United Nations Development Programme








the Management of Prescriptive Content




Document Name

Policy on the Management of Prescriptive Content



Responsible Unit

Bureau of Management

Creator (individual)

Jan Mattsson jan.mattsson@undp.org

Subject (taxonomy)

Organizational Procedures, Information Management

Date created

11 March 2003

Mandatory Review

September 2003


These procedures are to be used by all UNDP staff at Headquarters, in the Country Offices and at other offices worldwide.  Workflow steps apply in particular to units and individuals responsible at various stages of content production and revision.


UNDP's policy on the Management of Prescriptive Content is applicable to the production or revisions of all UNDP policies, procedures, rules and regulations as described in annex 1.


UNDP Policy on Formulation, Coordination and Approval of Operational Policies and Procedures, UNDP/PROG/98/4, 29 May 1998

Is part of

UNDP ICT Strategy, January 2002

Related documents

Content Management – Critical to meet business objectives, presentation made to the Executive Team on 16 January 2003

UN Record Ref.

Not yet available





Revision Notes






Provide feedback: patrick.gremillet@undp.org

Ask questions: patrick.gremillet@undp.org

Policy Decision_ 2

Transitional Arrangements 2

Immediate Measures 2

Annex 1: Definitions, Categories and Terminology 4

Annex 2: Workflow Steps 4

Annex 3: Rationale for the Decision_ 6



Policy Decision

Resolved that: 

ü      UNDP shifts from information to content management to address the need for quality control of the organization’s information production and its distribution

ü      New or revised administrative procedures for the production and revision of UNDP’s prescriptive content are developed and implemented. 


The Assistant Administrator, Bureau of Management (BOM), in close consultation with the Internal Communications Services (ICS) Team, shall be responsible for the development and implementation of standard global procedures for the management of prescriptive content, including quality control standards, workflow and governance mechanisms, that can increase consistency, reduce redundancy, facilitate access to content, and support the creation of information that will add value to UNDP operations.


The key principles that shall govern the development of these procedures are as follows:


ü      Prescriptive content sets the parameters and provides instructions for staff members about how to do their jobs (see definitions and categories in annex 1). This content must be presented in a manner that is systematic, unambiguous and up to date. Its substance must be internally coherent and consistent with higher regulations, rules and policies. To be effective, prescriptive content must also be realistic and feasible in its application, that is, it must be user-friendly and be supported by examples of best practices from various work contexts. This content must reach all staff members who use it in a comprehensive, accessible and timely manner.


ü      The procedures shall facilitate the gradual elimination of manuals in their existing form and the move towards on-line publishing of content components covering specific business functions.


ü      Publication to the portal based on standard HTML templates will be the norm for dissemination of all prescriptive documents and on-line revision of content will be mandatory. All revisions or amendments shall be integrated into existing text, not published separately in circulars or directives. The use of numbered circulars for new or revised prescriptive content shall be abolished and replaced by official announcements through broadcast email or the UNDP Bulletin. The announcement shall not include changes in policies or procedures, nor contain attachments and shall point to content posted on the Portal.


ü      The procedures shall take into account the current implementation of the PeopleSoft ERP solution and the ongoing development of the corporate portal. The procedures shall also provide clear provisions related to version control, security, and integrity of electronic documents to ensure that past prescriptive content can be retained electronically for archiving. 


ü      Roles and responsibilities in the content management process, including publication, revision and deletion of prescriptive content shall be established.


ü      The procedures shall define clear provisions to institutionalize responsive review and approval processes for changes in policies and business processes over time, using the Management Practice Network (MPN) as primary mechanism. In line with this concept, the procedures shall also establish a framework under which users could submit proposals for changes in policies and procedures through the MPN for possible consideration by the unit responsible for drafting or revising content.     


ü      Sunset provisions must be established for prescriptive content. These provisions shall mandate regular review and revision of prescriptive documents to ensure their continuing currency and relevance. A sunset provision shall result in the suspension of content from the portal if a mandatory review has not been undertaken as scheduled.





Transitional Arrangements

Pending the establishment of permanent governance mechanisms for prescriptive content and due to the urgency to address immediate needs related to the PeopleSoft ERP implementation, the Executive Team has decided to appoint temporarily the Assistant Administrator, BOM, as the focal point for making decisions in regard to the correctness and appropriateness of prescriptive content from the perspective of the organization. At the discretion of the Assistant Administrator, BOM, decisions on complex issues will be brought to the attention of the Executive Team for final resolution.



