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WFP Management Plan: A tool for management and multilateral agreement

3 September 2023

By Katja Hemmerich


hand tying string on flow chart

On 8 September 2023, the WFP Executive Board holds its second informal consultation on the Management Plan for 2024-2026. WFP is one of the only UN entities that has a Management Plan to supplement its overarching Strategic Plan. This week our spotlight examines how the WFP Management Plan explains management trade-offs and facilitates multilateral agreement among member states.


The WFP Strategic Plan is adopted for a three year period, currently for the period 2022-2025. It outlines the expected outcomes that WFP will achieve in its programming, as well as cross-cutting priorities such as gender equality and environmental sustainability, among others. It then outlines six enablers for achieving the Strategic Plan, including: People; Partnerships; Funding; Evidence; Technology and Innovation. Most other UN organizations' reporting stops at listing enablers and the initiatives they have planned to leverage those enablers as part of the Strategic Plan. But WFP goes further and adds an entire separate Management Plan.


What is the WFP Management Plan?

The WFP Management Plan is also for a three year period but it is revisited and updated annually. The annual update brings in the latest data on:

  • past expenditures and contributions (e.g. 2022 and the first half of 2023);

  • projected income from all sources (e.g. for the rest of 2023, 2024 and 2025); and

  • planned spending, which takes into account the income projections and earmarking of funds (e.g. for 2023 and 2024).

While this may sound much like other reports of UN entities that update governing bodies on results and resourcing in relation to their Strategic Plans, the WFP Management Plan is different. This is because it tells the story of how complex management in international organizations really is, and clearly demonstrates the managerial implications of member state actions and decisions.


What story does the WFP Management Plan tell?

After decades of ‘doing less with more’, most UN entities have become quite adept at finding different solutions internally to cope with funding reductions or restrictions. They have also seen firsthand the secondary consequences of cuts on performance, both at the level of the organization and its staff. But in efforts to demonstrate that the UN is well-managed, these negative impacts are not usually spelled out in formal documents. The WFP Management Plan, however, tells a coherent and realistic story about how funding cuts and the resulting prioritization impact WFP's ability to deliver, its costs, and its ability to manage strategic risks and accountability commitments. By spelling this out in detail, it not only provides a realistic picture of how complex management in international organizations is, but it also facilitates more effective decision-making by member states.

The WFP management plan very effectively points out in numbers how declining contributions affect their beneficiary population and how it can 'do more with less'. It does so by differentiating between the ‘Operational requirements’ (essentially the overall assessed needs) and WFP’s updated ‘Provisional implementation plan’, which outlines what WFP can realistically achieve with the projected funding in 2024. It does this surprisingly objectively by using numbers instead of just text, as demonstrated in table 3.1.


The last column of table 3.1 highlights the difference between the needs set out in the operational requirements, and the realities of the provisional implementation plan. The first row illustrates that $11 billion of projected income in 2024 meets 48% of the $22.7 billion of operational resources actually needed in 2024. The second row then translates this into numbers of beneficiaries, and illustrates that with less than half the funds needed, WFP can in fact reach more than three quarters of the people in need. The lack of proportionality between the money used and beneficiaries reached illustrates a significant level of creativity in finding efficiencies and creative solutions to achieve results.


The rest of the Management Plan is not just a story of cost-cutting and efficiencies. Rather it outlines how reduced funds are going to be absorbed across the organization while limiting their impact on beneficiaries and organizational risks. Current efficiency gains are highlighted along with the continuing need to invest in initiatives like digitization to continue creating further efficiencies in future. As opposed to presenting digital transformation, human resources strategies, financial management and risk management as separate issues or functions, the Management Plan is able to highlight their linkages, the consequences of reduced funding on performance and risk management, and how prioritization of some areas will reap benefits in the future.


For example, while most UN reports related to resourcing note that earmarked funding and reduced funding make it harder to achieve results, the WFP Management Plan explains this more concretely with both programmatic and management consequences spelled out. Despite WFP’s intention to prioritize beneficiaries, and the evidence that cash-based transfers (CBTs) are a high quality delivery modality, the Management Plan explains that CBTs will need to be reduced in 2024 largely because the earmarked contributions to this programme and core funding is declining. Another concrete example of the consequences in reductions in core and flexible funding is that WFP will only be able to undertake two of the three strategic level evaluations planned for 2024, so it can prioritize evaluation at country level. In this way WFP continues to remains accountable, although not at the level originally intended when the Strategic Plan was finalized with member states. Consultations on the Management Plan are meant to allow for feedback from member states about these types of prioritization, but the Plan also makes it clear that the funding projections require some hard decisions.


