DESA News Vol. 12, No. 04 April 2008

Trends and analysis

State capacity and good governance

World experts on public administration convene in New York from 14-18 April with an eye on conflict and disaster

The Committee of Experts on Public Administration is set to meet in New York on 14 April to discuss capacity development in public administration and governance, with a particular focus on post-conflict countries and disaster management situations. In addition to this main theme, the Committee will work on basic United Nations terminology in public administration and governance, and the public administration perspective on sustainable development.

Capacity deficiencies in the public sector – such as overly-centralized policy development processes, inefficient public financial management systems, and bottlenecks in public service delivery – have long been major obstacles to sustainable development and effective governance. This is especially true for countries in crisis and post-conflict situations, where the underlying governance parameters and challenges are very different from those with relatively stable institutions and established policy-making processes.

Capacity development is a process of establishing effective means for setting goals, making decisions and taking action. In governance and public administration, this multifaceted process is not only about designing and developing new systems and institutions. It is also about strategic organization, inclusive planning, and efficient and effective implementation. In improving the performance of public institutions, networking, community empowerment and inter-organizational dialogues can be as powerful as sound policies, technical resources and standard operation procedures.

What are some of the new and innovative approaches of capacity development in public institutions in the developing world and the least developed countries? How can we make capacity development processes better contextualized and more locally owned? These are some of the questions that the Committee will address at it upcoming session.

In a rapidly changing and globalizing world, capacity development must be an integral part of building more legitimate governance processes and more effective public administrations. In light of this and given that we are half way towards reaching the deadline of 2015 for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, the Committee has decided to deepen its work on capacity building towards sustainable development.

The Committee of Experts on Public Administration provides advice to the Economic and Social, drawing on highly experienced practitioners and scholars in public administration and governance from around the world. The Committee is serviced by the DESA Division for Public Administration and Development Management.

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Indigenous livelihoods, biocultural diversity at risk

Experts on indigenous issues are gathering in New York on 21 April to discuss climate change and other threats to human creativity and knowledge

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will convene for its seventh session New York from 21 April to 2 May on the theme of climate change, biocultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges. Climate change is considered to be a critical global challenge and recent events have demonstrated the world’s growing vulnerability to its effects. For the world’s indigenous people, says the Forum secretariat, climate change is already a reality and poses threats and dangers to the survival of their communities.

A loss of human traditions and knowledge could be felt far beyond the world’s estimated 300 to 370 million indigenous people. According to UNESCO, the world’s languages contain and express the total “pool of ideas” nurtured over time through heritage, local traditions and customs which “is as necessary as the diversity of species and ecosystems for the survival of humanity and of life on our planet.”

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights, all of which will be covered at the April meeting in addition to dialogue on the special climate change theme. The Forum will also devote time to discussions of the Pacific, indigenous languages, indigenous children and youth, the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, urban indigenous people and migration, and customary laws pertaining to indigenous traditional knowledge.

Finally, a number of special events are expected to be held in conjunction with the expert session. Of note, on 23 April, the H.E. Ambassador Robert Hill of Australia will lead a panel discussion on managing indigenous local governments, and the need to balance traditions with emerging challenges. Participatory approaches based on existing indigenous municipal experiences in various countries, local-local information exchange, and capacity-building through mutual cooperation will be considered. The panel has been organized jointly by the DESA Division for Public Administration and Development Management and the Forum secretariat in the Division for Social Policy and Development.

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Economic diversification in Europe and CIS

Integration needs to be accompanied by diversification for sustainable growth in an interlinked world

A prominent group of experts on economic diversification and integration will meet with UN delegates in Geneva from 2-4 April to consider ways in which economic diversification could enhance gains from integration of economies in transition into the world economy. The meeting, organized jointly by DESA’s Development Policy and Analysis Division and ECE, is part of a larger regional effort to foster economic cooperation and will feed into a report currently being prepared for the General Assembly.

The experts will focus on trade flows and their linkages to diversification, foreign direct investment inflows, migration and remittances, institutions, including European Union enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy. Strategies for economic diversification in resource-rich countries, diversification through knowledge-based development and special issues related to the low-income countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States will also be on the table.

The process of integration of the countries with economies in transition in the world economy has been accompanied by growing international linkages through trade, foreign direct investment and labour flows and has contributed to higher economic efficiency, better allocation of resources and higher living standards in these countries. However, their economic performance remains uneven and in some cases dependent on a few low value-added sectors and commodities.

