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From "Reform at the UN"

263. In our increasingly interdependent, global civilization, knowledge and its application through technology, policy analysis, management, marketing, design and communications has become the primary source of power, added value and competitive advantage. The United Nations must not limit itself to the knowledge and expertise available within its own family but must reach out and tap the knowledge, analyses and expertise of the world's leading institutions in each of its fields of activity. This is a primary function of the United Nations University and other United Nations institutes. The capacity to access, develop and utilize knowledge will be an indispensable pre-requisite for the successful functioning of the United Nations in the twenty-first century.

264. The United Nations system has over the years developed a considerable capacity for policy analysis and research carried out by a network of research institutes and similar bodies. Such bodies are directly linked to the United Nations, in most cases falling under the jurisdiction of the General Assembly or the Economic and Social Council. These institutes vary considerably in terms of their mandates, funding modalities and governing structures. The largest, and best known, is the United Nations University.

265. Broadly speaking, these bodies can be placed in three different categories: those engaged in policy research, those that concentrate on basic research and those whose primary preoccupation is capacity building, in terms of training and different types of technical assistance. The activities of some of the bodies fall into more than one of these categories.

266. The problems of proliferation and fragmentation of effort which characterize United Nations activities in a number of areas are also evident in this sector. The primary mode of funding for the research institutes is voluntary contributions from Member States and other sources. A number of the research institutes face severe financial problems and consequently find it difficult to maintain consistent output. The quality of the research and other activities thus varies considerably. Indeed the long-term viability of some of the institutes is in question.

267. In spite of the useful research findings of some of the research institutes and the valuable capacity building projects of others, overall contribution and potential of the research institutes remains largely under-utilized by the United Nations community. The research institutes tend to exist in a world of their own, largely removed from the work and concerns of the United Nations. The need for such bodies to pursue their research and other activities with a degree of autonomy and intellectual rigour partly explains this remoteness. But at the same time, it must be underlined that as parts of the United Nations family, these institutes are not equivalent to academic or non-governmental research institutions. The United Nations institutes have an obligation to make their work both relevant and accessible to the larger United Nations community. And the capacity to establish close links with and draw upon the capacities of other leading knowledge-related institutions has still been inadequately developed.

268. In the next century, the role of scientific knowledge and policy analysis, including social science, in guiding and informing decisions made by Member States in intergovernmental bodies will assume increasing importance. The capacities of the United Nations institutes represent an important potential resource for the United Nations in this regard. Steps must be taken to ensure that the United Nations receives the full benefit of the work carried out by its research institutes and that they access and benefit from the work of other leading institutions.

269. In view of the current problems of viability confronting some of the research institutes and the need to ensure that overlap and duplication of effort does not affect the quality and quantity of output of the research institutes, it would be useful and timely to carry out a comprehensive review of the functioning of the research institutes to determine where consolidation might be warranted.

270. Another characteristic of the research institutes is that they have little or no contact with one another. There is consequently no mechanism to identify significant overlap in work programmes and, equally important, no opportunity to exploit complementarities and identify areas of potential conflict or inconsistency.

271. It is also necessary to devise on-going mechanisms and procedures that would engender more systematic and regular contact between the research institutes and the United Nations Secretariat. The Strategic Planning Unit in the Office of the Secretary-General will serve as the principal liaison with the research institutes, providing them with suggestions for research topics and constituting one of the primary consumers of relevant research topics.

    Action 29:

    a) The Secretary-General will initiate, in consultation with the United Nations University and other research institutes, measures for coordinating and rationalising the respective activities of these institutes and ensuring that they contribute more fully and effectively to the policies, programmes and priorities of the United Nations. This will include recommendations which might be made to Member States to improve governance arrangements in respect of these institutes. It could also include amendments to the Charter of the United Nations University in accordance with the procedures described in the Charter of the University.

    b) The United Nations Staff College will be requested, in preparing programmes for international civil servants throughout the United Nations system, to make full use of the research and capacity-building experience of the research institutes.

Extracted from "Reform at the UN" . Prepared for posting by the Information Technology Section (ITS) of the Department of Public Information, UN.

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