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Core Concepts - Risk Assessment

Risk assessments predict possible problems and identify their likely sources. This can become part of managing problems appropriately or preventing them from arising in the first place. Assessments should include different types of risks, and look across the electoral cycle. Even when mitigation measures are in place, it is important to remain realistic. More detailed information is available in the risk management section of the UNDP Intranet.

Types of risks

In elections, risks may:

  • Threaten the electoral process and electoral assistance efforts, or
  • Be brought about by electoral assistance activities.

The first type of risks typically comes from:

  • Political factions
  • Internal conflict
  • The physical environment
  • Poorly designed procurement processes
  • The introduction of unfamiliar technology
  • Inadequate resources
  • Limited understanding of the electoral process and mandates of the elected
  • Incomplete or pending legislation

Programmes can incur risks such as:

  • Endangering UN staff, election observers or members of the population in general
  • Jeopardizing UN/UNDP impartiality or credibility
  • Affecting existing power structures in ways that produce negative fallout
  • Influencing perceptions of transparency that result in unfounded criticisms
  • Poorly designed procurement processes

Both types of risks need to be identified, analysed, quantified and prioritized. UNDP programme or project managers should prepare a risk log, upload this into ATLAS and periodically update it. For more details, see the list of potential risks from the UNDP Electoral Assistance Implementation Guide.

Covering the electoral cycle

Risk assessment must consider the entire electoral cycle. Some risks may need to be addressed in the short term, while others require longer-term solutions. Looking at the overall political environment helps programmes identify the full spectrum of risks, and find entry points for supporting an electoral process conducive to pluralism and the deepening of democracy. Pre- and post-election conflict mediation mechanisms may require special emphasis.

Remaining realistic

Risks can be mitigated, such as through programmes for legal reform, civic education, media campaigns advocating non-violence, training for journalists and conflict mediation among political parties. But it is important to be realistic. In some cases, risks arise because there are players who do not want the process to work, including those who benefit from the status quo. They may deliberately undermine the electoral process. Potential remedies then may need to go beyond technical assistance, possibly involving advocacy by the Resident Coordinator/Resident Representative or other Representative of the Secretary-General for adherence to international standards, or political pressure at the international level.

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