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5 Priority Outcomes for UNHCR Digital Transformation Strategy

By Guest Writer on August 30, 2023

unhcr digital strategy

The UNHCR Digital Transformation Strategy provides a unified vision and approach to realizing the rights of refugees to digital inclusion and protection as well as transforming the way that UNHCR uses digital channels and associated technology to achieve its strategic objectives.

It aligns with the United Nations Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation and UNHCR’s Strategic Directions 2022-2026. This strategy also complements UNHCR’s Strategies on Data Transformation, Information Technology and Accountability to Affected People. While these strategies have been priority endeavours for UNHCR in past years, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a rapid acceleration in the need and urgency for UNHCR to use digital approaches across all facets of our work.

UNHCR’s Digital Transformation Vision

The communities we serve have the digital skills, agency, and tools to safely engage in today’s digital world, to access inclusive services, achieve greater self-reliance and protection, and to have a greater voice in the decisions that impact their lives.

To achieve this, UNHCR’s supporting vision is to transform the way it works, innovating digitally to create efficiencies, improve knowledge-sharing and collaboration, mobilize resources and increase our impact.

The Digital Future UNHCR Envisions

The opportunities outlined in the strategy will bring about profound changes to how the communities we serve engage in the digital space and how they benefit from the potential it can bring. The longer-term realization of this strategy will mean equal participation in the digital world. They will access, learn and work in a way that is equitable with the communities they are living in.

The communities we serve will be able to easily access online services, engage with UNHCR and obtain the critical protection information they need to find safety and rebuild their lives. They will access these services through a digital services framework that brings together the services and information that they need to access from the moment they are forced to flee to when they start to rebuild their lives.

The digital protection environment will be strengthened. Digital Tech leaders will have put in place stronger measures to ensure their business models and the technology choices they make do not negatively impact on the lives of those we serve.

UNHCR will maximize the potential to engage and collaborate online. Engaging with partners, supporters and other key audiences, we will show the impact of our work and generate more support for the communities we serve. Our global digital channels will be among the leading digital destinations on issues regarding the forcibly displaced and stateless.

UNHCR will transform the way we work, innovating in the field with new digital solutions and finding new ways of delivering more efficiently. We will share knowledge, connect with partners and collaborate more effectively in the digital space. We will have new business systems in place that streamline previously time- consuming processes. New collaboration platforms will be in place that bring together our internal and external communities of practice to harness the expertise and knowledge of the wider organization.

UNHCR will not achieve this strategy without strong coordination and increased investment. We call on our partners to work with us to achieve this vision. We will work together to mobilize resources, innovate and find solutions to old problems. Empowering and strengthening local partnerships will also be key to realizing these goals.

5 Priority Outcomes for UNHCR Digital Transformation Strategy

UNHCR’s Digital Transformation Strategy sets out five Priority outcome areas, both externally impacting the people we serve as well as internally impacting our way of working:

A Digital Future for the Communities We Serve

  • Priority outcome #1: Digital inclusion: The communities we serve have equitable access to digital technology and channels and can use them to pursue opportunities for lifelong learning, inclusion in the digital economy, leisure, and solutions;
  • Priority outcome #2: Digital protection: The communities we serve can exercise their human rights online and are protected from digital risk, enabling them to have access to trusted channels, avoid harm and have agency in decision-making;
  • Priority outcome #3: Digital services: The communities we serve have access to high quality, efficient and safe digital services from UNHCR and its partners.

A Digital Future for UNHCR

  • Priority outcome #4: Digital engagement: UNHCR delivers impact-led Digital engagement strategies that increase audience engagement with our work and strengthen protection, solutions, and resource mobilization.
  • Priority outcome #5: Working digitally: UNHCR utilizes innovative digital solutions and tools as well as building the skills necessary to transform delivery, collaboration and knowledge-sharing in order to work more efficiently and effectively.

Cross-cutting Approaches

While each outcome area is supported by detailed priority actions and expected results, there are a number of cross-cutting approaches that UNHCR will need to undertake to achieve progress on implementing this strategy.

  • Advocating – Advocacy with governments and regulators for more inclusive and protective digital environments and approaches for the people we serve, alongside host communities, and with the private sector, including frank dialogue with technology industry leaders to ensure platforms and new digital solutions promote protection and avoid new risks.
  • Partnering – Stronger technology-related partnerships with governments and the private sector with a focus on resource mobilization, co-creation, shared-value projects and access to expertise. Agile local partnerships will help to meet field needs.
  • Investing Locally – By investing in local and national digital solutions, while also strengthening UNHCR’s digital identity management capacity to enable access to core online digital services (provided by UNHCR or other key service providers), the people we serve will have more opportunities to obtain information, find safety, access humanitarian assistance and rebuild their lives.
  • Investing in Adoption – By investing in the adoption and promotion of digital tools and solutions – UNHCR teams will be empowered to communicate, work and protect more efficiently through targeted investments. Pilot projects will be supported and coordinated across the organization. In addition, a Digital Innovation Fund will catalyze field-first local and national digital projects that accelerate digital solutions at an operation level. Both global and local approaches will be centrally tracked, provided with investment and technically supported.
  • Building Capacity – Within UNHCR and with key external stakeholders will include developing skills and bringing in additional expert human resources in focus areas. Capacity-building activities will be focused both internally and externally and delivered through a ‘Network of Excellence’.
  • Strengthening evidence base – Researching and increasing evidence in all focus areas will provide the foundation for the change UNHCR wants to create and ensure progress can be effectively measured. Robust research and analysis will help us to design, utilize and implement appropriate digital services, inclusion and protection strategies and frameworks.

Guiding Principles

UNHCR will implement the strategy in line with the following guiding principles:

  • Accountability to Affected People framework – UNHCR will ensure our Accountability to Affected People commitments are embedded across all strategy areas, with a focus on participation and inclusion, co-design, communication and transparency, feedback and response and organizational learning and adaptation
    Protection, rights and ethics – UNHCR will promote the increased protection of the people we serve online, including the prevention of online abuse and harm that can spill over into the offline world. This also encompasses their right to equally be part of a connected society and their right to privacy, including in their online activity and in the digital processing of their personal data by UNHCR and other actors.
    Accessible to all – UNHCR will work with its technology partners to ensure all internal and external digital services and platforms are accessible to everyone regardless of age, gender, disability, race, socioeconomic, sexual orientation, gender identity, and diverse characteristics. Content created will be optimized and assessed for accessibility. Accessible communication services will be put in place such as closed captioning and signing so that online meetings and town halls are fully accessible.
    Digital efficiency – To best manage the organization’s resources and to reduce duplication of effort, UNHCR will look for digital efficiency by reusing solutions and designing business processes to deliver our work more efficiently and cost effectively. UNHCR will monitor new digital solutions that are developed in the field to identify scope for scalability to other operations and avoid duplication.
    Environmental sustainability – How UNHCR uses digital technology has a major impact on the organization’s environmental footprint. This can be both positive and negative. UNHCR will put in place checks and balances to ensure the Digital Transformation Strategy reinforces the objectives of the Strategic Framework for Climate Action.9
    Continuous access to data – UNHCR will ensure that content with long-term value is preserved and securely accessible for use and re-use. Digital content preservation means mitigating against in-built obsolescence in systems and solutions. This includes avoiding system lock-in and threats to continuity-of-access.

A lightly edited executive summary of the UNHCR Digital Transformation Strategy 

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