Consultation or Conscription? Civil society input on the content of the post-2015 framework


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.

7 Responses to “Consultation or Conscription? Civil society input on the content of the post-2015 framework”

  1. Chris Underwood (@chris_underwood) Says:

    There is, of course, a strong logic to Dominic and Amy’s argument and the work they and others have done to build the Beyond2015 coalition is one very good reason that the High Level Panel are listening to civil society in a meaningful way at all. As a co-ordinator of the policy drafting group on the Conflict, Fragility & Disaster consultation I can also testify to the strong work that is being done by the coalition’s members, both North and South, on substantive policy questions.

    So what struck me, I guess, was the contrast between the plenary session and that policy work within the coalition which has already, collectively from a range of perspectives, made real progress – proving that through dialogue we can in fact emerge with a coherent overall vision for what are complex, varied and diverse challenges. Nowhere is this complexity more evident than in the world of conflict and fragility.

    My point about the plenary session was simply that there is a world of difference between listing a set of unrelated single issues and providing a coherent overall perspective on a multiple, complex set of issues. In the plenary session, at 4pm on a Friday afternoon after three days of intensive meetings, the Panellists sat through two hours of the former and not much at all of the latter, and I wondered at what that really achieved.

    Awkward question but how much do we honestly think they took away from that? I mean, really?

    I just think we could have been a bit more strategic – our work in the policy groups has already proved our ability to do that.

    But then I didn’t have to organise anything, or take anything like the responsibility that the Executive Committee did, and I appreciate it’s always easy to criticise. I also don’t go along with the idea, by the way, that what we need are 3 big “asks” right here, right now as others have said – that is going to the other extreme, which doesn’t recognise that “civil society” is not a thing that can be instrumentalised, it is a space within which debate happens from many angles.

    To coin a phrase, surely there is a third way!

    Having criticised some of the day I’d also say that what was also abundantly clear was the strength, value and insight of the contributions made throughout by those in both the earlier and later sessions, some of which I quote in my blogpost. Collectively, those perspectives are hugely powerful – morally and factually. The challenge for our coalition will be to harness that power. And we can all play a positive role in that.

  2. Claire Melamed (@clairemelamed) Says:

    I’m not sure my previous comment was posted – glitch in the system – so let me try again: I think that Beyond 2015 did a great job in creating a really exciting and vibrant atmosphere during the HLP meeting in London. Many congratulations to all involved.

    But I do think the contributions to the town hall meeting could easily have come across better – not by conscripting people into pre-prepared ranks, but by providing some framing. If, for example, all the people who talked about specific groups of excluded or marginalised people had prefaced their remarks with ‘this is why it’s important to talk about inequality in a new framework’ the impression created – with exactly the same range of contributions on the same issues – would have been one of consensus and momentum rather than incoherence.

    The two things that stuck in my mind from the panel’s responses were Abhijit Banerjee saying that there were too many issues raised and they couldn’t do them all, and Graca Machel chiding everyone – most charmingly – for being patronising to ‘poor people’. Surely that’s not the ideal impression for the panel to be left with?

    This isn’t about consultation vs. conscription. It’s about making sure that the considerable resources that organisations are deploying on this agenda are used well and strategically! It’s great to hear about the ideas you have for developing Beyond 2015’s positioning in the future – it’s in all of our interests to have a strong clear voice from civil society organisations saying the important things in a way that can be heard.

  3. post2015 Says:

    Reblogged this on – what comes after the MDGs? and commented:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

  4. Dominic Haslam (@domhaslam123) Says:

    Thanks Claire and Chris for getting back to us. I’ll be presumptious enough to answer on both our behalves (?) as Amy is now on leave for a while.

    We all know that for civil society to input into this kind of strategic level of debate in a coordinated way takes time (which we just didn’t have this time round). We’ll be sharing our learning with Liberian and Indonesian civil society, hoping they get the same or similar opportunities, so they can build on what we got right and do the rest, better!

    Trying to link themes together is certainly a good aim and point well taken, but perhaps assuming we could do that with 200 people from diverse groups who had no time together before-hand (given each process was managed separately) was ambitious. And it would not have been right to invite people to come and then tell them to fit into a pre-prepared framing, that framing would have needed discussion. As one participant said to me when I was trying to suggest they couch their point in a particular way as I felt I knew the process better “you may be right, but perhaps you’ll allow me to say what I want to say in my own words?” Ouch. And quite right!

    So perhaps this wasn’t so much a “missed opportunity” as a “learning opportunity?”

    Maybe its not so bad for the panel to see how complex a task they have, to bring together a framework that will allow the Sierra Leonean young man and ex-combatant in Chris’ blog to benefit similiarly to the two men in wheelchairs who felt the current MDGs greatly ignored them and the woman who stated MCH was the single most important thing. If they didn’t know it already, which I’m sure they did – they do now.

    As I understand it, the HLP’s purpose is to provide the visioning for the framework. For me, we should be providing as broad a range of inputs as possible to this visioning process, at this early stage – and, as Beyond 2015 is trying to do – input more ideas around content through other processes than the immediate and potentially challenging atmosphere of the “town hall”.

