Nearly anywhere you turn on the news lately, you will see headlines about inequality. However, perhaps inevitably, these issues are oversimplified in the headlines. The rich vs. poor, the 99% vs. the 1%, Wall Street vs. Main Street, etc. etc. If it was only about money—the ability to buy more cars, or more houses or more designer shoes, there might be some envy in the world, but things would be a lot easier. Of course, it isn’t that simple.
In fact, there are complex structural factors that keep people in poverty, and poverty is not only about lack of money, but it is about not having power — not having the ability to influence the institutions that make laws and govern our cities, states and countries. It is about not having the ability to fully reach your potential or determine your own destiny because you came up short in the lucky lottery of birth. Poverty is about not having a voice.
Over the last two years the UN system, in partnership with governments and civil society, has been working towards the inclusion of millions of people in crafting the next development agenda — an unprecedented effort to open up policy space for people from all walks of life to find and use their voice.
The stakes are high and the mandate is daunting: how can we work together — from the community level all the way up to the international stage — to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing the world of today and of the future? These include: ending extreme poverty; making sure children don’t die of preventable diseases; ensuring every child has access to a quality education; and combating the negative effects of climate change so that children can grow up in a healthy world. Furthermore, how do we address inequalities so that the children of today and future generations have a chance to reach their full potential?
Why is having a voice in political and policy processes so critical to the success of the next development agenda? In order to articulate the importance of voice, inclusion and participation in civic engagement, perhaps it is best to start with an example:
Ruby is a community leader and activist for the urban poor in the Philippines. She says:
“…The first step is for poor people to learn to trust themselves. Because we’re poor and because we live in slums, nobody trusts us, nobody believes in us. We don’t have money, our jobs are illegal, our communities are illegal, our connections to electricity and water are illegal. We are the city’s big headache. This is the entire perception of people outside the communities. But we are human beings too and we have lives in this city. If we are given space to be part of the decisions and plans, we also can be part of the solution…”
Ruby’s opinion crystallises the reasons why inclusion and participation are essential to eradicating poverty and achieving our aspirations for sustainable and inclusive development:
- Everyone has the right to have a say in shaping the societies in which they live;
- People living in poverty or those who have been historically marginalised, excluded or faced discrimination have valuable contributions to make to development planning, policy formation, problem-solving and monitoring progress;
- When people are not included, policies and programmes will not be as effective and outcomes will be unnecessarily compromised – in some cases they may even do more harm than good.
The Post-2015 Development Agenda – Is it inclusive?
At the beginning of this piece, I mentioned that the UN system, including UNICEF, is working towards “crafting the next development agenda” – but what does that actually mean? “Post-2015,” the working title for the next development agenda, is a reference to the year 2015, when the current development agenda and goals –the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — are set to expire. In many ways, the MDGs have been a tremendous success. The mere fact that they are still being discussed, implemented and monitored nearly 14 years later is a testament to their staying power.
However, one area where the MDGs fell short is on inclusion – both in how the goals were developed and in how they are being monitored. The Post-2015 Agenda aspires to correct this shortfall – in both the creation of the new agenda as well as in its implementation and monitoring activities; so that commitments made by governments and others are followed through on.
Participatory Monitoring for Accountability
People-led, transparent and inclusive processes for monitoring progress on the new development goals will be essential to achieving these goals. Why?
First, there is an intrinsic value to people being empowered and claiming their space to be heard. This is especially critical for people who often face daily shame, humiliation and discrimination because of their gender, age or place of residence, or because of their economic, disability, ethnic, minority, sexual orientation or other status.
Second, there are often significant negative consequences when people are not included in development planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Participatory monitoring can take various forms. At its core, it should be about inclusive and transparent practices used to monitor the effectiveness and usefulness of local, regional, national or international policies, thus providing the evidence to improve upon said policies.
Participatory monitoring is about people — working together in an organized way – identifying and tracking the priority issues that affect their own communities, so that barriers to progress can be addressed and solved, with support as necessary from public sector and other accountable institutions.
Exciting new technologies and methods for collection of data have emerged in the years since the MDGs were first crafted that can help enable people-led monitoring initiatives. While we must be conscious that the digital divide remains an issue for many, mobile use has become increasingly common across the globe.
Participatory monitoring can and should include so-called citizen generated “real-time” monitoring activities and initiatives. These inclusive methods can facilitate empowerment, generate data on hard-to-measure, shadow activities such as corruption and rights abuses, and facilitate proactive approaches to development rather than only being reflective and reactive after the fact.
This month UNICEF, UN Women and UNDP along with other UN and civil society partners will be launching an open public consultation process on the issue of Participatory Monitoring for Accountability. Through this consultation, we will be facilitating e-discussions, documenting examples of good practice and sharing experiences on what works and what is possible for the next development agenda
The new development agenda cannot be “business as usual” if it is to be a success. It must be inclusive, responsive, dynamic and adaptive to the realities of peoples’ lives and to the communities it aims to serve. Including people living in poverty and their communities in every step of the process is the only way to achieve this.
Please visit the Participatory Monitoring for Accountability Engagement Space for more information, hosted on the World We Want 2015 website.
Shannon O’Shea is a Programme Specialist at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) working in the Office of the Executive Director on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. She is a passionate advocate for people’s inclusion in the development and implementation of the Post-2015 Agenda and excited to serve as a co-convener of the Participatory Monitoring for Accountability Global Consultation.