Post-2015: When a conversation is as important as an agreement
Last week the UNDG launched “The Global Conversation Begins: emerging views for a new development agenda”. This report summarizes the inputs received so far in the various global conversations taking place around the post-2015 development agenda (see here for my previous description of the aim and the challenges in this global consultation project). It draws in particular from the global, thematic and national consultations and from the My World 2015 global vote.
But already the work of the high-level panel is drawing to a close to a conclusion with the final official panel meeting taking place this week in Bali, and their report to the Secretary General due by the end of May. Many of the thematic consultations are now wrapping up while the national consultations are at various stages of completion, and the global vote is still ongoing.
Taking it at face value, given the very diverse group of people who have been involved in some way or other in the post-2015 discussions, and the broad range of issues and opinions shared, it’s likely that a large number of people will experience some disappointment that their views or issues don’t make it into the report of the High Level Panel. And beyond that, once the report is submitted it then goes into the “official process” for inter-governmental negotiations and any resulting agreement on the post-2015 goals will be made by agreement of UN member state governments, which might or might not follow the recommendations of the high-level panel.
So the question is, what is the value of the global conversation once the High Level Panel have completed their work and the intergovernmental negotiations begin?
1. Most obviously (and reassuringly) – the global conversation is helping shape the views of the High Level Panel. They have been strong supporters of the consultation efforts and have been quite open to hearing from and interacting with a broad range of partners about what the agenda should look like. they will of course need to prioritize carefully from among the ideas they have heard, and their own perspectives – but the level of openness to hear from others is something we have rarely seen in the past.
2. Once the report is completed, the discussion moves on to the intergovernmental sphere. Here the record of listening has not historically been so good – but this time it will be much harder for negotiators to ignore voices from civil society, youth, academia, media etc. there has been so much discussion on post-2015 that it seems hard to get away from it, and with many more people actively following and engaged with the discussions it will be much harder for government representatives to duck difficult issues – for example the issue of growing inequalities keeps coming up in different guises, a sensitive issue to be sure, but one which I expect will be hard to sideline.
3. One additional benefit from all the conversations is the mobilization of diverse group of actors around the future of development. The networks built and the issues discussed will reverberate well beyond the discussions around agreeing the agenda itself, both informing how it is implemented, and creating a movement of people who will be watching government commitments and action, and also continuing the discussions around the best way to make things happen and helping contribute to them.
4.While the outcomes of any of the thematic discussion may influence only a small number of the goals in the final agreement, they did also create a conversation about prioritization, implementation and measurement within those themes and the outcomes of those discussions have the potential to influence future directions within that theme or sector and create new partnerships and approaches. Similarly while any individual national consultation may have limited influence over the global agreement, they have, if successful, succeeded in creating broad-based discussion about national development priorities which is more inclusive than the processes usually used to elaborate national development plans. These can also serve as an important basis for the UN’s planning as part of a strategic dialogue which can be used in preparation of the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF).
5. The global conversation itself sets a precedent in consultation and citizen engagement on major international decisions which shows that it is possible, and worthwhile to reach out to citizens and broaden the conversation beyond the usual suspects – and in so doing make it harder for others who seek to continue with intergovernmental decision-making behind closed doors.
For these reasons the global conversation is about much more than the final summaries or the eventual post-2015 agenda – it’s about doing development a different way. But this will only work if the international community keeps the conversation going, and maintains the focus on delivering the post-2015 agenda and in holding themselves to account for it.