An Independent Evaluation of the “Global Network of International Training Centres for Authorities and Leaders (CIFAL)” was published in February 2020. Using a mixed-methods approach that was gender and human rights sensitive, the evaluation included a review of documents, multiple surveys and interviews. The evaluation faced several limitations including the relatively low survey response rate, few narrative reports, absence of financial information (expenditure) and budget limitations with no site visits being organized.
Key Evaluation Findings
The evaluation found the thematic areas covered by the CIFAL Global Network consistent with and supportive of UNITAR’s strategic priorities. CIFAL Directors pointed out the relevance of the CGN to support local, regional and national efforts that aim to help countries achieve the SDGs. Furthermore, most of the CIFAL beneficiaries surveyed by the evaluation indicated that the CIFAL training programme or event they attended was relevant to their work. Nevertheless, the evaluation identified several components of the CGN where relevance could be improved. The geographic scope and delivery of the network emphasizes some regions over others, leaving a weak presence in Africa and Central Asia, and to a certain extent Eastern Europe. Furthermore, countries in special situations – comprising the least developed countries, the landlocked developing countries, the small island developing States, countries in Africa and countries in and emerging from conflict – are underprioritized in comparison with UNITAR’s overall delivery and strategic intent. The evaluation also found that the CGN primarily delivers programmes and events that, while relating to networking and information sharing, do not have learning objectives and are hence not entirely consistent with UNITAR’s mission to develop capacities of stakeholders through high quality learning solutions and related knowledge products and services.
The CIFAL Global Network was found highly effective in delivering results and serving as an instrument for UNITAR to reach out to leaders and authorities, especially at the local level. From 2013 to 2018 the CGN has reached more than 70,000 beneficiaries. In 2018, the CGN reached out to twice as many beneficiaries than in the previous year, and accounted for 26 per cent of UNITAR’s overall beneficiary outreach. According to the evaluation survey, 90 per cent of the responding beneficiaries found that the CIFAL training programme or event they attended enhanced their skills and/or knowledge of the subject matter, and 87 per cent agreed that the knowledge or skills acquired during the CIFAL training programme or event have contributed to their professional development. Several factors were identified that could contribute to improve the effectiveness of the CGN. Most CIFAL programmes and events are delivered face-to-face. While e-Learning is an effective modality to reach large numbers of beneficiaries, this modality for delivering training is largely undeveloped.
In principle, the CIFAL Global Network offers a cost-effective advantage to enable collaboration between CIFAL Centres, as well as with UNITAR Divisions, to foster joint programming and the reuse of existing learning resources – however this is rarely happening. Very few beneficiaries attend a CIFAL programme or event after having participated in a programme delivered by UNITAR, and vice versa. Programmatic partnerships between CIFAL Centres are rare and more anecdotal than strategic, and absent with UNITAR Divisions. Partnerships with UN agencies on the ground are generally limited and there is a need expressed from several CIFAL Directors for stronger support from UNITAR to build bridges between CIFAL Centres and the UN community. Similarly, several CIFAL Directors call for more direct support from UNITAR to develop partnerships with the private sector and with national administrations regardless of the local focus of the CIFAL Global Network. It was found that CGN remains very cost effective as an instrument for UNITAR to record beneficiaries with a cost structure that is born almost entirely by the CIFAL Centres. But factors limiting the full potential of the network should be investigated (some were identified) and addressed to make the network more than the sum of its parts.
About 75 per cent of the CIFAL beneficiaries that responded to the evaluation survey indicated that the knowledge and skills they acquired during the CIFAL training programme or event contributed in advancing sustainable development, and 74 per cent of respondents affirmed that the knowledge and skills they acquired during the CIFAL training programme or event have contributed to improving the performance or results of their organization. Examples of contributions made by beneficiaries applying their new skills included new policies and practices supporting the achievement of the SDGs, such as in the areas of sustainable cities, waste management, and security. Survey respondents rated CIFAL programmes or events on the thematic area of Environmental Sustainability as well as events with learning objectives as most impactful. Limited evidence was found however of UNITAR’s contribution to improving the methodologies of CIFAL Centres and of CGN’s city-to-city collaborations with reported outcomes.