Immediate Measures

1.      Under the Assistant Administrator, BOM, a small group will be established and charged with the task of initiating the process. More specifically, this group will:

ü      Prepare a matrix for content management, taking stock of existing initiatives and mapping out the status of all manuals (March 2003)

ü      Develop TOR and appoint Prescriptive Content Managers for each responsible unit (March 2003).

ü      Develop Guidelines for Prescriptive Content Migration (March 2003)

ü      Identify “problem areas” related to content overlap and responsibilities, and elaborate proposals to address them (May 2003).

ü      Formulate a draft of the above-mentioned procedures, as well as a standard workflow for development and revision of prescriptive documents, including, for each subject area, the responsible unit, the competent body and the approver (June 2003). In the interim, the generic workflow steps described in Annex 2 will take effect immediately.

ü      Formulate a proposal for consideration by the Executive Team on the establishment of permanent governance mechanisms for prescriptive content, and the composition of a new competent body (Approval expected in September 2003)



2.      Content Clean Up. There is an immediate need to integrate all revisions and updates of prescriptive text and other housekeeping revisions into a single text on the portal. All units producing prescriptive content shall communicate to the Assistant Administrator, BOM, the current status of the content they manage, and plans for update, starting with UNDP’s existing core manuals. A questionnaire with the above matrix will be circulated shortly in this respect. There is also an immediate need to store all UNDP prescriptive content in one location, and discontinue the current practice of having such documents on various Intranets. The Portal shall be the single repository of UNDP prescriptive content and a rapid migration of baseline documentation shall take place following the issuance of the policy, and based on the Guidelines for Prescriptive Content Migration mentioned above.



3.      Simplification and ERP preparation. After content clean up, the next challenge is simplification of prescriptive content. Simplification, as an element of the overall re-engineering of UNDP business processes, will require a much greater commitment of time and energy. The mass of existing prescriptive content falls into two categories: 1) prescriptive content that will be directly affected by policy and process changes from the PeopleSoft ERP system and 2) prescriptive content that will not be affected by the ERP. Consequently, the first task confronting the units responsible for prescriptive content is to determine which content will be subsumed by and which will remain outside the PeopleSoft ERP.


ü      ERP Prescriptive Content.  The PeopleSoft ERP system will drive simplification and rationalization of all business processes and related prescriptive content that the system addresses. Units that produce prescriptive content should prepare for the ERP by using the flow-charts of new business processes, identifying related information, and by reviewing any checklist of needs presented by the ERP tracks’ core teams.

ü      Non-ERP Prescriptive Content.  While preparing for the ERP, the concerned authorities should focus immediate attention on the opportunities to clean up and simplify prescriptive content that will not be covered by the ERP. Such content should be subjected to the same rigorous review outlined in Annex 2. 


The WITs Team shall provide in due course to all units concerned additional guidance and information related to ERP prescriptive content.


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Annex 1: Definitions, Categories and Terminology


Content and Content Management: Content is broadly defined as data, documents, multimedia resources, and other forms of codified knowledge. Viewed through a knowledge management lens, people and shared experience can also be viewed as “content”. Content management refers to the range of strategies, policies, tools, and resources mobilized to effectively assess, organize and exploit internally produced information resources. Content management is collaborative, involving everyone within the organization who produces or consumes information.


UNDP utilizes three main categories of content:


Prescriptive – provides frameworks and instructions for the implementation of UNDP programme and operations functions (e.g. rules, regulations, policies, procedures)


Descriptive – informative content related to UNDP and its activities (e.g. news, statements, directory listings)


Substantive – knowledge generated by the organisation


(e.g. reports, evaluations, experience and knowledge network discussions)


Prescriptive documents shall be separated into two large types: 1) legislation and policy statements, and 2) administrative procedures for business processes. 


1.      Legislation and Policy Statements

·         Legislation includes the resolutions of superior UN bodies, UNDP Executive Board decisions, and rules and regulations that are legally binding on all UNDP personnel. 

·         Policy statements include the Administrator’s Business Plan, Administrator’s Directives, and UNDP Policies approved by the Senior Management Team or the Executive Team.

·         “Administrator’s Directives” is a new category of prescriptive documentation.  Directives issued by the Administrator are typically instructions for the implementation of the business plan or other policies.  The Office of the Administrator needs to ensure that such directives are issued and classified as discrete documents and not mixed in with other communications of the Administrator as is the case at present.

·         Policies are strategically important plans or prescriptions for organizational behavior that have been officially agreed by the organization’s policy-making authorities (the Executive Board, the Administrator, the Senior Management Team and the Executive Team). Policies in general have relatively long-term stability in comparison to procedures.