Staff are one of the most expensive assets of any international organizations and are often targeted when significant cost-savings are needed. However, the WFP management plan also highlights that talent management is a strategic risk area for the organization, in particular their past practice of using of short term contracts to save on staff costs. The Plan, therefore, outlines that WFP will continue to convert staff on short term contracts who have been performing essential functions for an extended period of time. The conversions will continue at a slower pace, and a number of professional and consultant positions will clearly also be cut in the process. But the Management Plan also clearly indicates that funds will be ring-fenced for better workforce planning aligned with country strategic plans. The management is also prioritizing investment in a standalone unit for diversity, equity and inclusion. The onus is now on the Board if they want to change those priorities and absorb more risk related to staffing. That trade-off is clearly spelled out for informed decision-making by member states.


Human resources is also one of several areas where the Management Plan can successfully point to efficiencies and improved performance as a result of digital transformation. The launch of WFP’s new Human Capital Management System in 2024 will result in an annual savings of $3 million for field offices, in line with the aim to reduce financial stresses on country offices, and will also reduce people management processing time by 40%. Similarly, the Management Plan highlights the value-added of digitized processes in quality assurance and risk reduction with cash-based transfers, which can be replicated for in-kind food assistance - another key risk area. These two examples then naturally strengthen the management’s proposal for further investment in digitizing of procurement processes and monitoring of food distributions.

How the WFP Management Plan facilitates multilateral agreement

More than just strengthening the justification for proposed prioritizations by the WFP management, the Management Plan presents a realistic picture of the vast complexity of managing international organizations. Intuitively one may assume that the complexity make member state decision-making more difficult. But research shows that complexity - when legitimate - may actually facilitate constructive multilateral agreement member states.


Across the UN system, member states prefer to make decisions by consensus as it demonstrates unified support for a decision, thereby increasing the decision’s legitimacy and likelihood that it will be implemented. But building consensus often requires compromises to find agreement across a very diverse membership of governing bodies. When finding consensus becomes a priority and positions among member states are widely divergent, the quality of the final decision can be quite poor from a management perspective. Compromise decisions may not always give clear or coherent direction to the UN entity responsible for implementing them. In extreme cases, a compromise decision may not be implementable or may contain contradictory elements. Diplomats often refer to this as ‘constructive ambiguity’ while academics have called it ‘pathological delegation’ - in both cases, they generally consider that the long-term risks of such decisions outweigh any short term benefits in relation to consensus-building on a particular issue.


"It is an ambiguity that is not only difficult for the Secretariat to implement but also often opens the door to subsequent frictions over divergent interpretations." Colin Kelapile, former Coordinator of the UNGA Fifth Committee


By outlining the real complexity and interrelated elements of management choices, the WFP Management Plan mitigates the risk of ‘pathological delegation’ by member states. It becomes harder for member states to create compromise agreements and trade offs on a particular initiative, or numbers of posts in a division or office, when the linkages to outcomes, strategic risk and costs are so clearly spelled out. The ripple effects of unilateral compromise agreements by a governing board on where to cut costs, or of an ‘across the board’ reduction of costs by a certain percentage, can be easily understood by readers of the WFP Management Plan. By making it harder to engage in trade-off compromises about singular issues, the Management Plan helps member state decision-making stay at a higher strategic level. This avoids some of the micromanagement tendencies in other governing bodies and allows WFP senior management significant discretion to actually manage the organization and obtain the results that member states want.

 

  • The WFP Executive Board holds an informal consultation on the draft Management Plan for 2024-2026 and on the Policy Formulation on 8 September 2023.


  • The UNICEF Executive Board holds its second regular session of 2023 from 5-7 September. Decisions are expected on 12 country programmes and the revised evaluation policy (see our recent spotlight on evaluation policies for international organizations).


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