Enhancing UN Integration and Collaboration


  • The UN’s capacity to mount effective responses to complex emergency situations depends on the ability of individual staff members to make and then act on a complex series of decisions.
  • We developed solutions to overcome the behavioral barriers impeding effective decision making and piloted these solutions within the UNDP’s Crisis Bureau.
  • Our findings demonstrate the potential of behavioral science insights to optimize the everyday activities that keep organizations functioning.

The Challenge

The ability of the United Nations (UN) to mount an effective response to complex emergency situations often depends on the successful integration of several of the UN’s specialized constituent entities. Integration, which is often seen as a structural endeavor, entails significant behavioral barriers. 

As with any organization, the UN’s capacity for integration depends on the ability of individual staff members to make and then act on a complex series of decisions, and to sustain those actions over time. If they are unable to behave in these key ways, UN integration will always be compromised. Cognitive and situational barriers that keep people from successfully engaging in these behaviors can prevent UN entities from integrating as successfully.


Our Approach

Drawing on surveys, interviews, and focus groups with UN staff members, the ideas42 and UN project teams prioritized nine behaviors essential to successful integration, and seven key barriers to those behaviors. We then developed solutions to:

  1. Help staff use their limited attention more efficiently to engage in integration-critical behaviors
  2. Correct false expectations about the professional risks and benefits of engaging with integration so that staff members are more confident in taking steps to facilitate integration
  3. Emphasize the role of the individual and promote personal initiative to facilitate collaborate; and
  4. Integrate behavioral science into the implementation of structural solutions to make those solutions easier to implement and adopt



Following extensive user feedback, some of the solutions were piloted at a staff retreat in Somalia within the UNDP’s Crisis Bureau and at a number of meetings and workshops at different levels of the UN. The solutions were well received and have been disseminated for use through the UN’s internal knowledge sharing platform.



There is a tremendous potential to apply insights from behavioral science research to situations that people face during the everyday activities that keep organizations functioning—especially within large, complex organizations like the UN. The solutions could be easily applied more broadly to any situation requiring collaboration and coordination across teams.

Interested in learning more about this work applying behavioral science to a crucial social problem? Reach out to us at info@ideas42.org or tweet at @ideas42 to join the conversation.