    That doesn’t mitigate against HLP mission-creep which I certainly started to detect in the meeting itself. And we don’t want to suddenly find the panel has leapt ahead without us and is delving into targets and indicators.

    Our draft Vision, Purpose, Principles and Criteria will be up on the web soon and we look forward to seeing how that impacts on the process. Be very happy to have both your inputs on that.

    But in the meantime, I think its right to be savvy at times, but also to just say what’s in our hearts and experiences as well and sometimes even to do that guilelessly?

    And I’m not remotely saying I disagree with Graca Machel’s remarks – in fact I think a lot of what she said married very well with what was coming from the floor. But I would love to work with her on designing an improved process, engaging the panel and the civil society representatives in the design of the day. This option wasn’t on the table and in the light of that, I’m not sure much more could have been asked…

  5. Kaganga John Says:

    From Kaganga John

    As one of the participant in the Beyond 2015’s UK hub meeting held from 31st October and 2nd November 2012 in UK London with the HLP,I appreciated the work which was well done by the Beyond 2015 who were the organizer and the Excellency performance o the HLP,we were able to express our views openly without fear or favor from the Global North or Global South.

    We request those charged with flaming,designing and completing the post 2015 structure frame work agenda to make sure the voices of the people we represented from the the different diversity be well capture in the framework,this will help all of us to have the world we want in beyond 2015.

  6. Geoff Holland Says:

    The Beyond 2015 project which seeks to document all suggestions for SDGs, and then employ a method of broadbase feedback to prioritise goals (eg voting), is excellent.

    My main concerns are:

    1. the MDGs were focussed particularly on eradicating extreme poverty, development in developing countries more generally, with some goals focussed on gender equity and health, and one or two environmental goals thrown in for good measure.

    What we need now is a comprehensive set of goals to address the transition the global sustainable development.

    Eradicating extreme poverty, and special attention to the Least Developed Countries must remain a priority.

    But I am concerned other key areas linked to sustainable development will be left out – for example:

    – peace and disarmament,
    – environmental protection,
    – global warming stabilisation,
    – democratic reform,
    – population stabilisation,
    – sustainable agriculture (eg organic)

    amongst many other areas.

    As we know, all these issues are interlinked and need to be addressed simultaneously. We cannot hope to resolve poverty if we do not resolve other related challenges.

    My concern is that the Beyond 2015 coalition are made up of development NGOs. While development NGOs constitutes a broad umbrella, I suggest the prioritisation will be skewed in the sense that areas such as environment, global warming stabilisation etc etc will be unrepresented, and thus left out.

    2. we are told we must have a focussed set of Goals. What does this mean, 8?, 20? We know the 8 MDGs actually had 19 Targets and 63 indicators – essentially 63 targets.

    There is an assumption we must not look for “a long shopping list” – as we will lose focus, it will be unmanageable for governments or for the general public to comprehend, and it will be unfundable.

    But I suggest we need a broad range of targets. The questions of maintaining focus, of management, and of funding can be resolved.

    We need a comprehensive framework!

    We talk of consulting global civil society, but we are limiting ourselves to only a part of civil society.

    We do not have to accept the Terms of Reference that the UN and the High Level Panel are presenting to us. Sure, they will argue that they are trying to be realistic, and if we demand too much, the whole post-2015 program will be a failure and we will achieve nothing.

    But global sustainable development is intrinsically self-integrated, and we need an intergrated and comprehensive approach, not a disparate ad hoc approach. We cannot hope to solve poverty and social injustice issues without addressing other areas that impact on poverty and social injustice.

    Is it possible that people like David Cameron are in key positions in this process so that they can ensure an outcome which does not threaten the high-consumption unsustainable lifestyles of OECD nations – a concession to the LDCs to relieve political pressure and delay the time when developed countries face their responsibilities in terms of equity and sustainable development? (UK increase in ODA and commitment to renewables noted).

    We need an SDG Comprehensive Framework (SDG-CF) which would include international goals and agreements already agreed to such as the 20 Aichi Targets (which I imagine that most development NGOs are not aware of) and others.

    Global civil society must set a complete SDG agenda of what needs to be done. We can negotiate and lobby from there.

    The Beyond-2015 project needs to outreach to the other half of the global NGO community which currently is not represented!

    Then we can build a much much stronger global civil society movement that will guide the UN, the HLP, the Task Team, and national governments (and their “no-go-tiators”), in the appropriate way forward.

    Let’s not wait for the next round beginning 2030. Let’s not think like politicians with short-term horizons. Let’s think, discuss, plan and implement for the long term. Let us begin what really needs to be done – now.

    Kind Regards,
    Geoff Holland

  7. The post-2015 consultations – does quantity add to quality? « Serpents and Doves: A development policy blog Says:

    […] society will never just get their heads together in an orderly fashion, agree on priorities and pass them on neatly packaged to decision-makers. But multiple overlapping […]

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