By Amy Pollard (CAFOD) and Dominic Haslam (Sightsavers)
A civil society army – wouldn’t it be lovely.
It would be much more convenient for policymakers if civil society was like an army. If only we would line up in rows and march neatly in one direction. If only we would fall under the command of a single general, who could speak on our behalf and bark orders when we fall out of line. Why don’t we just pull ourselves together, elect a leader of the truly free world, give them gold epaulettes and stop making everyone’s lives difficult?
A Civil Society Army could deliver some lovely pithy messages to the High Level Panel on post-2015. It would be very good at deciding what issues should be the priorities for a post-2015 framework, and explaining them to policymakers in a nice clear and coherent way. It could even draw up logframes that stuck to a single side of A4. If we had a disciplined structure telling us what to do and punishing us when we got out of line, life would be so simple. How could it possibly go wrong?
Chris Underwood thinks that civil society “let ourselves down” at the High Level Panel town hall session last Friday, by raising lots of different single issues. But then also went on to talk about how powerful was the intervention of a single young man with his specific experience of child-hood poverty – a poverty of peace of opportunity, of education and many other issues.
Claire Melamed suggests that civil society provided a “whole forest of proposals”, that it was a “wasted opportunity” and pushed for the need to “prioritise, prioritise, prioritise” – reflecting Abijit Banerjee’s comment that the panel won’t be able to include all the issues and “have to be told what’s most important”.
Friday afternoon’s session was a town hall meeting. The convention of such sessions is that people express themselves freely and that a full range of views are given space. If it was a BOAG meeting attended by the highest ranks of the most powerful UK NGOs, the convention would have been different. There would have been a pre-meeting to thrash out collective messaging and divvy up the points, and then a collection of British CEOs would have delivered it to policymakers. The BOAG approach can be effective and complementary. But if Beyond 2015’s UK hub had organised the session like that, it would have been rightly demolished for excluding the diverse, rich, global voices that make up our campaign and have a right to be heard, including the individual voices of people who have lived through war, hunger, discrimination and marginalisation and didn’t necessarily want their experiences to be packaged and presented on their behalf.
The diversity of perspectives raised from the floor reflects that fact that this was a room full of people from all around the world, who are tackling some of the key global challenges. The world is a complicated place, development is complex; and the challenges for the post-2015 agenda are by default also going to be complex. This may be an inconvenient truth but reflecting it is a responsibility, not a failure, of civil society.
Saying all this, of course we are not naïve enough to think this will be satisfactory for those charged with framing, designing and completing the post 2015 structure. And we know the worst of all outcomes would be a frustrated process that cannot agree or focus, leading to no post-2015 framework at all. So we agree that there is a need to move from process to content issues in the post-2015 debate. This is something that Beyond 2015 is taking very seriously.
We have come up with a strategy to develop a shared, global civil society position on the content of the post-2015 framework and will deliver this over the next 12 months and to hit key advocacy windows in the debate. For Beyond 2015, this is the 4th major effort to work on content issues (it’s a common misconception that we have spent the first two years of the campaign working exclusively on ‘process’) – and builds on learning from the previous three attempts.
We are taking a two-pronged approach:
1) We will support participating civil society organisations who are developing specific proposals on individual goals, targets and indicators. We will collect these proposals on our website, reflect the strength of support for different proposals when we have evidence to back this up, and signpost civil society expertise on particular goals to key contacts.
2) We will focus our collective advocacy on the conceptual foundations of the post-2015 framework as a whole – developing joint positions for the ‘Vision’, ‘Purpose’, ‘Principles’ and ‘Criteria’ for a post-2015 framework. Together, these four components will allow us to tell a strong story on what changes we want to see in the world, what the rationale of a post-2015 framework should be, the core values underpinning it, and on what basis proposals for specific goals for the final framework should be accepted or rejected.
In 2013, we won’t be giving formal Beyond 2015 endorsement to one goal, target or indicator over another. We will, however, be helping civil society to channel its expertise into the process, and we will be telling a strong, collective story about what the post-2015 agenda should be all about and giving clear direction on how to make the key choices. This is an essential contribution to the content debate – without it, no decision will be either legitimate or sensible.
To govern is to choose. To influence is to enable those who choose to make the right decision. Those who are non-governmental do not have the same responsibilities and powers as those who do – nor do they have the authoritarian structures which are necessary, ultimately, to push through the hardest political decisions and make them stick. An inclusive process is not an excuse for the responsibilities of government to be outsourced.
Civil society has distinctive strengths, insights and value to bring to the post-2015 debate, and Beyond 2015 will be tireless in working to bring these to the fore. We will also be transparent about whose voices are being represented, specific about the legitimacy of positions, and honest about differences of opinion that exist.
If you’re looking for something else, perhaps we should stop consulting and start conscripting.