KM on a dollar a day

Musing on knowledge management, aid and development with limited resources

Post 2015 Development agenda: An open and shut case?

with 5 comments

In my previous blog about the post 2015 consultation process “talking to everyone about everything” I mentioned some of the challenges of organizing a truly global open consultation yet coming up with something concise and clear.

The process is now well underway with a number of consultations already taking place and many more planned. The High Level Panel has met twice, most recently in London accompanied by a flurry of meetings and side events.

Claire Melamed from ODI and Chris Underwood both wrote good blog posts that gave a great flavour of the London meetings. Both of them emphasized the need to prioritize in order to get to a manageable set of goals as soon as possible, and both took civil society to task for using their opportunity to talk to the high level panel to delivery a laundry list of diverse issues with each individual NGO promoting their pet cause.

While I agree that it will be important for the High Level Panel, and the processes that support them to ruthlessly prioritize to recommend a manageable set of goals, I think it might be a little unfair to expect civil society, or any other constituency for that matter (and there are many including , private sector, governments, academia)  to come together and agree on a set of priorities by themselves. Civil society is an extremely diverse group and many organizations exist to focus on particular issues and so it’s not surprising that given an opportunity the will promote their core issues. There is also often a divide in perspective and approach between local and international NGOs.

That’s why the consultation process (and the role of the High Level Panel) for canvassing views and then prioritizing them is so important. What’s really needed is a process that helps build consensus around shared priorities within and between different interest groups rather than expecting each group to develop shared view. If they can develop a single view, then that’s fine but I think the emphasis should not be on the different actors who need “to get their act together” but on having a good process that binds them together.

And bringing people together usually requires opening up before closing down. In a way the first stage of identifying potential goals is like a giant brainstorming session, at least if we are serious about giving everyone a voice. This means that in the early stages of consultation you should actively look for as many crazy, inconsistent, impossible ideas as possible and without jumping too quickly into assessing their merit. (Even if we know there probably won’t be a goal on preserving mountain ecosystems, microcredit or government statistics systems)

Only when all the ideas are out there is it possible to start prioritizing, eliminated, merging and negotiating to come up with a set of recommendations.

This is important for at least two reasons:

1. To ensure everyone has a chance to have their say, and feel that they are being listened to. This is important given the aim of the process to be participatory and inclusive. It also will also make it much easier later to grow awareness and build broad-based commitment to the eventual goals.

2. To ensure you have as many options on the table as possible from which to choose. Not because all are likely to be chosen ,but to ensure that all are considered and possible synergies between them, or ways to combine them.

I therefore think we need to be careful not to rush to judge and to drop ideas before we have given everyone a chance to say their piece. The process by which this is done is also very important as the High Level Panel and the consultations they draw on will play a key role in both identifying and prioritizing ideas.

So, by all means prioritize, but first give people a chance to have their say and then prioritize based on that and prioritize in a way that brings people along with you.

And to round this off – a quick plug for “The World We Want 2015” the civil society/UN online platform which is hosting a global conversation on the post-2015 agenda where you can have your say and share your ideas, even if you haven’t prioritized them yet.


Written by Ian Thorpe

November 9, 2012 at 8:30 am

Posted in rants

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5 Responses

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  1. post2015

    November 9, 2012 at 8:54 am

    • Hi Ian, thanks for your kind words. Overall I thought the day went quite well and the Beyond2015 campaign deserve a lot of credit for that, I just felt that the “Town Hall” format of the last bit didn’t really help anyone or move us along. After three days of intense meetings, how much of the 2 hours of single issues do we honestly think the Panel members absorbed? I mean, really? There seem, to me at least, to be two extremes – one is what we saw in that last session in London of a scatter gun approach to every and any issue which does at least show the richness and diversity of civil society perspectives but doesn’t really move us forward on its own, and the other extreme is simply to go immediately to arbitrary “priorities” which are usually determined by the loudest voices, and largest organisations. I suspect this may be a criticism of the “My World” initiative which has already decided on just 16 for people to choose from. Surely there is a middle way and the online “World We Want” platform, along with the sort of steps you suggest make good sense. The looming challenge, however, is that after May 2013, when the Panel has made its report to the Secretary General, there will be no further formal consultations as far as I can gather. So it’s all got to be done by then, after which we’re relying on the inter-governmental process and raising our voices from the outside.

  2. I’ve posted a comment on Cafod’s blog which applies here too:

    Let me also address Chris’ comments on My World.
    We took great care that the 16 options were not just a product of the policy positions of the loudest organisations. A key input in designing the priorities was information from participatory research and from opinion polling which tells us a great deal about the priorities of poor people as well as the population as a whole.

    In addition, we’ve just tested the options by asking 8000 people in Uganda an open question about priorities and then checking the responses back against the 16 My World options to see if there was anything we missed. Less than 4 per cent of the replies did not fall into one of the 16 options. So we are pretty confident that these options are robust and not just an arbitarary snapshot of the loudest voices. But I’m sure the debate will continue!

  3. Thanks Ian,
    The way I tend to approach the broad (and incredibly complex) post-2015 consultation process is that there is no ‘single truth’. The outputs of the Beyond 2015 Participate project, My World, the platform (and indeed other initiatives!) can all help to triangulate what will be coming out of the national consultations.
    But, as Chris points out, there is a timing issue in terms of bringing those perspectives to bear on the thinking of the HLP. After that, of course, the members of the (yet to be constituted) Open Working Group on the SDGs should be made aware of the outputs of the consultations too.
    I expect many of the national processes to continue past May. More countries are starting only now, and it’s important not to think of this just as an extractive exercise where the views are channeled to the HLP. People in all countries will want to make sure that their governments are coming to the full intergovernmental process having been informed of their priorities.

    Paul Ladd

    November 15, 2012 at 10:19 am

    • Paul – many thanks for your comment. I think the timing of the panel report makes it difficult to mobilize as inclusively as would be ideal and also pushes a quick move to prioritization, but you are right to point out that the discussions have a broader utility than as possible inputs to the panel. In addition to the national consultations helping inform governments coming into the intergovernmental negotiations, I think they are also valuable as a way of generating more discussion around and commitment to global and local development priorities and can if we are lucky also keep the pressure on governments and other actors to live up to their promises after the priorities have been agreed. I think this means we have to think about the outreach and consultation effort lasting much further into the future, even beyond the ink drying on the intergovernmental agreement.

      I’ve seen some past consultative processes get people engaged around the time of a major agreement or conference only to see that energy and commitment dissipate afterwards due to lack of follow up and moving onto the next big thing. I hope (and am hopeful) that this will be different for the post 2015 development agenda since the real hard work starts in 2015 not now.

      Ian Thorpe

      November 15, 2012 at 12:22 pm

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