Accountability in the post-2015 agenda: from the known to the unknown

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A common mantra in educational theory is ‘moving from the known to the unknown’. Popularised by psychologist Herbert Spencer it posits that, in approaching a complex subject, individuals are largely influenced by what is already known to them from experience of their immediate environment. Effective learning starts with the concrete, moving to the abstract.

Could this simple principle be applied to the accountability framework for the post-2015 development agenda?

There has been a concerted call for the monitoring and accountability framework to be an integral part of the Post-2015 development agenda and not an after-thought.  But the debate is still polarised on what sort of accountability framework will deliver for people in poverty. Should there be a totally new accountability framework, or should we start from the known and move to the unknown?

The social contract for people-centred accountability

Accountability is premised on the relationship between two parties, one taking responsibility for actions, decisions and policies, and the other party holding them to their commitment. In the post-2015 process, member states are making a commitment to a development framework to end poverty and deliver for the poor within their countries and globally, through 17 goals and 169 targets.

Governments are, in democracies at least, supposed to be made by the people for the people, although in practice in many countries it is not that straightforward.  Based on that social contract, states have a responsibility to facilitate citizen-led or people-centred accountability. The country level is where we should call for the sturdiest accountability. Once accountability is secured at national government level, it will naturally flow to and influence the local, regional and international levels.

Accountability has to reflect national context

Accountability has to reflect national context

Building on what we have

Before delving deeper into a new accountability framework, we should pause and take a look at what we already have. Existing frameworks can be ‘made to fit’ as long as they take into account inclusivity, ownership and transparency, and are supported by accompanying financial commitments.

Would it not be better to build on what already exists, ‘moving from the known to the unknown’? For example, the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and the African Peer Review Mechanisms (APRM) are country-focused accountability frameworks which could form the scaffolding of a ‘made to fit’ post-2015 accountability framework. While they are not perfect in every sense, they provide a useful model, particularly in respect to participatory modalities.

The UPR is a state-driven process which reviews the Human Rights records of all UN member states, with the ultimate aim of improving the realisation of human rights and addressing human rights violations. It also aims to provide technical assistance to states to deal effectively with human rights challenges and to share best practices among states and other stakeholders, thus giving an opportunity to build the post-2015 framework approach on human rights.

The origins of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) lie in discussions about the Millennium Development Goals at the international level, and in parallel discussions within Africa on what became the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). NEPAD was conceived primarily as a framework for relationships between Africa and rich countries, and to improve democracy and governance. The African Peer Review Mechanism is a mechanism within NEPAD to promote adherence to and fulfilment of the commitments set out in the Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance.

Looking forward for post-2015

While I am not advocating for these two as perfect accountability frameworks, it is possible to modify and fit new ‘wheels’ to these vehicles while maintaining their mobility. Despite having no mandatory enforcement, it is possible to build on them in the quest for a post-2015 accountability framework. Whether a framework is voluntary or mandatory is less important than its effectiveness, impact and implementation.

The main weakness of both frameworks is that they are largely state-centric but  the UPR and APRM offer an opportunity for participatory engagement and accountability. Effective participation by stakeholders from broad-based constituencies would allow for a more inclusive, “home grown” process. Targeted support could be provided to make necessary adjustments, including pointing towards alternative paths.

The UPR and APRM processes would need to be customised to make them relevant to specific country circumstances through national consultations, validation events, and multi-stakeholder dialogues, followed by establishment of national structures, self-assessments and action plans. Other “peer” countries have opportunities to raise issues during peer review sessions, and this could be extended to include other stakeholders. Once a national plan of action is agreed, it is monitored at local levels, shifting the locus of debate and engagement away from capitals.

Any accountability framework should be built around the lynchpin of a common understanding across all levels. After years of negotiations on the new goals, the last thing that is needed are protracted discussions on a brand new accountability framework. We should improve existing mechanisms by building on positives and dealing effectively with areas that are weak.

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