Jessica Gut
Associate Program Officer
Duty Station: Juba, South Sudan

I’m addressing the challenge of how we can find an effective way to enhance UNHCR staff’s – in particular, Protection staff’s – understanding of program concepts and tools in order to improve coordination and collaboration between the Program and Protection units.

This, I believe, will ultimately lead to better quality and timing of the services delivered to our clients – refugees and IDPs.

There is an operational need within UNHCR to enhance knowledge exchange and understanding between program and protection staff, and to create a reciprocal environment where they can learn from one another. A lack of knowledge of the program cycle and tools, and of the opportunities and constraints of UNHCR as an organization leads to poor quality and timing of the strategies designed, of implementation, and of reporting activities. In October 2014 I conducted a pilot “Program4Protection” training for Protection and External Relations staff in UNHCR’s Khartoum Office. Before and after the training a questionnaire was submitted asking staff to indicate whether they perceive a need for program trainings for non-program staff and, if so, why. The questionnaire also asked for topics that they would like to better understand.
From the results of the questionnaires and the comparison of the perceptions of the usefulness of the training both before and after its delivery, it was evident that:

  • There is a general misconception of what programming is and how it works.
  • There is a willingness from staff to learn about program concepts, but only if the links between this knowledge and their work is made clear and simple.
  • Several staff surprisingly showed interest in Focus (UNHCR’s platform for budgetary planning).
  • Staff were satisfied with the training saying that initially they feared it was going to be too complex and too focused on budgets and numbers.
  • In response to the question asking whether they felt the necessity of receiving program trainings they all answered “Yes”, both before and after the training.

While UNHCR has an online training platform called “Learn&Connect” that provides program trainings, the trainings are particularly “program-centred” and, to a certain extent, too complex and detailed for staff who only need a more general understanding of UNHCR’s programming. Additionally, staff members are often deployed in extremely work-intensive emergency operations and they have little time and willingness to dedicate their free time to training programs, which are seen as complex and…”boring”!

I would like to find a solution to this challenge because I’ve seen first-hand the impact that misunderstandings and coordination issues between units can have on program delivery.

In general, I believe that increasing UNHCR staff’s knowledge of programmatic issues will enhance the quality, timing, and cost/efficiency of program delivery.