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Using portfolio design & management to improve resilience and bring about
systems transformation


We craft and deploy systems transformation portfolios to learn in situations with high levels of uncertainty and design policies for complex and multifaceted development challenges. 

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 to design and manage portfolios of options to learn about and generate structural transformation. We help to define the identity of system agents, unpack system structures, design strategic positions to enable our learnings and dynamically manage portfolios of connected initiatives, using a coherent narrative. This is an emergent practice for UNDP in line with the UN Strategic Plan 2022-2025, so as we explore it – we are seeking to answer:
  • Can we bring a new lens and new narratives to entrenched development challenges? 
  • How can we understand dynamics and relations in a system? 
  • What type of interventions help us learn in complex and changing systems?  
  • What sets of core competencies are required to dynamically manage portfolios?


Our work on portfolios aims to increase the scope and effectiveness of our development work. We provide tools and frameworks to map, evaluate and redesign initiatives to ensure that activities on a whole target systems-level change and lead to structural transformation. 



Portfolio design and management is an effective approach for planning and decision-making in systems with a high density of interactions and relationships and for tackling issues that are affected by those dynamics. Browse the following three key areas where we have applied a portfolio approach and for which we can provide extensive expertise:

Our flagship initiative is Agora, an urban transformation framework for designing and managing portfolios in urban contexts for cities to better respond to both immediate and future challenges and shocks and build resilience. The Agora framework provides intelligence about key urban system structures and dynamics, as well as tools on how to apply and use a systems lens in designing an urban transformation portfolio in any city system. Agora framework has been applied under the City Experiment Fund and Mayors for Economic Growth Initiatives in the region, as well as utilized across UNDP global initiatives, for example in the Philippines and Bolivia.

Work is changing. Not just how we work, but where we work and what value that work is bringing us. Structural changes are affecting who is able to work, who is providing work, what skills are needed and how our systems might be enabling or limiting labor market changes.

We’re using portfolio design and management for work transformation. This has enabled us to take a systemic perspective, to learn and discover how structural changes are affecting the work ecosystem and what needs to change.


In the fast-paced environment of new technologies and disruptions, digital transformation offers new means of tackling complex societal problems, with the potential to spearhead long-term and sustainable development. At the same time, they can fuel even greater inequalities.

Against this backdrop, our team is working with UNDP Kosovo and UNDP Chief Digital Office to build a digital transformation portfolio, in close cooperation with the government, private sectors, academia and CSOs



Our Advisory Service Package for Portfolios includes three distinct offerings for UNDP Country Offices and partners to support their portfolio design and management for structural transformation:

  • Sense: Apply systems thinking tools to the current work by mapping and evaluating how existing initiatives and projects are distributed and aligned with the goals and vision (intent), with respect to the system. 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 and programs, we delve deeper to identify and design strategic entry points for interventions that would accelerate system transformation, which can be used to develop a more coherent and targeted portfolio of options to partners. 
  • Transform: Entails the entire process of iterative portfolio design and management to develop a coherent systems transformation portfolio in a specific context. Strategic positions are utilized to further design interventions (options), which will be used to generate learnings and intelligence on the changes in the system through iterative learning and sensemaking in order to dynamically manage the portfolio.

Our portfolio approach utilizes three main processes in applying the Portfolio Offerings: Sensemaking, Portfolio Design and Portfolio Management. Learn more about these processes here.

In addition to the main processes of the Portfolio Design and Management, we utilize deep listening, trend analysis and different forms of stakeholder engagement to capture a wide range of needs, voices and narratives in the system and engage them in the portfolio design and implementation.


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UNDP RBEC country offices with systems transformation portfolio


active systems transformation portfolio with dynamic management 


training sessions for systems thinking and portfolio development


UNDP colleagues trained for systems transformation portfolio


projects analyzed in the sensemaking


distinctive portfolio service offers with systems approach

Systems don’t change systems. People change systems.

– Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator 




Interested in applying systems transformation to development challenges? Drop us an email.

We support UNDP offices, governments, and partners in applying portfolio development to their work to ensure that their programmes and projects are more impactful, have greater scope and contribute to societal transformation.