Post 2015 Development agenda: An open and shut case?
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.