24 October 2016
From QCPR to Corporate Strategy? The 2030 Agenda and the UN Development System
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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Negotiations are set to begin on the 2016 Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR), which is the key platform for debating the future of the UN Development System (UNDS).

After more than 30 years and 11 resolutions, the next round is at risk of looking like “business as usual,” without further reflection on how the QCPR should be modernized.

With negotiations set to begin on the 2016 Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) (see SDG Knowledge Hub coverage), UN Member States may want to consider lessons from the past. The QCPR is the key platform for debating the future of the UN Development System (UNDS). However, after more than 30 years and 11 resolutions, the next round is at risk of looking like “business as usual,” without further reflection on what about the QCPR, apart from the unwieldy name, needs to be modernized.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted last year provides the opportunity for a more comprehensive makeover. Stakes have been raised further through the 18-month dialogue on the longer-term positioning of the UNDS, convened by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which concluded in July 2016.

Calls for a “QCPR Plus”

The QCPR is the main instrument at Member States’ disposal to provide system-wide guidance and direction to the UN Development System. From its modest beginnings in 1981, the QCPR (until 2012 with a triannual period) has evolved significantly in terms of scope. The 2012 resolution contained around 190 mandates, 70% of which were addressed to the interagency level or the UNDS as a whole (Wennubst/Mahn 2012). On average, QCPR resolutions have become longer, they have addressed increasingly complex issues, and they have focused predominantly on the system, rather than a single agency or issue.

During the ECOSOC dialogue sessions in 2016, an independent team of advisors, the UN Secretary-General and many Member States called for an evolution of the QCPR into a “QCPR+.” The proposal on the table is to transform the QCPR into a strategic, system-wide tool to direct operational activities for development. There is broad consensus on the importance of such a makeover among Member States, but much variation in detail.

Now that the Secretary-General has released his recommendations for this year’s QCPR negotiation (see report), it will be crucial to see what the first draft resolution, which is currently being prepared by the Group of 77 and China (G-77/China), will suggest for the QCPR’s revamping. Member States will have to consider: What core function should the QCPR+ serve in the future? To whom is the annual QCPR resolution addressed? And how can implementation be ensured?

System-wide Governance as Core Function of QCPR+

Over the last few decades, in response to coordination deficits, more system-wide processes and structures have been put in place in the UNDS that broadly fall under the responsibility of management. These include ‘Delivering as One’ as well as the Resident Coordinator (RC) system. However, as management tools have become more “systemic,” another need has become apparent: the need to revamp Member States’ system-wide governance in order to close gaps in horizontal oversight and direction.

The QCPR+ could make a valuable contribution by finding a new balance between governance needs at the system-wide level, and those at the level of the various individual funds, programmes and agencies. There is a need to trim rank growth and re-focus the QCPR on its core function. Because the limits of the current governance arrangements of the UNDS are historically entrenched, they are very hard to overcome. The QCPR+ could open up a pathway for tackling the future governance requirements of the UNDS.

Incomplete Coverage without Specialized Agencies

The QCPR is not binding for all entities within the UNDS. This is a key weakness affecting the process since its establishment. The QCPR reflects the historically decentralized setup of the UN development system; accordingly, the QCPR is formally applicable to only 19 funds, programmes and other entities reporting to the UN General Assembly (UNGA). In contrast, the UNDG today has 31 members – which means that more than a dozen are beyond reach of the QCPR, at least in legal terms. Missing are most of the specialized agencies. There is a need to overcome the long-standing rift between the funds and programmes, which tend to have vast field operations, and the specialized agencies, which are traditionally the “norm and standard-setters.”

Under the 2030 Agenda, the specialized agencies fulfill a particularly important role as “expert organizations” for a number of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Their comparative advantage is in supporting Member States as they adjust national, regional and global regulatory frameworks to facilitate equitable and sustainable livelihoods. By calling upon the governing bodies of each and every entity to align itself with the QCPR+, the process could achieve system-wide applicability.

Accountability for a Corporate UNDS Strategy?

Even if a QCPR+ is achieved, its ultimate impact will be dependent on progress towards what the Secretary-General’s report calls “clear mechanisms for monitoring and reporting on QCPR progress, including a new, robust QCPR monitoring framework, closely aligned to the SDGs.” Who exactly has to act when Member States send a request to the UNDS? Until this question is settled, the mechanisms to hold entities to account remain the Achilles’ heel of the QCPR today.

In our assessment, today’s UNDS is missing a comprehensive hub to reconcile its system-wide mandate that is the 2030 Agenda with the reality of operations across entities. The lack of a corporate approach to govern management action separates the system as a whole from the way each of its components operates. Transforming the QCPR into a “corporate strategy” that defines core functions, progresses on coverage, and establishes clear accountability mechanisms could represent a leapfrog advance in the functioning of the UN Development System.


This blog is written by Timo Mahn, researcher at the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), Bonn / Germany, and Andreas Grantner, graduate in International Development and Political Science, and MA student in Political Science at Vienna University / Austria. Particular thanks to Faye Leone for excellent editorial support.

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