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Study of the Capacity of the UN Development System

Jackson Report ) (Part #1)

Part of: International Organizations and the Generation of the Will to Change (UAI Study Papers INF/5)

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The Sixth Session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) designated Sir Robert Jackson as Commissioner to undertake a study of the capacity of the United Nations system to handle the resources made available by the UNDP first, at their present level5 and second, if doubled over the next five years. The "Jackson Report" is the result of a study by a team of people in 1968-1969. The study originated with the UNDP's Inter-Agency Consultative Board.

The importance of the report is due to its coverage of the major problems plaguing the operation of the UN family of organizations. Despite the emphasis on development, many of the problems clearly exist for non-development programmes. The Study is extremely forthright in its criticism of the UN structure and operations and for this reason the United Nations should be congratulated for permitting it to be published and circulated to the press particularly in its "unexpurgated form".

For the first time, an overall view of the United Nations operational mechanism is available. It reveals in a fairly systematic way many of the problems which hitherto have been known only partially by those people moving in United Nations or international organization circles, discussed as "corridor gossip", or cited in conversations as justification for a cynical attitude toward UN effectiveness. Up until this report, these problems have not been adequately reported in journals or the press, because those people with the knowledge to write about them held positions that would be endangered by such disclosures. Books on the topic were discounted as the work of disenchanted individuals. The Study is therefore important because it for the first time looks behind the glossy public relations image of the United Nations -- an image which is held dear by both members of the public, people in official positions and some academics in the field of international relations. Political scientists are particularly apt to undertake research as though the UN was a highly coordinated unit under governmental control via the General Assembly (see ALGER, C.F. Research on research: a decade of quantitative and field research on international organizations. Paper presented to American Political Science Association, annual meeting, September 1969).

It is now possible to acknowledge non-political weaknesses of the UN, cite a responsible study of them, and investigate means of overcoming them.

"What, then, is the capacity of the present system and what are the prospects for the future?....I am convinced that the capacity of the present operation is over-extended in certain critical areas. I would list the major constraints as follows, noting that not all of them are exclusively the responsibility of the UN development system:

  • The inability, as yet, to develop fully effective techniques for transferring knowledge and experience.
  • The slow application of science and technology to major problems.
  • The difficulty of attracting manpower of the quality and experience which the operation demands.
  • The absence of an effective system for the control of the resources entrusted to it.
  • The lack of an organization specifically designed to cooperate with the developing countries.
  • The diffusion of responsibility throughout the system.
  • The general reluctance of the Agencies (with one or two significant exceptions) to contract outside the system.

The constraints here are serious and must give cause for concern.... A final point bearing, on capacity is based on my personal experience. For many years, I have looked for the "brain", which guides the policies and operations of the UN development system. The search has been in vain. Here and there throughout the system there are offices and units collecting the information available, but there is no group (or "Brain Trust",) which is constantly monitoring the present operation, learning from experience, grasping at all that science and technology has to offer, launching new ideas and methods, challenging established practices, and provoking thought inside and outside the system. Deprived of such a vital stimulus, it is obvious that the best use cannot be made of the sources available to the operation.... the UN development system has tried to wage a war on want for many years with very little organized "brain" to guide it. Its absence may well be the greatest constraint of all on capacity. Without it, the future evolution of the UN development system could easily repeat the history of the dinosaur." (I, p.12-13)

The Study considers procedures for planning and operating the development programme, by introducing the need for the concept of a United Nations Development Cooporation Cycle (UNDCC) and an information systems concept. The questions of organization, human resources and financial resources are also considered. The conclusions of the Study are now being considered by the Specialized Agencies and Member States. As it points out, many important decisions have been postponed "pending the publication of the Capacity Study".

The most important recommendations involve a complete restructuring of the UN development operations with considerably increased power for the UNDP. It is recommended that this should be backed up by a three part computer-based information system to deal with: technical and scientific information (documents), economic and social information (statistics), and operational and administrative questions (budget and project control).

ation (statistics), and operational and administrative questions (budget and project control).

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