CIFAL beneficiaries positively assessed the sustainability of the learning outcomes over time, but some suggested to continue some learning and provide networking modalities after the programmes. Many CIFAL Directors indicated that sustainability of the CIFAL Global Network was dependent on the funding of the CIFAL Centres and pointed out a need for stronger support from UNITAR on resource mobilization.
The management and services provided to the network by the Social Development Programme Unit team was found adequate. The evaluation could not access financial data regarding the overall expenditures of the network, which somewhat limited the analysis. Knowledge and implementation of UNITAR policies were found to be partial. CIFAL Directors called for more active induction processes, guidance, and knowledge management including for staff, interns or teachers involved in the CGN. The visibility of the CGN was reported as weak in many countries. Overall, many CIFAL Directors share the need for a strategy of the CGN that clarifies, reaffirms, or updates its vision, mission, target beneficiaries, roles and responsibilities, due diligence processes, log frames, and proposes some key performance indicators both for the CIFAL Centres and UNITAR support. The evaluation also found the financial transparency of the initiative to be limited.
- UNITAR and the CIFAL Global Network should develop a medium-term strategy aligned with UNITAR strategic framework in order to set a direction to the initiative and provide greater clarity to the CIFAL Centres on a shared vision, priorities, geographic scope, intended beneficiaries, and targeting of specific groups (e.g. countries in special situations, nationalities, vulnerable groups). As part of the strategy, UNITAR and the CIFAL Global Network should consider designing a Theory of Change and/or a log frame that identifies output and outcome indicators (KPIs) serving to monitor but also advocate the achievements of the CIFAL Global Network. Relevant KPIs should be mainstreamed in UNITAR biennial programme budgets and strategic frameworks in order to share CIFAL objectives and accomplishments across Divisions (including women empowerment, youth, etc.).
- UNITAR and the CIFAL Global Network should develop and implement a communications plan to coordinate outreach and increase the visibility of the initiative and make the most of a community of tens of thousands former CIFAL beneficiaries.
- UNITAR and the CIFAL Global Network should consider developing and implementing a knowledge management plan to codify existing knowledge and procedures and facilitate the onboarding/induction of personnel across the CIFAL Centres, foster networking and mutual support between the CIFAL Centres, and enhance coordination and sharing of knowledge regarding subject matter that may overlap between CIFAL programming and UNITAR division programming.
- UNITAR should strengthen the support provided to the CIFAL Centres on resource mobilization and on building partnerships with governments, private sector actors, and the UN system, and increase transparency on the utilisation of CIFAL contribution fees for the services it provides.
- UNITAR should strengthen institutional coordination and coherence with UNITAR Divisions and programme units, the joint sharing of expertise, and partnerships among the centres as well as external entities, including by alleviating some of the current constraints impeding joint work and programmatic collaboration.
- UNITAR should further strengthen the application of relevant policies and guidelines across the network and ensure that the description and affiliation of the Centres to UNITAR is consistent across the network.
- The CIFAL Global Network should develop signature services on specific topics -e.g. road safety-, processes - e.g. SDG Voluntary Local Reviews or methodologies - revised CityShare.
- The CIFAL Global Network should increase its alignment to the learning programming focus of UNITAR and increase the proportion of learners to overall beneficiaries, as well as increase outreach to beneficiaries from countries in special situations.
- Networks provide to organizations with limited capacities such as UNITAR an important leverage to extend reach. Initiatives such as the CIFAL network costs UNITAR virtually little as compared to the extensive reach they bring (which can be further extended).
- The potential value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of nodes of the system and its utility upon the number of nodes effectively in contact. Maximizing a network such as CIFAL implies to actively foster direct connections and collaboration between Centres as a means to seize immediate benefits (e.g. synergies, catalytic effects, innovation) and as a way to form lasting partnerships that can endure sustainable effects (with or without UNITAR).
- Strategies are key elements for networks to be able to structure work and focus on achievement of collective objectives. Without strategy, it is difficult for a network to focus on activities that provide pathway to impacts, and it can be easily side stepped into activities that may not necessarily be coherent.
- Reaching first the furthest behind (e.g. disadvantaged communities) requires strategizing, regular monitoring, disaggregating by categories of countries and explicit targeting of those, including choosing locations/partners according to those criteria. This might involve designing and enabling different incentives and operating conditions (e.g. differentiated affiliation fees).