UNDP MANAGEMENT DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM: Concepts and Strategy     February 6, 1997  

I  Introduction

          Since the Management Development Program (MDP) of the UNDP was established in 1988, it has been a relatively modest program, unusually flexible in structure, and able to respond to requests for short-term advisory assistance on public management issues without taxing the regular five-year country budgets of the recipients. The MDP is now part of the Management Development and Governance Division (MDGD) of the UNDP, a change which offers the program welcome stability and longevity, but which could in time curtail the flexibility and imagination with which the MDP was run.


Courtney A Nelson - Beirut 1973

Beit Eddine, Lebanon

          In response to the end of the cold war and the apparent dominance of the market-oriented development strategy, the MDGD and the UNDP as a whole has become more focused, and somewhat more ideological, in defining its mission. It is charged by the Administrator to “support UNDP’s effort to help build the undergirding capacities in government to support and sustain Sustainable Human Development (SHD) initiatives.” [1] SHD has been the overall concept guiding UNDP activities in the past few years. Serious scholarly efforts have been devoted to defining the concept and determining operational strategies for implementing it in the field. For this reason, it is worth dwelling on SHD before examining current MDGD strategies.

II  Sustainable Human Development

          Since 1990, the UNDP has been focusing on the human aspects of development, promoting a strategy that centers on people’s choices and capabilities that do not undermine the well-being of present or future generations. The strategy recognizes the dangers of an exclusive reliance upon market forces, and seeks to promote values such as equity, environmental quality, and the empowerment of the poor.

          In 1993 the UNDP engaged a multidisciplinary team of experienced consultants, recognized leaders in the development field, to work on the definition and operational implications of SHD. Their report, issued in March 1994, is intended to be used as a guide to practitioners. [2] In it, SHD is defined as “the enlargement of people’s choices and capabilities through the formation of social capital so as to meet as equitably as possible the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of future ones.” The strategy seeks to restore trust in government and social institutions, respect for traditions, and conservation of natural resources, all in a non-coercive way.

          The report takes the view that the conventional model of development is in doubt. They cite three current crises that need to be addressed by a new vision of the development imperative:

§  A crisis of the State, an institution that has lost much of its authority and is no longer trusted in many countries;

§  A crisis of the market, which tends to accelerate the exploitation of scarce natural resources, provide incentives that undermine systems of governance, and create uncertainty in the minds of people;

§  A crisis of science, which is considered to be too exclusive and not adequately attuned to needs such as that of maintaining diversity.

            The authors seek a definition of development that emphasizes the value of biological and institutional diversity, takes history into consideration and regards tradition not as an obstacle but a potential asset, and stresses the role that social capital plays in development.

          The concept of “social capital” plays a very large role in the new strategy, yet its meaning remains somewhat elusive. The authors seem better at saying what social capital is not than what it is. They refer to it first as “voluntary forms of social regulation,” which is a bit obscure. Later they say, “Social capital inheres in the structure of relations between and among actors. It is lodged neither in the actors themselves nor in the physical implements of production. Unlike physical capital that is wholly tangible and human capital that is embodied in the skills and knowledge of the individual, social capital exists in the relations among persons.” (P. 17-18) On another occasion they suggest that human capital refers to the ability of the individual to make decisions, while social capital refers to the ability of the collective to make decisions.

          The one example the report offers to demonstrate the difference between physical, human and social forms of capital concerns the automobile. Physical capital requirements include roads, bridges and automobiles. Human capital requirements include driving and mechanical skills. Social capital involves laws and regulations, willingness to observe them, monitoring institutions, courtesy on the road, and norms for vehicular maintenance. This example is heavily oriented towards regulation and control, but I think the authors are seeking to define a mature set of social institutions and customary usage that is both voluntary and responsible in terms of the protection of our common planet.

