UNOPS and sustainability

On its website UNOPS says that it provides five services. Three of these include the word ‘sustainable’: sustainable infrastructure; sustainable procurement; and sustainable project management. Their use of the term seems to fit with OED’s third definition of ‘sustainable’ given in an earlier posting, ie:
a. Capable of being maintained or continued at a certain rate or level.
b. Designating forms of human activity (esp. of an economic nature) in which environmental degradation is minimized, esp. by avoiding the long-term depletion of natural resources; of or relating to activity of this type. Also: designating a natural resource which is exploited in such a way as to avoid its long-term depletion.

The description of sustainable project management contains the idea of “measuring sustainable success“. They describe this by saying that (my emphasis) “… local authorities and communities are engaged and all potential outcomes and impacts are considered, to make a real, sustainable and positive difference. This is why UNOPS measures project success beyond time, cost and quality. We focus on incorporating lessons learned from tens of thousands of projects to find the best way to contribute to the development goals of our partners. …. By considering the economic and environmental impacts of a project, and by promoting local ownership and building local capacity, we prioritize project sustainability.

The description of UNOPS sustainable infrastructure service leads with a section on ‘promoting sustainability‘. This explains that (my emphasis) “engaging with UNOPS makes for a partnership built on shared sustainable development goals, which promotes community engagement, environmentally-friendly construction, the capacity development of local industries and gender equality.

There is a policy for sustainable infrastructure whose purpose is “to ensure that the development and living conditions of all segments of society are not put at risk, but enhanced by the design and implementation of infrastructure projects. In particular, it enables the identification of opportunities for sustainable infrastructure activities, while simultaneously facilitating the detection of socially or environmentally detrimental impacts associated with the design, development and implementation of infrastructure projects and the creation of methods to eliminate or mitigate these impacts.” The policy sets standards for sustainable development to be incorporated into UNOPS infrastructure activities. The standards cover four areas to be considered by projects:

  • human rights;
  • labour and decent work;
  • the environment;
  • transparency, accountability and anti-corruption

For its third sustainable service, UNOPS seeks to advance “sustainable practices in procurement”. These involve:

  • “building long-term environmental, economic and social considerations into solicitation and contract documents;
  • informing our partners of the environmental impacts of various products;
  • applying different evaluation models to allow consideration of life cycle cost and total cost of ownership.”


“sustainable, adj.”. OED Online. December 2012. Oxford University Press. 7 March 2013 <>.

Musings on lean in a development context

What exactly is the concept of ‘value’ in the context of an international development programme? Is it obtained from the outputs of projects, the outcomes of programmes, the longer-term impact of these outcomes, or a combination of all three? What value is there in building national capacity to manage programmes and projects. Who benefits directly or indirectly from these things? Who are the various stakeholders? What is civil society and to what extent is it or its component parts a stakeholder? What value do the various stakeholders perceive in a development programme? How do these perceptions vary? Are some perceptions of value more important than others? Are there any value conflicts and, if so, what effect do these have and how are they handled?

How about the concept of ‘value stream’. What does this look like in a typical development programme? Where is value being added and where is there waste? Where is the evidence for this?

Is it reasonable to think that the value stream might divide into several directions of flow at some point or points in the programme, with subordinate value streams running through the lifecycle of each project? Do these tributaries then rejoin the main flow at the various points of project closure, often towards the end of the programme? Is there also a separate value stream associated with gains in capability during the programme lifecycle? Or does all this completely misconstrue the concept of value stream?

And flow: what are the obstacles to value creation within the value stream and over the programme lifecycle? Which are most important? What are the causes of these obstacles? How can they be overcome?

Exactly how does the concept of ‘pull’ translate into a development programme? What is being pulled at the various points in the lifecle of the programme and its projects and who is doing the pulling at these points?

Arrogance Reduction Strategies …?

Judging from the abstract, Hulme (2010) is suggesting that country programmes – or certainly those involving the IMF and World Bank – need “arrogance reduction stratagies to transform their control-oriented cultures“. Is this a more widespread problem that UNDP needs to deal with?

HULME, D. 2010. Lessons from the Making of the MDGs: Human Development Meets Results‐based Management in an Unfair World. IDS bulletin, 41, 15-25.