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Strategic Evaluation of WFP's Use of Technology in Constrained Environments

https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000136278/download/
The evaluation was concerned with WFP’s use of digital technologies and data over the period 2014 to mid-2021, in environments that are constrained in terms of humanitarian access or where there are important physical, social or political obstacles to the deployment of digital technologies. It was framed around the four interrelated components of a system including technology, people, policies and processes, and partnerships.

The purpose was to assess whether WFP uses, and is equipped to use, the most appropriate digital technologies to achieve its objectives under constrained conditions and whether it has put in place appropriate measures to mitigate and manage risks to populations and operations resulting from the use of digital technologies in constrained environments.

The evaluation concluded that:

  • The use of digital technologies has increased WFP’s effectiveness, efficiency and adaptability in constrained environments, and digital technologies have had a general positive effect for the people served by WFP.
  • WFP has developed a solid base of policies and processes regarding the development of digital technologies and has made continuous efforts to enhance data protection and cyber-security across the organization.
  • There remain some fundamental challenges to the digital transformation of WFP, including fragmented governance and responsibilities, unresolved tensions between centralized technology services and the needs of country operations, and the requirement for greater investment in human resources.
  • WFP’s rapidly expanding use of digital technology and processing of data are at risk of failing the people it serves by not including them meaningfully in technology choices and by shifting risks to them, especially in constrained environments.
  • WFP has demonstrated a robust strategic commitment to its digital transformation, focusing on operational efficiency. This needs to be matched by an equal focus on protection and clear internal and external positioning on the responsible use of digital technology and data.

Key findings

Technology

The use of digital technologies has increased WFP’s effectiveness, efficiency and adaptability in constrained environments. For example, it has improved registration and management of beneficiaries, optimized supply chain
management, automated routine administrative tasks and allowed WFP to remain fully operational during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, some digital technologies are less appropriate in highly constrained environments due to connectivity problems, low level of cellular network coverage and other barriers.

People

Digital technologies have had a general positive effect for the people served by WFP. For example, technologies that enable the shift to cash-based transfers contribute to greater access, flexibility and dignity for people served.
However, there is a risk that the burden of technology failure is carried by the people served by WFP, for instance when technical problems lead to delays in assistance. Digital technologies are also not entirely neutral nor inclusive. Certain groups may be excluded because they are less digitally connected or digitally literate. While measures are often put in place to accommodate the needs of diverse groups, these are not always effective.
WFP has made progress to enhance data protection and cyber-security across the organization, with enhanced control mechanisms and procedures. However, compliance is lagging, in particular at country level, resulting in ongoing risks to data protection, security, and privacy for people served. There is a gap in digital capacities in WFP and for WFP’s cooperating partners, particularly in constrained environments.

Policies and processes

Over the evaluation period, WFP has developed a solid base of policies and processes regarding the development of digital technologies at different levels. However, country offices still perceive technology development to be slow, costly and cumbersome. As regards the management of IT solutions, central guidance is more limited and fragmented, and guidelines are little known and often considered optional.
WFP has significantly invested and expanded its attention on risks to operations in relation to the use of ICTs, but responsibilities for vulnerability and risk management are spread across several WFP divisions and units. Monitoring and evaluation on the use of technology are very limited and resources to support and oversee the deployment of digital technologies are insufficient, in particular in constrained environments where this is more costly.

Partnerships

In many humanitarian crises WFP is leading the provision of technology services, making its systems and solutions available to other organizations. Digital data sharing is increasingly important to enable close cooperation with partners but there are obstacles to enable safe and secure transfer of data. There are also no clear controls in place to ensure that personal data is being handled by partners as per WFP requirements, putting WFP in a vulnerable position concerning reputational risk and potentially bringing unintended consequences to the people it serves.
At the global level, WFP has engaged in partnerships with the private sector to develop innovative solutions to cover programmatic needs. In some cases, the vetting process was perceived as not transparent and consultative enough.
Recently, WFP has also moved into the provision of digital assistance to governments. In this area, coordination amongst UN agencies needs to be improved to reduce duplication of the assistance each agency is providing.