          The report cites three concerns about world trends in the market/ liberal democracy global system:


§  Polarization within and among nations. Inequity in distribution;

§  Increasing fractures along religious, ethnic and racial lines, even where democracy has been practiced for generations; breakdowns of personal security, even in former havens of peace; and

§  Squandering of natural resources.

          The decline in the authority of the State, some aspects of which are welcomed by the private sector and by those concerned for civil liberties, has led in some cases to unwanted side effects, such as the rise of organized crime and the criminalization of the public space, economic disruption, and the rise of ethnic and other differences leading to prolonged political unrest and civil war.

          I think the SHD concept is a worthy attempt to devise a development strategy that does not rely entirely upon the market system with its recognized defects, and to differentiate the strategy from centralized systems, such as the USSR employed. The chief weakness of the SHD concept, it seems to me, lies in its implicit equation of “human development” with “human capital development.” The economic notion of human capital, capabilities built through education and training, is inadequate to the developmental role which must occur in human beings if development is to imply progress. The concept of SHD would be more powerful if the psychological concept of human development were used rather than the economic one.

          There is a rapidly increasing body of literature in psychology concerning human development from conception through adult years. The literature deals with the extraordinary production of brain cells in the fetus and in the early months after birth, and the rate at which they die off if unused [3]; and with both emotional [4] and cognitive [5] development. In this literature, cognitive development is found to improve moral development, problem-solving effectiveness, and the quality of decisions. Cognitive and emotional development result from appropriate education and environmental stimulation at all ages.

          Human development processes are thought to be universal, although methods and context will be culture-specific. No society has achieved advanced levels of development for all of its people, but some have succeeded in creating better developmental environments than others.

          Psychological development concepts, although powerfully suggestive are, unfortunately, not as operational as the economic concepts of human resource development. They don’t fit nicely into equations that indicate how much individual development is worth to the person or the society. The UNDP and other development strategists can’t be faulted for using the economic notion, but their literature should indicate that there is more going on than building better human instruments of production.

          If one were more conscious of the emotional and cognitive dimensions of development, what would one do differently? In education, one might seek to go beyond skills training and instilling in the student the values and attitudes of his or her culture. One would also be concerned with preparing the person to thrive in a rapidly changing world. That means the student needs to be provided with a stimulating environment in which to grow, and with information and values. Some educators recommend the developmental approach now, but they are in the minority. [6]

          In employment, one would value a working environment that fostered human development in addition to valuing the output of the productive process. This would require a different set of economic calculations from those currently in use. New evaluative calculations should also include the costs of pollution and resource depletion, in order to get a more accurate assessment of the true costs as well as the benefits of the activity to society. One could then visualize a strategy that promotes the expansion of capacity (or empathy, or consciousness), both of organizations and of individuals within them, to meet the needs of society at an acceptable cost.

          The UNDP SHD strategy emphasizes the positive value that cultural traditions offer to the development process. This is an important point, but a double-edged one. Traditional society should not be romanticized to the point where adaptation is not welcomed. Traditional societies typically lack the flexibility to adapt to great increases in population and to the side effects of new technology. Clearly, changes must be made in traditional systems, and even sometimes in traditional values and beliefs, if societies are to reach the point of being able to deal responsibly with their own problems, and with the natural environment. The changes need not be strictly imitative of Western or advanced Eastern countries, but they will require that similar jobs get done. Modern technology can be adapted to meet the needs of different peoples, but it can be adapted only so far. Culture must also adapt to meet technology.

          The report recommends that projects or programs need to be treated as experiments that test the viability of development options, yet, paradoxically, it later claims that Northern countries developed “precisely because they were spared the evaluation ‘craze’ that is the result of the project orientation in the international development community.” One need not await new project outcomes to learn from experience. By applying human development values to projects designed for economic purposes, one can learn valuable lessons. An example I have used elsewhere is the Gezeira irrigation scheme in the Sudan. Participation in the scheme by semi-nomads led to their advancement, in human development terms, within two generations to the point where they urged their children to attend university so they would not be constrained by the hard life on the Gezeira. One could say that they built “social capital,” but I fail to see the advantage of applying economic terms to inappropriate situations.