2.      Administrative Procedures for UNDP Business Processes

·         UNDP’s business processes are systems for carrying out the organization’s basic functions, such as, programming, project cycle management, personnel recruitment and management, procurement, and financial management.  The sub-headings in the framework correspond to sections in the UNDP Financial Regulations and Rules that specify the approving authorities for administrative procedures in the various business process areas.

·         Administrative procedures, in contrast to policies, are lower level, standardized methods or practices, usually in a sequence, for doing work.  Adherence to administrative procedures is mandatory.  In the dynamic work environment in which UNDP functions, there are frequent needs to review and revise administrative procedures.


Missing from the taxonomy above is the term “guidelines” which has typically been used in UNDP to mean temporary or non-binding procedures. This usage is not helpful and should be discontinued for prescriptive content purpose. The term “guidelines”, to serve as practical guides including best practices, could still be considered, but would then fall under Substantive content. 


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Annex 2: Workflow Steps

1.      Draft or Revision of Prescriptive Content.  The responsible unit will take the lead in drafting or revising prescriptive content. Responsibility is defined rather in terms of facilitation of content production than “ownership” over content. It suggests a participatory process with users which can be facilitated by an appointed Prescriptive Content Manager within the unit. Drafts of new prescriptive content or revisions of existing content may be prepared by staff, networked teams, or consultants. Users should also be encouraged to submit proposals for changes in policies and procedures through the MPN. In this case, the MPN Moderator should alert the Prescriptive Content Manager of these proposed changes for inclusion in new or revised text if relevant. New and existing content should be prepared or converted into html from other formats (in most cases, MS Word using a standard template). Draft and revised content should be published to the portal with access limited to designated users while the text is being developed and reviewed. Drafts of new content or substantive changes should progress through all of the remaining steps in the workflow below. 


2.      Content Clean Up.  In the present context, content clean up refers to the integration of all revisions and updates of prescriptive text and other housekeeping revisions into a single text on the portal. Content clean up and publishing of integrated prescriptive content on the portal is an immediate need. However, the backlog of revisions that need to be integrated in basic text is very large, so a serious level of effort in all units is necessary. All previous revisions of prescriptive content that have not been incorporated into main texts should be duly incorporated at this time. In other words, all revisions previously issued as circulars or other communications should be integrated into the relevant main text. After this integration is done, these circulars will become redundant and shall be removed from the portal and the Intranet. Such revisions and other minor revisions or editorial changes may be approved and published on the portal in accordance with the procedures set out below beginning from step 7. On the long term, once this major exercise is completed, content clean up shall refer to archival of old content, links updates and modifications required on specific parts of other content components as a result of new text being introduced.


3.      Testing with Practitioners.  New prescriptive content needs to be tested with users for clarity, consistency and the feasibility of its practical application. The frequent lack of sufficient user testing has often resulted in the introduction of unworkable or unduly burdensome systems and procedures.  The experience of the Management Practice Network (MPN) clearly illustrates that UNDP’s global staff members can provide critical and timely input on proposed systems and procedures. All new prescriptive content and any major revisions should be reviewed by MPN subscribers in accordance with the discussion methodology that has been established for that practice network. 


4.      Revision.  On the basis of the review of the new content with practitioners, the drafters should revise the text. If the revisions are major, another round of testing with practitioners may be indicated.


5.      Substantive Comments.  After it has been reviewed and revised, the draft text should be submitted to a competent body for further comments. The competent body or its members polled individually will be required to comment within a reasonable period of time, say, two weeks. The comments of this body (or the lack of comments) will be conveyed to the relevant authority for consideration in his/her decision regarding the draft text (as indicated in the above section on Transitional Arrangements, the competent body will temporarily be the Assistant Administrator, BOM, pending the establishment of permanent governance mechanisms).


6.      Final Revision. The relevant approving authority will decide whether to modify the proposed text in accordance with the advice of the competent body or his/her own counsel. The ICS Team will edit the text for style, and in consultation with the relevant approving authority, will decide about the need for translation in French and/or Spanish.


7.      Approval.  The relevant approving authority will decide whether to approve or reject the proposed text.


8.      Issuance.  This step consists of three elements: preparation of the approved text for publication, announcement and publication to the portal. Prior to issuance of approved prescriptive content, the text must be converted to portal templates and reviewed for consistency with the portal taxonomy. On completion of these preparations, the approving authority will instruct the Internal Communications Services Team to announce new prescriptive content, or that changes have been made to specified prescriptive content, the effective date of the changes, and the portal address of the new content. This announcement will not include substantive content or the text of the changes. This announcement will be issued in lieu of any “circular” via email broadcast and will expire in 60 days. Finally, the relevant authority will instruct his/her unit’s content manager to publish the approved version of the new text on the portal for general access, replacing any old text as required, so that only currently valid prescriptive content remains. Old versions of prescriptive content should be retained for archiving.


