Published on Let's Talk Development

Choosing what’s ‘most important’ --- to people

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The story – rightly or wrongly – about the current MDGs is that they were cooked up in a back room somewhere in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) in Paris, and finally agreed in another back room in New York. While this may not be quite fair, it’s certainly true that there wasn’t much in the way of consultation or public conversation around the MDGs development or eventual agreement. 

How different this time.  It might just be possible to participate in a different consultation on the post-2015 process every day between now and 2015 (a Google search on ‘post 2015 consultations’ produces 7 million results).  How to make sense of all this? Essentially there are three types of consultations going on, feeding into the political process in different ways. 

Firstly, there are the official United Nations (UN) national and thematic consultations.  There are already 66 national level discussions going on about what a post-2015 agreement might look like, and 11 thematic consultations on issues like jobs, energy or health. Coordinated by the UNDP but led by UN country teams (for national consultations) and different agencies within the UN system (for the thematic consultations), these have a web component (through the World We Want 2015 website), and in most cases face to face meetings as well. The results will be synthesised by the UN and presented to the UN Secretary General in time to feed into his report on the post-2015 agenda for this year’s General Assembly session in September.

Also within the UN system, but independent of the rest of the post-2015 machinery, the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on post-2015, whose report will also inform what he presents to the General Assembly in September, has a consultation on 24 key questions it would like to consider. 

Then, there are all the consultations outside the UN process.  Some of these are run by regional bodies – the European Commission and the African Union have both had their own consultations.  Others are run by NGOs or other groups – like the youth charity ‘Restless Development’ which has just launched a youth consultation on post-2015, and will be used for advocacy and influencing purposes by those groups.  

Both the UN and the non-UN consultations are about putting the issues on the table which will then become the subject of political negotiations at some point after September 2013. At the moment, it’s all about influencing what goes into the report of the High Level Panel and then the Secretary General’s report, which will set the tone for the discussions in the General Assembly in 2013. 

But it’s more than that. The enthusiasm with which people have responded to the call for ideas and inputs shows the extent to which people want to be talking about this stuff. It’s coming from the same hopes and fears that fed the Arab spring, the Occupy movement and the surge in local level activism in so many countries. Growing economic and environmental risks and wars and conflicts that are reported around the globe are, it seems, making people everywhere look for more radical changes than they have for some time. The excitement about these consultations is part of that. 

The ideas generated here will feed into the post-2015 agreement, certainly, but also into other political processes and outcomes we don’t even know about yet.  It’s incredibly exciting.

But, for post-2015, there’s a danger in stopping at that. All of this consultation will feed into an ever-longer list of aspirations, which is important in setting the agenda but also misses the political point. The politics comes not in making a long list, but in choosing a much smaller number of priority issues to be the subject of new global goals after 2015. The question for the negotiators who will draw up the final agreement is not ‘what’s important’ but ‘what’s most important’. 

Too often, that’s where the consultation ends and it all goes into those same back rooms that created the first MDGs. Not this time. That’s where the third strand of consultation comes in. ‘MY World’ is a partnership between the UN, a huge number of NGOs, and the ODI. It’s all about finding out what’s most important to people, from the range of issues that we know that people care about and that might usefully be expressed as goals in a new agreement. 

By asking people to choose the six things – from a list of 16 – that they think would make the most difference to their own lives, My World brings consultation to the crucial priority setting phase of the negotiations. With millions of people taking part, online, by SMS or in the traditional way with clipboards and pens, we’ll know what young people in Benin, or women in Indonesia, or the entire continent of the Americas think are the most important issues for a post-2015 framework – and the people who make the eventual decisions about what to leave in and what to take out of the final agreement will know that too. The results from the MY World survey will be presented to politicians and negotiators involved in the post-2015 debate at regular intervals.

The eventual post-2015 agreement will almost certainly be the most-discussed in history. The extent of the consultation will leave a legacy of expectation – with so many people involved in shaping the agreement, they’ll want to make sure that it’s a good one, and one that is actually implemented. That’s got to be a good thing. If the many thousands of people who have participated in making the agreement can be mobilized to ensure their governments deliver on it, then this is one set of aspirations that might actually be delivered. 



Claire Melamed

Executive Director, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data

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