          Late in the report, the authors say that we know how to pursue economic development, human development, and even sustainable development, but that we lack proper knowledge of the accumulation and development of social capital, which they describe as collective decision-making, public action, political participation, governance, and institutional capacity. I think that what is lacking is a theory of human development which can encompass the parallel notions of development of the individual and development of appropriate forms of organization for given levels of individual development. That sort of theory would offer guidance on the shaping of educational and occupational activities so that gains could be made in individual development at the same time as learning and work goals were being achieved. Such theories are already evolving from the work of Ken Wilber [7], Michael Commons [5], and others, but more work is needed to develop their operational implications.

III  Governance and SHD

          The UNDP in 1995 issued a draft Strategy Paper on Governance [8], based upon the SHD concept, and in April 1996 held a Workshop on Governance in New York [9]. These were attempts to get policy-makers and practitioners from developing countries to consider the implications of the SHD concept for their countries. It is fair to say that the documents produced by their efforts demonstrate that the notion of SHD as it relates to problems of governance is still evolving, but the idea is receiving serious attention from people in the international community and countries seeking to improve governmental functioning.

          The UNDP strategy has four thematic objectives: poverty elimination, environmental protection and regeneration, job creation, and advancement of women. To achieve these objectives, the program seeks to build capacity in governmental institutions and to work to bring governance into effective relationships with civil society (private, non-profit organizations such as PVOs and professional associations). The strategy paper draft examines in some depth the concepts of SHD, civil society, institutional development, and distinctions among social, human and physical capital.

          In the end, though, one must agree with Professor Yehezkal Dror of the Hebrew University that the vast majority of presently available experiences, theories and proposals on upgrading capacities to govern are grossly inadequate. “Most of the fashionable ideas of ‘re-inventing government, reforming civil services, modernizing the state, assuring accountability, etc’ are of limited utility at best and fail to confront the real problems of the capacity to govern efficiently and effectively.” In an article published by UNDP [10] he identifies main barriers to upgrading efforts as follows:

§  the notion that successful development depends on making governments less important;

§  the tendency to ignore political realities when making recommendations;

§  hesitation to take up political reforms, however essential; and

§  a scarcity of good ideas on how to upgrade capacities to govern.

          Professor Dror was not singling out the UNDP for these failings; he was referring to international interventions as a whole. Nevertheless, his comments apply fairly well to the draft Strategy Paper on Governance because it, too, is short on concrete ideas of how to proceed in capacity building.

          In discussing capacity building in non-profit agencies, the Governance paper does a good job of diagnosing weaknesses typically found among PVOs. This list of weaknesses is quite specific* and permits targeted interventions.

* Generally small and uncoordinated program; patchy coverage of territory and development problems; inadequate managerial, financial and operational capacity; ambiguous and conflictive relationships between intermediary and grass-roots organizations; limited effectiveness and accountability; doctrinaire advocacy; little contact with sister organizations; etc.

          In discussing the task of building Governmental capacity, however, only three broad reasons are cited for the current array of problems:

§  The new prominence given to making national economies flexible and competitive in the world market;

§  The new vigor of international and domestic PVOs; and

§  Diminished resources available to the State, due mainly, it states, to the requirements of structural adjustment and stabilization programs.

          This leaves the discussion of intervention possibilities uncomfortably vague. The report discusses general issues, such as civil service reform, accountability, strategic management, leadership and vision, Total Quality Management (TQM), and others. These are tired bromides that include as many examples of what not to do as of what to do.

          Attempts to transfer managerial and administrative techniques from industrialized to developing countries have often had disappointing results. To understand why this is so, one can consider the administrative measure of job analysis. Job analysis is in theory an important effort to move employees from being mere implementers of the immediate wishes of their superiors to people with their own set of responsibilities. The problem lies with the implementation of the job analysis idea. This is normally left to junior staff of a ministry or of the institute of administration. They are able to do routine descriptions of simple tasks, but cannot bring to the task the level of analysis and conceptualization it requires. As a result, job analysis is often considered by policy makers in ministries to be a nuisance, rather than a help in accomplishing their missions.

