Policy advice versus implementation: reflections from the first UNDG Knowledge Fair
A couple of weeks ago I helped facilitate the first UNDG knowledge fair which took place in Vienna. At the fair 16 different country teams shared their experiences working together on different projects relating to “policy advice versus implementation”. These were selected from around 50 proposals that were submitted from across the UN system.
The purpose of the fair was for the countries to share experiences and learn from one another, as well as to get some reflections on what the UN’s positioning should be along the policy advice-implementation spectrum and how better the UN might fulfil this role. The participants were very diverse with projects from all regions and with each team including members from several UN agencies ad in some cases also counterparts from government and civil society.
The format and methodology of the “knowledge fair” is quite interesting and very different from a regular meeting or workshop “show and tell” and “death by powerpoint”. This built on the successful knowledge fairs that had been organized by the Rome UN agencies last year – but used a slightly different format to allow fewer projects to be looked at in greater detail. Some of the interesting elements of the workshop that we might also consider adapting for use in UNICEF were:
1. Professional “Speed-dating” session where participants where invited to sit with someone they didn’t know and introduce themselves and their work for 6 minutes after which time the facilitator would ring a bell and they would then all move to site with a new partner. This format was repeated for around 30 minutes which allowed them to meet a broad cross section of the other teams to help break the ice. This was particularly important since apart from their own teams most of the participants had never met each other before.
2. Marketplace of projects – each project team set up a “booth” where they could showcase their project and explain what was interesting about it. Participants then wandered around the prepared booths to learn informally about each project. The teams were instructed to “sell” their projects by explaining what was innovative or interesting about it and why other teams would want to know more.Participants were then each given 300 “UN Francs” and asked to bid on the projects that they wanted to discuss in more depth.
3. The 6 projects with the most “money” were discussed in depth using a “Knowledge Mela” format which was developed to foster knowledge sharing by the Solution Exchange group in India for each community’s annual meetings. In this format on the first day participants visited each project in turn, received a briefing on it and proposed discussion questions which were collected by the facilitators, but not answered. On the second day participants revisited the projects in turn, selected and discussed the questions that they most wanted to answer with the project team. In a third session later in the day – each project team reported back on the discussions and what they had learned from them.
4. The remaining 10 projects were divided into two groups and were discussed during two “knowledge cafe” sessions. Here participants were divided into 5 groups with each group sitting with a project team for a 20 minute discussion on the projec. After 20 minutes the groups would rotate – the project teams would represent their work to the new group incorporating the discussions from the previous session. This was repeated until everyone had had a chance to discuss each project.
5. On the last day participants then had a brainstorming session to identify the “ideal” positioning and role of the UN system in policy advice and implementation drawing on their experiences, followed by an action planning session where they identified some practical steps at country and HQ level which could be taken to move towards this ideal. A brief overview of the conclusions of this session were ty ped up as a mindmap which can be viewed here.
One immediate observation is that there is a degree of repetition in this format with each team presenting their work several times over to different groups. While the groups found this tiring – it also proved very useful as discussing in smaller groups led to much more dialogue than a large scale presentation. The teams were also able to hone their presentations through discussion, and reflect on their projects though the eyes of others. Many teams said that they understood their projects better and what was working and what not after these sessions, as well as collecting useful suggestions for moving forward. This format does have a tremendous potential to enhance the quality and depth of information sharing among country teams, and I hope we will have the chance to use it within UNICEF at technical meetings to allow countries to learn from each other and to support the building of communities of practice.
Another interesting observation from the meeting was that there was both a strong need and desire for greater inter-agency collaboration and division of labour – but at the same time getting there is proving very difficult in practice. Building trust between the individuals in different agencies and in the government often seemed to be a key ingredient in successfully working together, together with clear support from leadership. That said – although informal bottom-up co-operation was often discussed during the sessions, when it came to formulating recommendations people tended to revert back to more formal top-down means of ensuring collaboration.
The final report of the meeting with details on the cases discussed and the methodology used is shared here.
There will soon be another UNDG knowledge fair focusing on knowledge sharing itself. Although I probably won’t be attending myself, I do hope that there will be some UNICEF participation as this will be a great way for agencies and countries to learn from one another on how to improve UNICEF and the UN’s work on knowledge sharing.