OCHA in 2009 Cover Download Hi-res PDF (6.4 MB)

Goal 3: An effectively managed and responsive organization

As OCHA embarked on the final year of implementing its Strategic Framework 2007-2009, much effort was devoted to developing a strategy for the next four years. This became a wide-ranging, “bottom-up” exercise, as plans for the Strategic Framework 2010-2013 drew upon in-depth analysis of global trends and reflected the ideas, insights and feedback from a broad consultative process.

The new framework was built on the achievements of the previous framework and included key lessons derived from a meta-evaluation, which aggregated and analysed evaluations since 2004. For the first time, OCHA’s goals and objectives were further supported by detailed underlying strategies, with benchmarks to guide the 2010 and subsequent planning processes.

In 2009, OCHA also worked to improve its performance monitoring and reporting systems. It introduced a cross-branch mid-year review process, which provided an opportunity to assess progress and re-evaluate priorities for the remainder of the year. OCHA also implemented a new evaluation policy, which makes internal evaluation of OCHA performance routine practice. The new policy will ensure that select areas of work in the new Strategic Framework are evaluated, with learning feeding back more systematically into planning, guidance and OCHA training programmes.

As OCHA has grown, it has continued to bring greater clarity and cohesion to its overall operations through the issuance of corporate guidance. Building on lessons learned and good practice, OCHA began work on a suite of guidance to standardize operations of ROs, COs and the work of OCHA in preparedness, emergency response and transition. In 2009, guidance to standardize the relationship between HCs and OCHA heads of office was completed and disseminated. OCHA also finalized the first element in a package of guidance clarifying OCHA’s organizational stance on integration, in particular OCHA’s structural relationships within Integrated United Nations Presences. Since 2006, OCHA’s policy and guidance system has become well entrenched and increasingly utilized by OCHA staff. However, adequate implementation of guidance products remains a challenge, due in part to the fragmented state of OCHA’s training efforts. New initiatives outlined under the Strategic Framework 2010-2013 aim to close this gap.

Toward the end of 2009, OCHA introduced the first edition of its online induction programme, providing staff with orientation on OCHA and the wider United Nations system. This was complemented by the development of special induction modules for heads of offices and administrative and finance officers in the field. The Humanitarian Field Coordination Programme, launched in 2008, continued to be offered to staff, particularly field-based staff, to provide basic training on field coordination.

Performance Evaluation 3 (PDF 28kb)

Funding and financial management

OCHA’s donor relations capacity was significantly enhanced in 2009, as the findings of a review of OCHA’s resource mobilization and fund management practices were implemented. There was a clarification of internal roles and responsibilities between the New York and Geneva offices. Increased staff capacity enabled OCHA to significantly improve funding and donor trend analysis, and devise better annual and long-term fundraising strategies. Communication with donors improved, with OCHA providing regular updates on its priorities, financial status and challenges, such as the imbalance in earmarked funds. The OCHA Donor Support Group continued to act as a key sounding board for OCHA. In 2009 it was closely consulted on several key processes, most notably the development of the OCHA Strategic Framework 2010-2013 and monitoring of OCHA’s surge capacity performance.

Better contributions management calls for an integrated information system combining income, allocation and expenditure data. While the OCHA contributions tracking system is being finalized, its full capacity will only be reached when it can be integrated with OCHA’s other financial data management systems. Developing these tools is part of OCHA’s 2010 work plan.

Financial management continued to focus on coordinating and supporting the departmental budgeting process, and ensuring that resources are effectively allocated and monitored. In 2009, efforts were targeted at ensuring more realistic and disciplined budgeting through increased use of standard costs, and providing regular and accurate reporting on critical aspects of OCHA’s financial and funding situation.

Regular reporting and forecasting of OCHA’s financial situation informed senior management decision-making and monthly budget performance for programme managers at Headquarters. This facilitated better financial management through improved monitoring and review of expenditure. The monthly reporting allowed for timely redeployment from unused and underused budget lines to underbudgeted lines. In addition, more effective financial and funding analysis for COs and ROs enabled more targeted fundraising for underfunded offices.

To achieve more efficient and timely preparation of monthly financial reports, OCHA established a single repository of integrated financial data encompassing Headquarter and field locations. As the development of procedures to ensure data integrity proved an extensive exercise, the next step will be to automate and further improve the design of financial reporting based on the consolidated repository.

At the country level, OCHA does not have the delegated authority to certify and approve financial transactions, which means that local procurement of goods and services is provided by UNDP’s country offices. The charges related to such goods and services are transmitted to OCHA through inter-office vouchers. In 2009, OCHA managed to clear a long-standing backlog of these vouchers, allowing additional focus on providing core services to field staff.

To standardize the services that UNDP provided in the field, OCHA pursued the finalization of a global service level agreement with UNDP Headquarters. The agreement is expected to be signed in 2010, as differences on issues that are critical to the smooth operations of OCHA’s field locations, including the administration of petty cash, needed further clarification in consultation with the Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts at United Nations Headquarters and the United Nations Office in Geneva.