IV  An Alternative Approach

          The strategy paper should offer the same type of specific diagnoses for public management as it does for PVOs. The problems of governance that the MDP deals with differ between emerging countries and the states of the former Soviet Union, but each set has certain common features. To take emerging countries first, the following are, to one degree or another, characteristics of most governments I have worked with, not just those visited under MDP auspices:

§  The civil service is an oral society. As little as is absolutely necessary is written down. Few regular reports are produced either for the public or for policy makers.

§  Organizations, particularly ministries, have thick walls. Staff members gain little and risk much from communicating with other ministries. Ministers themselves may discourage communications in order to maintain personal control and thwart their rivals.

§  Personal cliques typify the power structure. Staff loyalty is expected to be personal rather than institutional or functional. Staff consider that their main responsibility is to do whatever their superior asks them to do.

§  No special qualifications are needed to rise in the civil service. Power and connections, more than special training or abilities, lead to successful careers.

          No two countries are alike and one cannot formulate a ready-made solution applicable anywhere one happens to be working. Nevertheless, UNDP reconnaissance teams, attempting to diagnose governance problems in a country in a short period of time, would find it useful to have in mind problems typically found in developing or newly independent states, and to have some idea of how to deal with them. In the paragraphs below, two examples are given stemming from personal experience.

V  Civil Service Performance in Developing Countries

          To improve civil service effectiveness, one strategy is to encourage the “professionalization” of its members. The civil service typically includes members of the legal, accounting, and economics professions, and their organizations can be useful in setting and upgrading standards, publicizing research, and establishing the prerogatives of their members. Moreover, public management is itself a profession, with recognized skills, standards, knowledge and techniques. The chief benefit of professionalization is to instill a sense of pride and honor in the performance of public duties. [11] Rules and regulations create minimal legal and ethical standards, but professional organizations can raise the quality of performance of their members well beyond minimal levels.

          Professionalization also has the advantage of cutting across organizational boundaries, requiring inter-organizational communications. The strategy is skill-oriented, with merit measurable by testing and available through training. Interventions designed to upgrade vital systems of government, such as budgeting and accounting, laws and regulations, and information processing can have the dual benefit of improving performance and breaking down inter-ministerial barriers to communication. Progress in these areas benefits the parent institutions by enabling them to deal more effectively with financial and legal issues. The crosscutting, horizontal approach can thus produce benefits unavailable through vertical approaches.

          As applied to the civil service in general, professionalization can take on new meaning. The most critical element of modem management, public or private, is the ability to acquire and utilize information. The basic skills involved are communication skills, written and increasingly computer-based. Projects involving training and utilizing communications can be highly cost-effective in improving institutional and personal performance. Not only must civil servants be trained to create a paper trail of information and decision-making, senior officials must learn to require regular written reports and analyses from subordinates. The systematic use of written communications can help to penetrate organizational boundaries and result in sharing and analyzing information needed for improved agency performance. A written series of standardized reports, for example, can be analyzed now or in the future to identify trends and discontinuities. An oral series of communications cannot.

          To illustrate this approach in action, I cite a brief example that appears to have produced good results. In Indonesia, the government has a requirement that all agencies must institute job analysis before any reorganizations or expansions will be approved by the central administrative agency. The Minister, Secretary of the Cabinet, responsible for the management of the secretariat supporting the President, sought to comply with this regulation, but first he conferred with his department heads about the regular product of their units, and whether they thought their units’ work was what they should be doing in the future in order best to serve the nation. He did not want to freeze, through job analysis, the performance of tasks he already knew were poorly defined. He found that, in fact, few if any of the department heads thought the work of their units was what they should be doing, and their regular written output was minimal. Moreover, when he and the Secretary of State requested memoranda from staff, they typically received rambling screeds that described issues in detail without coming to any conclusions.

