01 Introduction

Foreword by UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner

1.1 Foreword

You don’t need to look far or long to see how digital technology is transforming our world. The availability of more and faster internet connections, satellite data and imagery, plus advances in machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have made our lives and our economies unrecognizable from just a generation ago.

These technologies and others offer new means of addressing complex global challenges, with the potential to unlock long term and sustainable prosperity for people and planet. However, the very same technologies that can bring us together in solving the unparalleled challenges of our times can also drive us apart, and fuel even greater inequalities both between and within countries.

As our government counterparts adapt to this rapidly-changing technological environment, so must UNDP, in order to remain a trusted and effective partner.

UNDP’s new Digital Strategy will allow us to better harness technology and innovation to deliver more and better results in the countries and communities in which we work. This will also enable us to better understand the potential of digital technologies, articulate their use and value, and readily apply them to better serve our partners in their efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Importantly, it will also allow us to better understand the risks and trade-offs that come with these technologies, weighing these factors as we examine and test new technological solutions.

As always, UNDP will ensure our efforts in utilizing digital technologies are anchored in the values and obligations defined by the Charter of the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This Digital Strategy is a call to action and innovation, not only for UNDP, but also for our valued and diverse network of partners.

With the launch of the Strategy comes a series of actions to support its implementation. We will:

  • Invest in new learning opportunities to create a common understanding of digital concepts and capabilities across the organization.
  • Build a global network of Digital Champions who will help identify needs, and support their colleagues in utilizing digital technologies.
  • Design and implement rapid digital demonstration projects in all areas of our work to demonstrate the potential of these technologies to both our staff and our partners.

Let’s work together to ensure this digital revolution leads to revolutionary solutions to the complex problems facing this world.

Achim Steiner

Achim Steiner

1.2 Executive Summary

UNDP is committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the principles of universality and equality; we believe in leaving no one behind. UNDP’s vision and ambition, as articulated in its Strategic Plan, 2018-2021 is to be a trusted partner, nimble in its response, innovative, enterprising and effective as we help countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UNDP’s Digital Strategy supports these efforts by fostering new collaboration models, introducing supporting systems, structures and mechanisms to drive innovation, and building capabilities to develop and apply digital solutions that will enhance the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of our work.

The Digital Strategy sets out the vision for the evolution of UNDP over the next three years, responding to a changing digital development landscape and the evolving needs of our partners:

“UNDP will continually seek out and embrace existing and emerging digital technology in all aspects of its work to better serve its partners in their efforts to achieve the SDGs. Through a process of scanning, testing and scaling relevant digital technologies, UNDP aims to become an increasingly agile, transparent and effective partner in its purpose to eradicate poverty, accelerate structural transformations and build resilience to shocks and crises everywhere and for everyone.”

The Digital Strategy describes how UNDP will transform, framed through two inter-related transformation pathways:

Digital Transformation Pathway 1 looks outward at how we can use digital technologies to improve the way we work, including how we deliver, create, collaborate and advocate.

Digital Transformation Pathway 2 is more internally focused and aims to improve the quality, relevance and efficiency, and impact of UNDP´s business offering through better knowledge sharing and improved data usage.

The Digital Strategy also includes an Activation Plan, consisting of three workstreams which outline how UNDP will implement the strategy by 2021:

Workstream 1: Establish leadership

  • Chief Digital-UNDP Officer
  • Digital Champions

Workstream 2: Enable Information Technology (IT) to deliver the digital transformation

  • Alignment of IT Strategy and Digital Strategy
  • Service-oriented IT as a business partner

Workstream 3: Empower and inspire the business and increase digital capabilities and capacities

  • Foster innovation
  • Digital literacy
  • Digital communication
  • Alliances & ecosystems
  • Lighthouse initiatives

The Digital Strategy is not meant to be exhaustive or prescriptive. It outlines the trajectory to 2021 and proposes a bold transformation which will be enabled through digital technologies, new ways of working, and innovative approaches. UNDP can achieve this by building on our decades of experience, deep country partnerships and the dedicated, professional and innovative people who are our greatest asset.

1.3 Introduction

There are two important inter-related concepts for UNDP’s Digital Strategy: Digitalization and Digitization. Digitization is converting physical information into a digital format, such as automating a paper process that already exists.  Digitalization is overhauling an organization’s entire business model; creating better ways of serving clients and partners.

UNDP has experience in both, but not throughout the entire organization, and not with all our work. The Digital Strategy appreciates this, and builds on our experience and knowledge.

The Digital Strategy focuses on both digitization and digitalization to shape how we work both internally and with our partners; this includes increasing our ability to take advantage of existing, emerging, and future digital technologies in a prioritized and structured way. UNDP’s Digital Strategy is fully aligned with the Strategic Plan 2018-2021 and will greatly help us achieve it.

There are some important issues to note.

We have put inclusivity at our digital core. UNDP will train its staff to take advantage of digital’s potential, while understanding how the very same technologies that can solve problems might also widen the ‘digital divide’. We will strive to ensure our digital transformation leads to a fairer world for everybody.

The Strategy recognizes the many areas in which UNDP works. Digital is not a panacea and there are places where it will not be useful; it’s important to know when and when not to use technology.

The Strategy also appreciates what UNDP already does with digital assets, as well as our rich history of innovation, but in doing so recognizes that we face specific challenges. We are decentralized, which provides fertile ground for new ideas, but also means they can be challenging to get to scale. Until now we have been focused on bottom-up innovation in our county offices. This has been hugely successful but now we need to balance it with strategic priorities.

Principles matter. The Principles for Digital Development will be an important part of our digital transformation. They include user-friendly design, open data, open standards, open source, and privacy and security.

Lastly, the strategy faces the opportunities and challenges which arise when your change timeline is short—18 to 24 months. Technology moves fast, and UNDP must as well; the document will be reviewed and improved regularly as UNDP builds its ‘digital DNA’.