operations, and one that ensures coherence and harmonization at all levels.  She also noted the aim of the Strategic Plan to align operational issues with programmatic needs, as effective programming requires efficient operational support.

The Committee should now build on the good progress already made, and accelerate and scale-up the successful initiatives undertaken to date.  In doing so, the UN system needs to be innovative in identifying and scaling-up new business solutions, recognizing that most roadblocks cited as preventing responsiveness are within its own ability and responsibility to change.

The Chair drew attention to the three areas where the HLCM can make a strategic difference, as identified in the HLCM Fit for Purpose paper.  These areas are: People and skills - the international civil service of the future; Designing new business models; and, Strengthening the collective accountability of the UN system.  These areas of work are key components of making the UN system fit for the new environment.

In the following discussion there was consensus that considerable progress had been achieved along the objectives set in the Strategic Plan.  The Committee also agreed on the need to accelerate work, especially with the aim of completing the key areas of work in the Strategic Plan by October 2015.  This will ensure that results inform the next Secretary General’s report to ECOSOC on QCPR implementation and the related intergovernmental discussions.

The Chair of the UNDG ASG Advisory Group briefed the Committee on the decision to conduct the evaluation of the pilots implementing the business operations strategy in May 2015 and on an upcoming BOS retreat to be held in July 2015. The Committee noted the good work of HLCM Networks, and recommended that they participate in these processes and play a greater role in the harmonization of business operations at the global level, ensuring that remaining bottlenecks to collaboration in the area of business operations are removed.  The Networks were asked to prioritize, in close cooperation with UNDG, the removal of any such bottlenecks within the calendar year 2015, while also staying informed about priorities identified in HLCP, as they may have an impact on the future work of HLCM. Several Committee members noted the need for strengthened alignment between the UNDG and HLCM and to improve the structure and practices between the two groups, including through results-focused joint meetings or joint task forces.

The Committee agreed that the focus should be on completing the work as set in the Strategic Plan, with urgency. A clear monitoring matrix should be created so that progress, and areas where progress is lacking, can be clearly identified.  In this respect, it was re-iterated that the HLCM should not be “held back” by the lowest common denominator but keep pushing for innovative solutions.  

HLCM members also noted the importance of: expanding the UN system’s leading role in environmental performance, including through the development of multi stakeholder and multi-sectoral approaches; increasing focus on Headquarters collaboration in procurement, particularly in New York, Copenhagen, Nairobi etc., drawing on experiences from Geneva and Rome; and, strengthening communication, in particular communication of results.  

For continued and sustainable progress in work on harmonized and coordinated operations, the Committee re-affirmed the strong need for senior management leadership and recognition of the work done by their staff in the Networks, as staff members are carrying out their inter-agency duties on top of their normal work.

Action

The Committee:

  • Noted with appreciation the progress made against the objectives set in the HLCM Strategic Plan 2013-2016.
  • Recognized the value of the work done to redesign modern operational and management models, to deliver savings, to provide higher quality services, and to promote a culture of working together.
  • Committed to accelerate and scale up implementation of the Strategic Plan, in line with the directions provided by CEB to meet the Executive Heads’ common ambition to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of UN organizations, through more adaptive and agile business models.
  • Requested HLCM Networks to work with increased urgency in conjunction with UNDG Business Operations Working Group and Regional/Country Offices piloting the Business Operations Strategy, to consider solutions for common operational approaches in any critical business processes in the areas of finance, procurement, HR and travel, highlighting the degree of feasible and desirable harmonization (full, partial and none), and present proposals to improve the present status and remove any impediments for discussion at the next HLCM.
  • Requested the HLCM Secretariat to develop more comprehensive, yet simple, framework to monitor progress against the Strategic Plan, with indicators of achievement, presented in an appealing and engaging way.
  • Requested the HLCM Secretariat to ensure that work towards the development of the next Strategic Plan starts in a timely manner, focusing on innovative solutions while being informed by the experiences and progress related to the 2013-2016 Plan, and takes into due consideration complementarity with the work-plans of the other pillars of the CEB.