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Using portfolio development to bring about systems transformation

We are deploying portfolios of discovery and strategic options to learn in high levels of uncertainty and design policies in complex systems.

The complexity of modern challenges requires coherence in response. Single-point solutions and one-off initiatives are insufficient to respond to the gravity and nature of challenges in development. We apply systems thinking through a portfolio of discovery and strategic options to learn about and induce system transformation. We will help to define the identity of system agents, unpack the system structures, design strategic positions to enable our learnings and manage sets of connected initiatives dynamically with coherent narrative. This is an emergent practice for UNDP, so as we explore it – we are seeking to answer:

  • Can we bring a new lens and new narratives to entrenched issues?
  • How can we understand dynamics and relations in a system? 
  • What type of interventions make sense to support? What can enhance?
  • What sets of core competencies are required to dynamically manage portfolios?

Our work on portfolio development aims to increase the scope and effectiveness of development We provide tools and frameworks to map and evaluate projects to ensure that activities on a whole target systems-level transformation.

Our flagship initiative is Agora, a regional portfolio of development options to build response and renewal capabilities in urban settings through a systemic approach.


Our approach in understanding complex systems has two phases of problem and solution. In the problem phase, we articulate the role and identity of an agency in the system, understand the capabilities and limitations within the system, and clarify the intent of how we will like to move forward in the system. Whereas the problem phase prepares the portfolio holder to understand its role, capabilities, limitations and the desired outcome, the solution phase translates our understanding into a hypothetical model using the system canvas (problem space), locating strategic positions to intervene in the system (areas of interest and stencils), and build a strategic offer to partners with set of interventions in a coherent portfolio.

Our Advisory Service Package includes three distinct offerings for country offices to support their portfolio design and management for city transformation:

  • Sense: Apply a systems lens to the current work by mapping and evaluating how existing initiatives and projects are distributed and aligned with the intent. Identify connections among activities that can be leveraged as well as gaps in the programming that require new interventions.
  • Position: In addition to mapping and evaluating existing projects, we delve deeper to identify strategic points for interventions that would accelerate system transformation and that can be used to develop a more coherent and targeted portfolio.
  • Transform: Entails the entire process of sense, position and portfolio development to develop a more coherent and targeted portfolio of discovery and strategic positions. We will ideate the positions to design interventions and help to dynamically manage the portfolios through iterative learning and sense-making.


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Interested in innovating for development. Drop us an email.

We support UNDP offices, governments, and partners in advancing strategic urban innovation to design and implement impactful interventions in cities to transform our society for the better. 

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