          The Minister decided to remedy this situation through professional training. The basic instrument of professionalization was communications. He organized courses in both Bahasa Indonesia and English, teaching the writing of memoranda, reports, and business letters. The language courses met three afternoons a week, and word processing on computers was offered two additional afternoons. The costs were relatively minor. The British Council supplied a trained linguist to run the language program, and the Australian Government provided a three-week program at the Australian National University, in conjunction with the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, to those who successfully completed the written English course. During these three weeks, participants studied the ways their Australian counterparts performed the functions they did in Jakarta. At the University, they were helped to analyze their experience and draw up reports suggesting improvements in the activities of the Secretariat.

          The results of the first cycle of this program were extraordinary. The young officers quite evidently changed from passive and submissive civil servants to outgoing people with confidence in themselves and ideas for changing their departments. It was, of course, essential that their Minister praised them for behavior uncommon in their service and encouraged them to pursue their ideas. The group still meets periodically in Jakarta and has even secured modest funding for some of their ideas involving further research. Professionalization did not, of course, end with training in written communications. An ability and willingness to write, and to think independently, was considered a necessary basis for further professional training in various areas of Government. Several of the participants have gone on to graduate training abroad.

          The program was not without problems. One of the most intractable was the difficulty of teaching memo-writing in Bahasa Indonesia. The attractive qualities of the Indonesian culture that make people such a pleasure to work with also tends to inhibit individual initiative. It is generally considered inappropriate, for example, for a subordinate to make a recommendation to a superior. Consequently, participants were very reluctant to write direct and efficient memos, coming to the point after a well­reasoned presentation of the issues. They were comfortable writing such a document inEnglish, but were greatly inhibited in their own language. This issue provided an opportunity for straightforward discussions between higher and lower ranks in the service to arrive at the style of memo desired by department heads and ministers.

          I think this example fits nicely with the UNDP style of working with governments as described in its manual on Process Consultation. [12] The effort was clearly led by senior Indonesian Government officials, and foreign assistance was helpful hut not central. The program dealt directly with the dissatisfactions perceived by ministerial leaders, and it grappled with deep problems such as the preferred usage of the Indonesian language in governmental communications. Moreover, it had an apparently transformative effect on the participants.

VI  Newly Independent States

          The newly independent states of the former Soviet Union have different characteristics. Officials are generally well-educated and experienced in public management. They understandably reject any suggestion that they should adopt Western-style management, and they are not eager to accept technical assistance, particularly if it involves having Western advisors in their governments. They are wary of the social and political implications of the market system.

They do admit to serious deficiencies, however, in policy-making and in understanding the requirements of a market economy. The Soviet Union was such a centralized system that SSRs in central Asia and Eastern Europe had little opportunity to make economic policy or to devise regulations governing economic activity. They also had no experience with a market economy, nor were materials on market economics available in Russian or local languages. Quite suddenly, these formerly provincial officials were cast in a new role as policy-makers for independent countries, each of which declared an intention to create free market economies. This was a daunting task, but there were limits on their willingness to turn to Western market economies for assistance.

          Under these circumstances, the UNDP found itself in an advantageous position to provide assistance. The MDP was called upon to supply expertise in designing mechanisms for introducing market economics into these societies without undue direct foreign involvement. An MDP team in Uzbekistan helped design a policy research and training facility located in a university but closely associated with the government planning office. Task forces drawn from both government and universities would work on three or four major policy issues a year. They were assisted by a Western economist assigned to the university by the UNDP, and by a supply of economics literature, some of which was translated into Russian.