OCHA undertook eight missions to regional and country offices, aimed at a clearer understanding of, and more systematic application of, financial policies and procedures by these offices. In addition, a three-day administrative workshop for heads of offices and administrative staff in the field was held in Nairobi to further build capacity in finance, human resources and procurement. The selection of a standard information technology system for OCHA’s field locations was put on hold pending the outcome of the review of administrative and management functions. That review began in 2009 and will be completed in early 2010.

As standard procurement procedures can lead to delays, OCHA established a centralized Rapid Deployment Stock (RDS) to allow for immediate mobilization of equipment at the onset of an emergency. RDS also satisfies the urgent requirements of existing offices in a timely manner and allows a regular rotation of pre-positioned items. Additional sources for acquiring pre-positioned supplies were added through the conclusion of inter-agency agreements for the provision of goods and services on a cost-recovery basis.

Significant progress has been made in developing a catalogue of commonly used equipment to improve the standardization and harmonization of physical assets in the field. Policies and procedures related to the management of such assets have been revised. Tools have been developed to help improve the maintenance of property records and the custodial control over assets throughout their life cycle. Furthermore, a more centralized management of official travel has reduced significantly the time frame for processing travel requests and claims, while at the same time improving client orientation and responsiveness.

Human resources management

As OCHA is continuously working to improve staffing for new and escalating emergencies, the ability to attract, quickly deploy and retain regular staff remains crucial. In early 2008, OCHA was delegated authority to recruit, deploy and administer its staff in the field. Combined with the launch of the roster management programme, measures were established to expedite the deployment of an increasing number of recruitments for field positions and provide more timely administrative support to field staff.

With the full implementation of the roster management programme in early 2009, OCHA was able to draw from a pool of qualified and pre-screened candidates. This had a significant impact on the vacancy rate for field positions, which at mid-year reduced the rate from 30 per cent to close to 10 per cent. In addition, OCHA reduced the time for filling vacant field positions from 140 to 75 days. At Headquarters, it took an average of 250 days in 2009 to fill a professional post through Galaxy because of the need to clear an existing backlog. Of the posts advertised in 2009, the average reduced to 163 days. To ensure a transparent and fair selection process, as well as using the roster for effective workforce planning, a senior Selection Review Board was established at the programme’s outset.

The General Assembly’s decision to streamline contractual arrangements, effective from 1 July 2009, introduced a unified contract for all staff, simplifying and standardizing administration in the long term. The reform provided OCHA with an opportunity to regularize the contractual status of its field staff, facilitating better mobility and workforce planning. However, it also meant that OCHA would be required to fill field positions through the official staff selection system, similar to positions at Headquarters. This entailed circulating vacancies using the Galaxy system and a review of recommended candidates by the United Nations Central Review bodies.

Following negotiations with the United Nations Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM), OCHA was allowed to pilot a new roster. The efforts to re-populate this roster through the official system put tremendous strain on OCHA’s administrative resources. The lack of a fully-fledged mechanism for rapid recruitment of staff for field positions caused the vacancy rate to rebound to 15 per cent at the end of the year.

In the second half of 2009, OCHA re-advertised the roster. By the end of the year, close to 6,000 candidates had applied. Due to the large number of applicants, OCHA anticipates that the pilot roster will be fully populated by June 2010.

In the meantime, OCHA has implemented transitional measures to ensure that field recruitment can draw on the pool of readily available candidates as it increases.While working within the parameters of the United Nations Secretariat provides a number of benefits, OCHA cannot offer competitive entitlements for staff serving in hardship duty stations in comparison to other United Nations organizations. This has an adverse effect on OCHA’s ability to attract and retain talent. It also has an adverse effect on staff morale and staff turnover, especially considering the increasingly difficult and demanding circumstances under which many field staff serve. To counter this, OCHA is giving special consideration to the mobility needs of staff serving in hardship duty stations and has conducted outreach activities to broaden the pool of applicants.

In 2009, OCHA has increasingly partnered with OHRM to engage in pilot programmes that will accommodate OCHA’s special requirements for flexibility and speed in emergency situations. OCHA has also contributed to the development of the new talent management system of the United Nations Secretariat, INSPIRA, which is the replacement for Galaxy. OCHA also contributed to work on the forthcoming enterprise resources planning system, UMOJA, to ensure that the applications will support OCHA’s operational needs.

Since 2008, OCHA has worked to improve client orientation in serving the needs of staff. As part of this, the Administration is now regularly providing staff with updates on entitlements, benefits and similar issues. There have been improvements since 2007 in the use of the performance appraisal mechanism. In 2009, OCHA's compliance rate exceeded 60 per cent for staff at Headquarter locations. The rate is expected to increase in 2010 due to OCHA’s new policy not to extend staff without an updated performance appraisal. Staff participation in mandatory training activities also improved, including in the area of preventing workplace harassment, sexual harassment and abuse of authority. Following increased efforts to promote appropriate training opportunities for programme managers, participation improved markedly in the management and leadership development programmes of the United Nations Secretariat.

Management Review

In 2009, OCHA initiated an external review of selected management and administrative functions. The focus was on roles and responsibilities, reporting lines, management and delivery of administrative services, and measurement of performance and results, especially in the areas of financial and human resources management. The review is expected to give OCHA a range of actionable recommendations to streamline administrative procedures and improve client orientation, with agreed actions beginning to be implemented in the first half of 2010.