Financing the UN Funds and Programs – going behind the data

Ever since the very beginning of the EBA’s existence we have in our reports noted difficulties in undertaking evaluations and analyses because of data constraints. Data either don’t exist, or they are much too irregular. Quite often the quality of data can also be questioned. (See e.g. EBA 2015:02, 2016:03, 2016:11 and 2017:01).

Data collection was a constant challenge to Stephen Browne, Nina Connelly and Thomas G. Weiss in their EBA-report “Financing the UN Funds and Programs” – launched at a seminar on November 30th. In the report they illustrate how difficult it has been to obtain data of consistent categories from the UN system and how this makes comparison so much more difficult. The fact that this situation remains over time suggests that it might be worthwhile to look more into depth at who are to gain and loose from this status quo.

The challenge is, however, not only an issue about having consistent categories within the UN-system, it is also about seeing the same figures regardless of whether you are looking from the perspective of the donor or the recipient. Browne show that figures reported by a UN organization as having been provided by Sweden, may differ significantly from the figures that Sweden report having given to the same entity – in the same year! Some of the more flagrant discrepancies are in UNHCR and UNDP. There may be entirely natural reasons for this – such as support being provided at the end of one year, but being recorded by the recipient only the following year – but it comes to show the difficulties inherent in obtaining reliable statistics. Although having reliable statistics may be a technical question per se, the implications of relying on inaccurate statistics for analysis may be far reaching. Ultimately leading to making the wrong policy decisions.

It was comforting to learn in the seminar that the OECD is continuing to work on this issue, and not least in the multilateral domain. We hope that eventually, working in tandem with multilateral organizations, this may lead to a system where different financing flows are recorded in only a limited few mutually exclusive categories – possibly the ones suggested by Browne – so that eventually we can base our evaluations and analyses on comparable and correct data.

In the meanwhile, we will have to remain aware that there may be short comings behind statistical figures we use and make sure we don’t uncritically take them at face value. Especially so in this era of “alternative facts”!