          In Ukraine, a rudimentary policy studies institute had already been formed by the local institute of public administration when MDP was called on for help in strategic planning for the development of the institute. Here again, an autonomous research body with close ties to economic policy makers in government was the goal. Several models exist for these institutes. The best known of these are the Korea Development Institute (KDI) and the Thai Development Research Institute (TDRI). In both cases, the institutes were designed to accommodate the work of government and private researchers, and were sufficiently isolated from decision-making that foreign participants could be included without security problems.

          MDP, now MDGD, plays an important role in these and other central Asian states because it is a trusted neutral source of expertise. This role is complementary to that of the World Bank, which is widely concerned about the quality of economic policy-making and management, but has few instruments with which to work to improve it. Nor is the Bank regarded with quite the same trust as the UNDP because of the leverage the Bank has on the governments of low-income countries. MDGP has limited funds with which to implement projects it helps to design, so one would think an arrangement could be found in which the Bank financed MDP-designed projects. The current strategy of the MDP on governance seems to be moving away from this type of involvement, however. The strategy document makes no distinctions between the type of assistance MDP offers emerging countries and that which it offers newly independent countries. The reservations about market economies expressed in the UNDP strategy statement could cause central Asian states to look elsewhere for assistance on market economics.

VII  Conclusions

          To sum up this review of recent strategy statements by the UNDP and its Management Development Program, I believe the decision to emphasize human development is timely and important. The strategy makes clear the pitfalls of relying solely on free-market mechanisms for economic growth, and on economic growth as the sole criterion of success. The use of the economic concept of human “resource” development is unfortunate, but that is largely the failure of the psychologists who have not yet made their concepts operational.

          The MDP is well positioned to assist emerging countries with their problems of governance. The guidelines offered by the governance strategy paper are not sharply focused, however, and projects would be more effective if they sought to improve the professional quality of selected inter-ministerial systems. In addition, the vital importance of comprehensive and efficient written communications, electronic or otherwise, has been relatively neglected in technical assistance projects. The MDP could effectively promote training in communications skills.

          The MDP has in the past worked effectively with the new states stemming from the break-up of the Soviet Union. However, the new strategy, which is quite negative about the market, may make the program an ally of people favoring the old system rather than change. It is difficult to achieve balance between market and non-market arguments, and it seems to me that the strategy leans somewhat towards non-market preferences.

          I participated in six MDP missions (Iraq, Oman, Sharjah, Egypt, Uzbekistan and Ukraine) and hold the Program in high regard. I hope that it can continue to respond imaginatively and flexibly to governments needing assistance in advancing their civil services. Too close an alliance with the other agencies of the UN system could quickly turn this remarkable program into another bureaucratic and formula-ridden enterprise.


1.       UNDP, MDGP Defines Focus Area. Management Development in Progress, 1996. Vol 4:1 (February 1996). 1.

2.       UNDP, Public Sector Management, Governnce, and Sustainable Human Development. 1995, New York: UNDP. 130.

3.        Kotulak, R., Inside the Brain. 1996, Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel. 194.

4.        Goleman, D., Emotional Intelligence. 1995, New York: Bantam. 350.

5.        Commons, M., F. Richards, and C. Armon, Beyond Formal Operations: Late Adolescent and Adult Cognitive Development. 1984, New York: Praeger. 460.

6.        Kohlberg, L., Fssavs on Moral Development: The Philosophy of Moral Development. Vol. I. San Francisco: Harper & Row,1981.

7.        Wilber, K., A Brief History of Everything. 1995, Boston: Shambhala. 339.

8.        UNDP, Strategy Paper on Governance. 1995, UNDP: New York.

9.        UNDP. Workshop on Governance for Sustainable Human Development, in Workshop on Governance. 1996. New York: UNDP.

10.      Dror, Y., Upgrading Capacities to Govern. Management Development in Progress, 1996. 1(2); p. 3-4.

11.      Benveniste, G., Professionalizing the Organization. 1987, San Francisco: Jossey­Bass. 270.

12.      UNDP, Process Consultation for systematic improvement of Public Sector Management. 1993, Management Development Program, UNDP: New York.

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