The importance of governance in the post-2015 agenda

Blog |September 29, 2014 |Marjan Besuijen

At the Global Conference on Communication for Development held September 17 – 20, 2014 Making All Voices Count’s Director Marjan Besuijen spoke on the importance of governance in the post-2015 agenda.

Marjan Besuijen speaking at Global Innovation Week 2014

Marjan Besuijen speaking at Global Innovation Week 2014

She spoke about how increased access to technology is forcing the relationship between citizens and state to change, and stressed the need for inclusivity not only in developing post Millennium Development Goals, but in monitoring results on the ground also. Below, an excerpt of her speech:

Including governance in the post-2015 framework

Let’s start by looking back; the original Millennium Declaration was about rights, opportunities and participation. However the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were agreed among power-brokers were about technical measures alone. While those technical targets were in many cases critical, such as reducing maternal mortality or building roads to stimulate economic activity, the politics of development was left out.

As a result, the poorest and most vulnerable populations benefited least from the MDGs because they tend to live in countries where the relationship between citizen and state is at its most broken, for example those experiencing conflict or fragility. Based on those experiences and criticism, we know the post-2015 framework needs to involve governance in some shape or form. This includes transparency and accountability, but also freedom of expression and independent media.

As is made evident in the online MyWorld Survey, conducted as part of the development of the post-MDG objectives, this demand not only comes from policy makers, academia or civil society. So far, 4,5 million people from around the world have participated in this and rated governance as a third or fourth priority overall. This is evident also in the World Development Reports of 2004 and 2011. In addition, in-country through findings such as the the Wananchi survey 2014 in Tanzania where governance and corruption ranked fourth on issues of concern.

While governance reform has consistently ranked high, at the 2013 UN General Assembly very serious divisions started to emerge among countries from within the G77 about the extent to which they wished to accept governance as part of the framework. This was most recently seen in the paper the Open Working Group on sustainable development goals produced, following its last session in New York.

While it’s welcome that the idea of open government remains part of the picture, the increasingly vague language being used runs a very real risk of diluting its impact to such an extent that we might be back where we started with a set of goals that pay lip service to governance, freedom of expression, independent media, rights and participation, but do little else in reality.

The data revolution and the role of media and infomediaries

While we witness running the risk of diluting governance objectives within the post-2015 framework, a positive development was made recently with the announcement of the independent expert advisory group on data revolution announced by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moona on August 29, 2014.  This advisory group is tasked with the objective of contributing to the accountability framework of the synthesis report being released later this year.

This is significant because it recognises the potential that a data revolution can have on good governance.

The establishment of this advisory group creates a window of opportunity. It means it might become an important part of the post-2015 framework and that resources might become available. It also means the data revolution has to go beyond improvement in official statistics and the development of norms and standards to ensure new forms of data can be collected.

It needs to create norms and standards so that data is managed responsibly and with protection of privacy and it means more importantly, making data available in formats that can empower citizens to make their own decisions.

As Neva Frecheville explains in “What’s missing from the data revolution; people,” empowerment of citizens is where the concern lies with the current approach to the data revolution being too technocratic to change the world. While they’re right that the lack of adequate data is a serious obstacle to good evidence based policy (and practice), the right statistics alone will not change the world. Without looking at the power dynamics behind this ‘revolution’, very little is transformational. As Frechville says:

Serious questions need to be asked about whose data is captured, by whom, and who has the ability to access, define and interpret it.

This raises some questions and concerns. aim of the post-2015 agenda is to build a framework that prioritises participation and strengthens the individual and collective capacity of people living in greatest poverty and marginalisation. However, in reality most people, especially those in developing countries, lack the capacity to make effective use of this data.

As Ian Thorpe notes in A Bottom-up Data Revolution for Post-2015, open data may create a new “digital divide” between those who have the ability to collect and analyse data, and those who do not. Rich world governments, academia and private enterprise may be the main beneficiaries of these new data sources while those we are trying to support are once more left behind. As Thorpe reflects:

The open data revolution is a good starting point for empowering citizens, but it leaves room for concern.

To realize the promise of the data revolution and to use it to bring about sustainable change, we need to think from the bottom up rather than the top down. We need to develop the capacities of the communities we seek to serve, including the most disadvantaged. In this way, they can participate fully in the new data revolution and lead their own development, rather than rely on the goodwill and analytical capacities of others.

Media have to play a critical role as infomediaries. This is because to achieve true accountability, data must be accessible, easy to use and understand. Efforts so far have focused on the availability of data, but much more work needs to be done for these data to become tools for change. As Molly Elgin-Cossart urges in Better Together: A partnership for the data revolution [Part II]:

The revolution is not centered on data, but how people on the ground can use data.

Opportunities and challenges ahead

It’s fair to say that while the post-2015 debate has served a real purpose in forcing us all to face the challenges of governance reform, the reality is that the post-2015 goals will be a result of a political deal, probably using very vague language. This is not going to be helped by the fact that civil society seems unable to offer anything other than what has been termed the “Christmas Tree” approach – meaning everybody’s specific niche is presented as absolutely essential, without any prioritisation. In both respects the people’s voice has been lost, with the possible exception of the MyWorld survey.

There is a real challenge of how to ensure inclusivity of the post-2015 agenda not only in developing the objectives, but even more so in monitoring results on the ground. The data revolution will have to play a part in this and a crucial role for all of us is to think about is how we can capture and harness the role of media – as it evolves from traditional newspapers to bloggers and citizen journalists. And they, I believe, should be the real channel for the people’s voice on these issues after the post-2015 debate is finished.

About the author

Marjan Besuijen is Director of Making All Voices Count