This narrow growth base is a source of vulnerability that undermines future economic prospects. While national circumstances differ, a common challenge is the need to diversify economic activity in order to provide the basis for high and sustainable economic growth. Another common challenge is the establishment of a policy, financial and regulatory environment conducive to knowledge-based development and higher competitiveness. Policy actions are thus required that contribute to increasing the competitiveness of non-traditional, high value-added sectors, thus supporting economic diversification and growth.

The strengthening of linkages with the world economy in a way that supports the development of a wider range of economic activities is a fundamental component of diversification strategies and requires the attraction of the necessary investments and technologies as well as the improvement of national innovation capabilities.

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Measuring the effects of climate change

International conference in Oslo from 14-16 April to focus on harmonization of methods for measuring the effects of climate change on development

With climate change high on the political agenda at all levels, the global statistical community is pondering how to move from ad hoc approaches to climate adaptation and mitigation data to a coherent international statistical framework. To advance on this front, experts will begin preparing a plan of action in Oslo from 14 to 16 April that can be submitted to the Statistical Commission for review at its next session, in 2009. The conference is being organized by the DESA Statistics Division, along with the Statistical Office of the European Communities, the World Bank, and Statistics Norway.

An in-depth discussion of the data behind policy-making is also available in the feature article on the greening of statistics in this month’s issue of DESA News.

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Sustainable urbanization in the information age

Sometime this year, the number of people living in urban areas worldwide will surpass the number living in rural districts with 60 million residents added to the population of developing countries each year. To address some of the big challenges posed by rapid urbanization, the Global Alliance for ICT and Development will hold a two-day conference in New York from 23 to 24 April on sustainable urbanization in the information age.

The first day will be devoted to a wide-ranging discussion on such diverse topics as smart growth and ICT models for urban planning, to climate change and protection of the natural environment. The second day will be devoted to site visits to state-of-the-art examples of environmentally-friendly architecture in New York City.

UN delegates, local authorities, policy-makers, real estate developers, architects, engineers, planners, designers, civil society organizations, the media, ICT experts, and others from the private sector are expected to attend. The public will be able to listen in and contribute ideas through online connections with forum discussions broadcast live on the internet and covered in interactive chat rooms.

Organizing partners include the Center for Architecture, a local nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable urban design, UN-Habitat, the American Institute of Architects, and the City of New York.

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Spotlight on census mapping

Statistical experts meeting in New York from 7 to 10 April will draw on national experiences in geospatial technology and census mapping as international guidelines for representation of geographic information are refined. The gathering is being organized by the DESA Statistics Division specifically to review a draft UN handbook on geographic databases and census mapping that builds on the work of the United States Census Bureau and other agencies going back several decades.

Major technological advances including the widespread availability of personal computers, global positioning systems and low-cost aerial and satellite imagery, have put new tools in the hands of national statistical organizations to collect better – more accurate, timely, and unbiased – information about their populations. The emergence of new technologies is indeed the driving force behind a substantive revision of the handbook, acknowledging the new geospatial applications but also recognizing that adopting such new methods will challenge the leadership of national statistical offices and evince changes in their organizations.

The draft handbook argues that some of the biggest challenges for NSOs are not merely technical but also organizational, institutional and managerial. Most member countries have begun to make use of geographic information science and technology appropriate to the scale and scope of data collection needs. Many countries are discovering that they can leverage the strengths of other government agencies through what it is referred to as national spatial data infrastructures. Institutional issues such as funding, staffing, and project management basics, while not themselves technical, will have a bearing on the success of geospatial census projects.

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Civil society and sustainable development

Non-governmental organizations are being invited to attend a half-day forum in New York on 4 April to discuss the role of civil society in promoting sustainable development and shaping a new international aid architecture. Ideas arising out of this event will be used to inform deliberations of the Economic and Social Council in July, and specifically its Annual Ministerial Review on the theme of implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to sustainable development.

The forum is being organized by the DESA Office for Economic and Social Council Support and Coordination in collaboration with the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service, World Federation of UN Associations, and the Conference of NGOs – also known as CONGO. H. E. Ambassador Antonio Pedro Monteiro Lima, Vice-President of the Council, will deliver the opening statement. Hanifa Mezoui, Chief of the DESA NGO Section, will moderate.

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