R. B. M. There is a strong perception attached to these three letters.  In the past, RBM in the UN was often approached as a complicated, rigid and overly technical tool to apply, rather than a tool for planning, monitoring and managing strategy.

RBM was understood to be about matrixes, boxes and tables, and was heavily fueled with UN jargon giving the impression it was linear and inflexible. 

But is this really what results-based management is about?  And how can genuine results-based management become a powerful engine for the UN to deliver better upon its mission?

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development requires all countries to deliver on the vision of people living in prosperity, dignity and peace on a healthy planet. Each country has its unique starting point but the directions for sustainable development are clear. Similarly, the expectation from countries of how the United Nations should support them in their sustainable development pathways is clear.

In 2016 Member States requested to align all UN development system interventions with the 2030 Agenda and contextualize the UN response with the national realities and priorities. 

Member States also demanded that the United Nations development system demonstrate its value and contribution to address sustainable development challenges and achieve the 2030 Agenda.

The demand from Member States for a 21st Century UN able to respond to the paradigm shift reflected in the 2030 Agenda was the key driver to push the Organization to reposition the United Nations development system.

In his December 2017 report “Repositioning the United Nations development system to deliver on the 2030 Agenda: our promise for dignity, prosperity and peace on a healthy planet” the Secretary General stated, that “all reform streams share the same aspiration: to strengthen the effectiveness of the Organization in meeting all its mandates and to enhance leadership and accountability for results and the use of resources. In other words, a responsive United Nations that delivers better results for people and planet”.

The 2030 Agenda is built on Member States’ commitment to being accountable to their citizens for progress on sustainable development objectives. The UN development system, in turn, needs to reorient itself to better demonstrate results to the Member States and the public to secure the promise of sustainable development.

One of the most powerful resources at UNDS’ disposal is indeed results-based management, commonly defined as “a management strategy by which all actors ensure that processes, products and services contribute to achieving a set of results”.  Results-based management is grounded in the principles of accountability, national ownership and inclusiveness.  And results-based management is all about results.


Results-based management – a key to improve effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and accountability of the United Nations

Effectiveness: Results-based management enables the United Nations to contextualize its interventions, focus on the desired change and deliver on collective strategic results to support countries to implement the 2030 Agenda.

Coherence: Higher level development change is beyond the mandate or capacities of a single UN Agency and delivering on the longer term sustainable results requires UN development system entities to work together and provide whole-of-system response to the national priorities.

National ownership: Results-based management is a practical strategy to bring national partners and stakeholders to think together, to analyze development challenges and to come up together with possible solutions that will be owned by all involved and will address the real needs and priorities of countries.

Accountability: Results-based management enables establishment of proper system to collect and share the evidence that the ultimate change happened.

RBM fundamentally seeks to shift from focusing simply on ‘what was done’ to being able to clearly demonstrate ‘what has been achieved’ and ‘what has changed’.


How to do it?

Results-based management starts way before the traditionally associated with RBM logical frameworks.  It already starts with a causality analysis.  Systematically asking the question “who” and “why?” based on the available data and information helps to move from immediate causes of a situation, to considering the underlying and structural causes of these manifestations as they affect different groups in society.  Causes are not linear, but are often a complex interaction of multiple streams that reinforce each other.

The causality analysis is a critical staring point in results-based management.  It lays sound foundations for the Theory of change and will affect and help tailor strategic responses.

The Theory of change is the most critical - yet very labour intensive -  thinking process. Unlike the “hard” science hypothesis-experiment-application approach, the Theory of change to address development challenges will not have a pure “experimentation” polygon to test the hypothesis. The Theory of change is packed with assumptions, even based on the evidence of the suggested solution that worked somewhere else and might work (or not) in a new setting.

The development of the Theory of change cannot be fully objective and it is therefore critical to bring all different stakeholders to bring different prospective both on the causes and the solutions to address these causes.

Inclusive and participatory engagement of all partners also leads to a higher level of ownership of the thinking process for causality and solutions, thus stronger commitments to deliver together and achieve the tangible results collectively.


Re-visit, re-think, learn, adjust

Once the Theory of change - packed with very strong assumptions - is developed, it is important to re-validate assumptions regularly and to adjust flexibly while not losing focus on a larger impact we want to achieve.


Strong results frameworks with robust indicators

Converting the theory of change thinking process in a comprehensive framework of tangible, describable, measurable results is a next stage to improve the effectiveness and accountability of the United Nations to the countries, partners, but more importantly to the people we serve.

“What cannot be measured cannot be managed” – how can we prove that what we have done led to the change we wanted?  What was our starting point and what evidence we can present that we have achieved the positive change?  How can we measure this change and the contribution of different partners to make this change happen? These are fundamental questions to address while formulating the results and identifying the best robust indicators to measure them.

But conceptualizing and strategic planning alone do not yet bring the desired change – results-based management allows for effective and efficient implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development interventions. 

Making UN response to national priorities more results-oriented, accountable, coherent and aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is what all countries expect from the United Nations.   These expectations can be met by using the full potential of true results-based management.

UNSSC offers regular and on-demand customized courses on results-based management for the UN staff and partners.

The opinions expressed in our blog posts are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions or views of UNSSC, the United Nations or its members.