9.      Maintenance and Mandatory Review. All content posted to the portal will include standard metadata providing information about the document as well as the date for a mandatory review of the content.  The relevant approving authority will establish the date for mandatory review. Following the mandatory review, if no changes are proposed, the approving authorities must re-authorize the existing content for a new period of validity. (UN legislation and rules, Executive Board decisions, and the Financial Regulations and Rules would be exempted from this re-authorization requirement.). A round of testing with practitioners will be required if the proposed changes are significant. A sunset provision shall result in the suspension of content from the portal if a mandatory review has not been undertaken as scheduled.


See Diagram


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Annex 3: Rationale for the Decision


The following arguments are presented to support this policy decision.


Essential for implementation of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Strategy.  The UNDP ICT Strategy (January 2002) facilitates UNDP’s transition to a decentralized, networked, information-based organization. The success of business process reengineering efforts associated with simplification, harmonisation and the implementation of PeopleSoft will be highly dependent on the effective and timely updating and dissemination of UNDP’s prescriptive content.


Need to rationalize the dissemination of Information on Changes in Prescriptive Content.  There are two main governance problems in regard to the dissemination of information about changes in prescriptive content, the use of circulars and the direct issuance of instructions by senior management. The standard method for communication of changes in prescriptive content has been the issuance of a circular. Overtime, the accumulation of changes made in circulars has created its own set of problems: even though the circular collections are maintained on the Intranet, the information is fragmented and hard to find.  Users are forced to find and cross check information. Circular content often remains in circular format and does not get integrated into the relevant main text of procedure[1] so the user can understand it in context. Senior management has increasingly avoided the issuance of circulars in regard to changes in key policies and procedures and has issued direct instructions to staff. While it is certainly within the authority of senior managers to issue such instructions, issuance in this non-standard format does not guarantee systematic coverage and does not provide sufficient impetus for revision of the underlying texts that staff members rely on. The opportunity now exists for immediate online amendment of procedures on the portal. This use of the portal would ensure comprehensive and timely distribution of procedural changes that would be immediately integrated into the main body of UNDP’s prescriptive content.


Standardization of Prescriptive Content Format and De-cluttering of Manuals. At present, much prescriptive content is presented in the form of manuals.  However, to be useful, manageable, and searchable, the content related to a business function must be divided into discrete chunks or components. A virtual manual will require the establishment of context for each component of prescriptive content.  There is therefore a need to develop standard templates for Content authors and editors so that context information and metadata can be incorporated into the presentation of each content component.


Need to establish responsibility for the Maintenance of Prescriptive Content.  Maintenance of prescriptive content, that is, keeping it up to date and user friendly, is a major problem in UNDP.  The results of weak maintenance practices are manifest on the Intranet in the form of clutter, difficult navigation, and content that is often obsolete, redundant or confusing.  Staff members are forced to waste time and energy trying to figure out how to do their jobs and the available content often does not provide useful answers to their questions. While legislation issued by superior UN bodies is not subject to review, all other UNDP prescriptive documents should be periodically reviewed and updated.  Mandatory reviews of prescriptive documents need to be incorporated into the work plans of approving authorities and the units responsible for maintenance of these documents. 


Content Governance. Content management implies a need for governance (i.e. decision-making) in regard to the correctness and appropriateness of content.  There is a pressing need to establish the content management function at the level of units currently responsible for producing and maintaining specified content.  The Unit Content Manager could perform the first level of governance by ensuring that content is clear, complete, up to date and accurate from the perspective of their unit. This role should be institutionalized in the job descriptions and performance appraisals of unit staff. There is a further pressing need for a governance mechanism above the level of individual headquarters units to provide leadership in regard to the coherence and consistency of UNDP’s content, in other words, perform a systems integration function, as well as to resolve content issues between units.


Provide feedback: patrick.gremillet@undp.org

Ask questions: patrick.gremillet@undp.org




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[1] Despite the existence of a circular from the Associate Administrator mandating incorporation of revisions into manuals in the course of regular updates every four months (UNDP Policy on Formulation, Coordination and Approval of Operational Policies and Procedures, UNDP/PROG/98/4, 29 May 1998).