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Global Governance Centre

Self-management solutions for the 21st century United Nations

On 31 May 2018, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a major overhaul of the UN development system (UNDS) with the broad objective to place sustainable development as embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030 at the heart of UN.

The puzzling dimension of the recent reform lies in the overarching choice of a more decentralized decision-making structure, a move generally considered in organizational studies to be a solution toward increased responsiveness but with potential loss in efficiency and reliability. Moreover, the reform does not significantly reduce institutional layers vertically and horizontally, thus preserving a large number of managers in a still very hierarchical organization. This is in sharp contrast with the tenets of a growing movement in the private sector toward self-managed structures akin to living organisms with teams at the center of organizational structures.

This study provides a novel approach bridging two largely disconnected fields of study: international relations and management studies. It first investigates existing empirical material on self-management structures and practices in the corporate world in line with needs of adaptability, reliability and efficiency. It then builds a framework conducive to the elaboration of prototypes of self-management structures and practices for the system of UN country teams. In view of the complexity of the challenge facing the UN and the dominance of conventional thinking on how to reform it, the project has the potential to provide path-breaking insights with academic and policy relevance.


Timeline: October 2020 - September 2021


Funding organisation: