Saturday 28 December 2013

2013: That was the year that was

A forest in which bullets are found in trees. Western Germany. 
January started in the wake of a trip to Germany which brought home the historic proximity of the carnage that once tore my own part of the world apart, hidden away in silent forests. The new year was one in which I wanted to get things done, lots of them. And it was all about politics - asking questions about how we get to a place where conflict is done in debating chambers not battlefields, and in a way which improves people's lives.

The Dáil Éireann (Irish Parliament)

Ireland, continuing its bumpy journey away from organised violence offered a glimpse with a particularly ferocious debate in the Dáil on the subject of the economic recession, which was also the topic of a beautiful video of a song in a job centre in Spain. Sad, then, that the UK Parliament completely missed the point when it conducted a review of Britain's approach to designing a new way of doing development, post 2015.

February saw a group of NGOs launching a "campaign", called IF, that seemed to redefined the meaning of 'campaign' since it had been agreed in advance with the Government. Thankfully there was some more meaningful progress made by the countries associated with the New Deal at a conference in East Timor, but lingering questions remained.

March saw civil society hold up a red flag to the High Level Panel of "Eminent Persons", essentially because they didn't much like the prominence of the private sector in their thoughts. Anti-corporatism has been a constant feature of civil society voices this year. Fine to have accountability, essential in fact; but from where else will come economic growth?

April was dominated by the escalating bloodbath in Syria, and the concomitant inability of the international community to do anything whatsoever about it. Apart from arm their own proxies. An extraordinary video emerged of a conversation between two armed groups, yielding a unique window on to their world. A conference in Washington did its best to get the New Deal back on track, in an event that brought the big cheeses of development together.

May saw MEPs struggle with the debate over how Europe deals with emerging powers while revealing much about how they saw themselves, while June saw the publication of the High Level Panel report which sought to redefine development. In a game changer of a report the principle that development is an inherently political - not technical - process was established.

Yet July saw the ODI release a retrograde and damaging report that sought to argue the opposite, on the grounds that there was a lack of evidence proving the connection between good governance and economic growth. Deep breaths.

Syrians paid a heavy price
August saw the world return to the subject of Syria, provoked by the use of poison gas. The Grand Old Duke of Washington marched his men to the top of a hill, only to march them back down again when his Junior Lieutenant Cameron couldn't deliver the goods at home. The whole sorry episode, which prioritised gas over the horrific consequences of shells, bullets and mines, simply allowed the killing to go on unabated.

More positively, the UN General Assembly in September saw a dramatic contest of competing visions of what development should look like after 2015. It was good that the recalcitrant countries finally put their heads above the parapet because they were compelled to back down largely by their own civil society, also there in force and making full use of the new platform the new hybrid bodies established by the UN to hold these debates within offered. I like to think my own briefing was of some use, but a dramatic video was rightly of far more impact, with grassroots citizens using technology to offer uncensored views into their own fights for basic human rights. The revolution will be livestreamed, it would seem.

October saw the release of a little video of our exploits at the UNGA but November kicked off on a personal note with news of a new job, and forthcoming relocation to the amazing country of South Africa, as part of the Making All Voices Count programme.

December continued the post 2015 theme with news of how the Open Working Group were planning on defining that governance stuff through a series of indicators to negotiate over, while I was privileged to debate the role of how theories of change could or should shape Dutch policy towards fragile states where governance is at its most broken.

A rainbow, a cemetery and a child
The year ended as it had begun, with another poignant trip to the battlefields of Europe, this time retracing the steps of Private James William Underwood, my great great grandfather. Christmas in Ypres somehow summed up, for me at least, what the twists and turns of the year had really all been about.

Monday 23 December 2013

Ypres at Christmas

A rainbow, a cemetery and a child
Cause we don’t trust you and ye hae been four months shooting at us” was the blunt reply from the Glaswegians of the Scottish Rifles, hunkered in cold and sodden mud trenches one Christmas day in 1914, to their counterparts in the German lines just metres away. While the story of the Christmas Truce, unofficially declared and involving the swapping of tobacco and football skills has come to define the futility of war it wasn't observed right the way down the lines. 

This week I revisited that area of Flanders as part of a family jaunt to the Christmas Markets in Germany. It somehow seemed apt as a reminder of what the season is supposed to be all about, amid the plastic commercialisation of much of it. There are no neon signs or expensive video games on the windswept plains of Belgium where the dying was done, nor even much space for it in the market town of Ypres, for so long the centre of the carnage, and usually the first venue incoming soldiers would see as they were marshalled ready to head out to the front line.

Ypres Market Square - the spire used regularly as a target for German artillery
My own great great grandfather, Private James William Underwood, arrived in Ypres Market Square on October 16th 1914. He would have been among many hundreds, amid shouting, horses and general chaos. He was a 30 year old railway labourer with two infant daughters at home. Old enough to understand what death might mean for him, but more importantly his daughters and wife Clara back in England. No room for jingoism here.

Marshalled with the 2nd Wilts Regiment he was among the first sent to the front, and knew nothing of the cataclysm to come. On October 24th he was reported missing, his position having been overrun by German troops. He spent the next four years in a prison camp in central Germany, presumably only realising the scale of what he had been spared by arriving prisoners, fresh from the human meat grinder of the war.

Tyne Cot cemetery. A Jewish tradition of stones on headstones, accompanied by a gentile's tribute
Tyne Cot cemetery stands silent testimony to the scale of the carnage, standing on the brow of the hill that so many allied troops died in order to take, with two German concrete pillboxes visible amid the countless grave stones.

The field where Pte Underwood was taken prisoner,1914
So on we went, driving through the battlefields and on to Germany to see Cologne, in all its Christmas Market glory. The commercialism is there, but so is a heavy emphasis on tradition and it is one of the few places where you can still see the season as preceding generations may have done. Rich scented gluhwein, wooden arts and crafts and costumed women performing with clockwork music machines; much as the young men on the German side, little boys themselves only a few years earlier, of the trenches would have remembered as they tried to coax their Glaswegian fellow conscripts to put aside the killing, if only just for one day.

Cologne Christmas Market 
Perhaps all of them died before the end of that war, which laid the foundations for the next, but their memory and common humanity is another reminder for me at least what this season is all about. Happy Christmas, and have a peaceful New Year.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Theories of change: A debate

Last week I took part in a panel debate at the Institute for Global Justice in The Hague on the role that theories of change could or should have in determining how donor countries design their interventions in the affairs of others. Specifically, do we understand well enough the situation we are trying to change and the likely impact of the change we are trying to bring about? And do we recognise that our analysis is sometimes even unconsciously shaped by our own assumptions, preferences and values - even when we have tried not to let that happen. And is that a bad thing anyway? Big questions, all.

It followed a review of Dutch foreign policy in fragile states from 2005-2011, carried out by the Ministry's Policy & Operations Evaluation Department (IOB), which made a number of challenging findings, including the suggestion that some programmes lacked an explicit theory of change, in place of which a "neo-liberal paradigm" had been adopted, and which prevented critical analysis, reflection and the adoption of theories and insights that might result in a more scientifically robust policy. On the other hand, their report found that a strength of the Dutch approach was to remain flexible and adaptable to often volatile and changing situations, which a rigid theory of change approach might mitigate against, particularly if it was generically applied across large spaces. In recognition of the tension they were bringing out, that of local theory of change versus flexibility of approach, the authors recommended that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs increase its investment in context analysis and the capacity to translate that analysis into programme design.

Heavy stuff. But I was hugely impressed. Not only with the strength of the research that had gone into the report but also the response of the Dutch Government to it. In it's formal response to the Dutch parliament the Government suggested that it wanted to learn from the report but do so in a manner which invited contributions from a wide range of perspectives - academic, practitioner and policy maker - and this event, hosted by the Knowledge Platform on Security & Rule of Law was part of that. The Knowledge Platform was established a year or so ago in order to bring these communities together to shape research agendas that ultimately support more informed Dutch policy making in some of the most challenging and complex parts of the world, and it has been a huge privilege to facilitate one of its five working groups in the last year. Other donor countries would do well to learn from this approach and adopt a similar initiative.

Ronald Wormgoor, of the MFA: introducing the report with some perspectives of a policy maker
So, what did we think? Highlights for me included our exploration of the tension between theory and practice. We didn't need to spend long convincing each other that a theory of change based approach was a good thing. It clearly is, and its absence creates a vacuum which as the report found is quickly filled by other agendas not necessarily suited to the context. A neo-liberal approach to economic reform in a country beset with structural inequality could be a recipe for disaster. It's all about understanding the power and the politics. But here's the challenge - what if our own domestic politics are the problem?

There was consensus among us that you can only really gain local understanding through long term engagement: analytically sound, flexible in application and strategically relevant. I pointed out the World Development Report of 2011 talked about change taking place in time brackets of three decades, let alone the arbitrary 15 years that seems to be the assumption behind the next set of MDGs. Jeroen de Lange, our chair for the day and himself a former Dutch MP, pointed out that domestic political considerations would act against that level of commitment, and went on to make the very honest point that debates in parliament were often shallow and lacking any kind of serious analysis. Not something restricted to the Dutch parliament, clearly. So this is a case that needs to be made more publicly, perhaps, the message being simply: if you want a return on this investment, you'll need to invest in stability for the long term. Tough sell.

Dr Willemijn Verkoren, Head of the Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management (CICAM) at Radboud University Nijmegen, challenged the absence of the global or at least regional dimension of the debate; pointing out that political dynamics rarely respect national boundaries and that any context analysis worth the name would need to reflect that. She also argued that there was a disconnect between science and policy, with policy makers ignoring theory and analysis and instead adopting essentially off-the-shelf packages of "statebuilidng" - institution building, civil society promotion and rule of law for example - which bore little reality in either its design nor its sequencing to the political realities on the ground. This was not a good use of public money, she suggested. Hard to disagree.

Geert Geut and Julia McCall, of IOB, spoke to the practical challenges that they acknowledged their report threw up. In particular they both agreed that time was rarely available for policy makers to adopt a sufficiently long term analysis, approach and engagement. It was part of a wider conversation, they argued, that needed to be had if the Government was to gain the results it was seeking to achieve with its partners on the ground, while maintaining public confidence in the wisdom with which they were spending their money. 

At the end of the debate Jeroen de Lange asked a blunt question. Did it all really matter, he asked? Was enough at stake? The passion with which that question was answered for the remainder of the day in the workshops that followed involving by my count around a hundred practitioners, researchers and policy makers indicated that yes, actually, it really did. 

These are precisely the sort of difficult, challenging and at times hugely frustrating conversations we all need to have if we are serious about fundamentally achieving a world in which people are able to reach their potential; free from violence, poverty and able to shape their lives and that of their countries with dignity and respect. The Dutch have kicked it off by measuring themselves against those ambitions: will other donors be brave enough to follow? 

Sunday 8 December 2013

Open Gov, Open Data, Open Growth least that's the theory! Very good animation here from the bods over at the Bank which sets out the theory with some practical examples. Much suspicion remains among many about the folks at the Bank after their role in pioneering the very opposite of open government, by rendering governments of developing countries more accountable to international financial institutions than their own citizens. But the game changing World Development Report of 2011, their support for the New Deal  and the Global Partnership for Social Accountability among other things would indicate that organisationally their top team seems at last to get it. You have to hope so.

The animation doesn't cover the actual innovation and tech that will be needed in order to genuinely make the connection between open data and the transformations it can bring in the relationship between the governed and those who govern. For that to happen there is going to need to be a great deal of innovation led by people themselves, from the bottom up, to slowly build those new partnerships. That's one of the reasons why I am so excited to be joining the Making All Voices Count team, as part of what is called a Grand Challenge for Development. It's certainly that.


Monday 2 December 2013

Those Governance targets in full

Last week I reported from the European Development Days at which a leading UN official working with the Open Working Group for their February meeting tackling governance and conflict revealed the 15 targets, or indicators, that would be considered by the group in their meeting. At that point I only had broad headlines but I can now set them out in more detail, which I have taken from the Technical Support Team briefing. (page 11)

They are as follows: 

Peaceful societies 
  • prevent and reduce by X% violent deaths and injuries per 100,000 by year Y 
  • Eliminate all forms of violence against children, women and other vulnerable groups by year Y 
  • Enhance social cohesion and ensure adequate formal and informal mechanisms are in place to peacefully address tensions and grievances by year Y 
  • Reduce by X% inequalities across social groups, amongst regions within countries and between women and men by year Y 
  • Reduce external drivers of violence and conflict, including illicit flows of arms, drugs, finance, natural resources and human trafficking by X% by year Y
  • Reduce bribery and corruption by X% by year Y and ensure that officials can be held accountable 
  • Increase political participation by X%, including diversity of representation in public decision making and civic engagement at all levels
  • Ensure universal freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and access to independent media and information 
  • Guarantee the public's right to information and access to government data, including budgets 
  • Enhance state capacity, transparency and accountability regarding the control of natural resources and the equitable sharing of benefits derived from their exploitation
Rule of Law 
  • Provide free and universal legal identity including universal birth registration by year Y 
  • Ensure independence of judiciary and increase the accessibility and responsiveness of justice services by X% by year Y 
  • Improve capacity, professionalism and accountability of security institutions (including police) by X% by year Y 
  • Increase by X% the share of women and men, communities and busineses with secure rights to land, property and other assets by year Y 
  • Ensure equal right of women to own and inherit property, sign a contract, register a business and open a bank account, by year Y 
I thought last week that this was overall a positive development, given that it might frame the OWG's meeting in a more positive and constructive manner, rather than the entrenched discourse about the extent to which these political issues potentially contravene sovereignty we saw emerge at September's UN General Assembly. They do seem to take the conclusions of 2011's World Development Report that jobs & justice are mutual requirements as a given and the paper itself makes that case even more powerfully.

I stand by that analysis based on the political intelligence I hear coming out of New York and experience of the spoilers emerging at the last UNGA. But I have since been reading up on some of the literature around open government and I do wonder at the extent to which these targets, and the paper in which they are presented, start to fall into a trap that scholars have started to notice. 

Specifically, what is the difference between Open Data and Open Government? Two scholars, Harlan Yu and David Robinson, in 2012 wrote a piece called "The New Ambiguity of Open Government" and their argument is captured in the title. They warn that there is an assumption that providing open data on non contentious issues risks being accepted by the international community as ticking the open government box, and ask pertinently why some countries are so happy to sign up to the Open Government Partnership. They point out that the terminology of open data and open government is now used interchangeably as if it was the same thing; which it is not. I wonder if the governance targets being considered by the OWG only partially avoid that trap - specifically referring to budget data, yes, but not which budgets, in what format and with what regularity. Although I suppose that might be something for the OWG members to discuss. 

They do however seem to avoid the trap detailed by Beth Noveck, Obama's former Chief Technology Officer for Open Government, who argues strongly for collaborative democratic participation rather than merely participatory. Her point was that lots of meetings did not equate to actual collaborative decision making and that open government, to be meaningful, required the latter. The targets attention to freedom of expression and specific political participation, including of women and vulnerable groups, are a strong sign that that message has been heard. 

So...we have a proposal which looks much better than I and others thought might be on the table. It now remains to be seen as to whether these indicators, and the wider discussions on governance they will provoke, will survive not just the meeting in February but the critical drafting process from February to the next UNGA in September 2014. 

In the meantime the UN General Assembly will itself be debating much the same topic in one of President John Ashe's thematic debates. This will be, crucially, more open both to civil society as well as non OWG member States and will have a direct impact on those drafting the OWG report which will form the basis of the final leg of this post 2015 marathon, the High Level Political Forum. 

As ever there is much to play for. 

Thursday 28 November 2013

My new job

I am hugely excited about joining the Making All Voices Count programme as Director of Policy & Learning in Johannesburg. The programme is a global initiative that supports innovation, scaling, and research to deepen existing innovations and help harness new technologies to enable citizen engagement and government responsiveness.

This Grand Challenge focuses global attention on creative and cutting-edge solutions, including those that use mobile and web technology, to ensure the voices of all citizens are heard and that governments have the capacity, as well as the incentive, to listen and respond.

Making All Voices Count is supported by the U.K Department for International Development (DFID), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Open Society Foundations (OSF) and Omidyar Network (ON), and is implemented by a consortium consisting of Hivos (lead organisation), the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and Ushahidi.

The aim of Making All Voices Count is a substantial push towards effective democratic governance and accountability. The conviction is that open government depends on closing the feedback loop between citizens and government. And given that every major survey of what people across the world want to see in the next global development framework places governance near the top, it is fourth on the MyWorld survey for example, this is a hugely exciting challenge.

I am, however, very much torn at the prospect of leaving International Alert, not only the UK's leading peacebuilding NGO but I would say one of the most amazing organisations I have ever come across. Alert grew out of Amnesty International in the early days and combines a focus on human rights with the business of first understanding, and then getting to the root causes of the violence that creates the conditions for those rights to be abused. They work, often behind the scenes and with little thanks, in places where the relationship between communities and political elites are broken, often completely absent, with the human misery that follows. In working, over long, thankless and often painful years way after the TV cameras have moved on, they concentrate on developing ways to re-establish those relationships with the means to manage conflict without the use of armed violence.

In a sense, these states are ground zero for the challenge of achieving open, responsive and effective governance - and having had the privilege of working alongside some of the most inspiring people you could ever hope to meet I hope I can take that experience into this next challenge.

Who knows, get it right, and we could change the world!

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Open Working Group on Open Government

The Open Working Group will be debating 15 indicators of progress towards tackling conflict & fragility at its meeting in February, before closing the doors to start the arduous task of writing their report, to be debated at the September General Assembly before feeding into the High Level Political Forum for the last stretch of the post-2015 marathon.

It’s shaping up to be an important meeting and I am told by officials close to the process that the atmosphere becomes tense whenever different country missions talk about it, because it inevitably raises very awkward and difficult issues. Bad politics, freedom of expression, corruption are among them and the inevitable push-back against including these areas in a post 2015 framework started last September as a result.

Here at today's European Development Days conference there was a debate involving Sam Doe, who was a lead official at the United Nations Development Programme tasked with one of the nine thematic consultations on conflict, fragility & disaster resilience. He had some interesting news for the gathered throng: open governance was likely to be a key theme and he had already been asked to prepare some indicators of progress for the Open Working Group to debate. The linking of governance to conflict was a connection already made by the High Level Panel in their own report, but the question is how to measure progress. 

The proposed indicators are an interesting mix, and include three broad themes: Governance, Conflict and the Rule of Law. They are as follows:

  • Corruption
  • Transparency
  • Participation including political participation
  • Freedom of expression
  • Social accountability
  • Violent deaths
  • Women
  • Cohesion, the extent of social
  • Inequality
  • Global factors exacerbating conflict
Rule of Law
  • National identity (reference was made to the number of Syrian refugees now stateless as a result of no formal national identity)
  • Judicial capacity – the extent to which the system can function
  • Professional standards among judicial staff
  • Women’s property rights
  • Women’s ability to to register and run private enterprises
It’s an interesting mix and I will reflect on it more later- but for the time being I thought this was a really positive step forward in terms of framing a debate about measuring progress rather than the stale old debate about whether all of this stuff should be part of the post 2015 framework at all. The fact we haven't tried this holistic form of development before has already led some people who should know better to start drawing perverse conclusions, which will only make matters worse unless discussions are focussed on how to make it work rather than carry on as we have - which has demonstrably failed the poorest and most vulnerable to date.

The fact remains any major study of what people on the ground in the poorest countries think reveals that they rate governance higher than almost anything else – it is currently third overall in the MyWorld survey for example and similar findings arise from the UN Task Team Consultations and the work of the High Level Panel.

The question now is surely not if, but when and how. 

Saturday 23 November 2013

Soft Power: what is it good for?

More than war, it seems. Hard power is increasingly obsolete and soft power is the future of global governance. That’s my conclusion after being asked to submit evidence to a House of Lords Inquiry into the UK’s use of soft power, which has just issued its' report. I did so on behalf of my former employer International Alert.

The UK is an interesting case study. It achieved great power status which it still excercises, for example on the Security Council, through the use of overwhelming military force. It remains a great power but increasingly it projects that influence through soft rather than hard means, and I think achieves much more as a result. Not only are there pressing realist reasons for doing so – despite Britain’s roaring over the Falklands it is unlikely that Albion could again defend them against a sustained assault without a single aircraft carrier – but the world has changed fundamentally, to the point where military power is increasingly obsolete; which in turn means long-accepted ideas about international relations are also increasingly in need of a rethink.

Diminishing returns of military force 
Big claims, with big implications for the future. But in this I explored the limits and opportunities of achieving fundamental changes to our world by projecting norms as opposed to boots on the ground, and looking at the evidence concluded that actually there was already an impressive record of achievement but also a record of short termism that threatened undermining it, and that greater co-ordination could achieve much more.

As the European Union wrestles with its soul over whether it continues as a civilian power (as Germany would like) or increasingly a military one (as envisaged by the French), the United States comes to terms with a decline similar to twentieth century Britain and as the resurgent economic powers in South and East Asia also determine their future use of power, the extent to which each perceive soft power as a viable means to pursue their interests will be vital in deciding whether the world is more or less peaceful.

Here is what I found:

1. This submission concentrates exclusively on the most effective ways in which the UK could or should exercise soft power in pursuit of that policy agenda. There is no single accepted definition of but these offerings by Joseph Nye and Robert Keohane (2004) would command general agreement. For them, soft power is the ability:
  • “to get desired outcomes because others want what you want”;
  • “to achieve goals through attraction rather than coercion”;
  • “convincing others to follow or getting them to agree to norms or instituitions that produce the desired behaviour.”
It tends to rest on 
  • “the appeal of one’s ideas or culture or the ability to set the agenda through standards and institutions that shape the preferences of others”;
  • “the persuasiveness of the free information that an actor seeks to transmit.”
For Nye and Keohane, scholars in the realist tradition of international relations, the fundamental argument for soft power is that it works and therefore obviates the need to resort to costly military and economic instruments to achieve policy goals.

2. This submission looks at three instruments of soft power available to the UK which draw on the legitimacy of power, free information and international institutions. They are: intergovernmental leadership, a free and independent media and credibility by example. It applies them to the Government’s policy priorities for conflict affected and fragile states and suggests a recommendation for the Committee at the end of each.

3. BSOS accepts that the poorest and most vulnerable people in the World are those living in conflict affected and fragile states (CAFS). These states have made least progress since the Millennium Declaration of 2000 and are widely predicted to continue on this path should there be no significant change in the global approach to international development (Kaplan, 2012). This is not only a failure of development with dire human consequences for those concerned but also represents a clear security concern to the UK and other countries across the world, of which the attack on the Nairobi Westgate Centre was the most recent example.

4. The World Development Report of 2011 (WDR2011) found that some 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by repeated cycles of political and criminal violence – causing human misery and disrupting development to the extent that almost no MDGs have been met in any fragile state. It argues that to break these cycles, it is crucial to strengthen legitimate national institutions and governance in order to provide citizen security, justice and jobs – as well as alleviating the international stresses that increase the risks of violent conflict.

5. To address this, the UK needs to contribute to normative change at global and local level. Specifically, it needs to address the social and political factors that drive violent conflict, perpetuate widespread abuses and prevent the poorest countries from achieving sustainable growth. These are underpinned by a range of social and normative barriers preventing citizens from engaging and participating meaningfully with the governance of their countries.

6. By definition, addressing these issues requires the exercise of soft, rather than hard, power.

7. As the Committee recognises in its framing questions to this Inquiry, the UK cannot project norms independently, or exclusively with its traditional allies, without being vulnerable to charges of neo-colonialism from governments and others whose current policies and practices are challenged. It must thus work in partnership, in many cases new partnerships, with actors from a range of governments, civil society coalitions and multilateral institutions

Instruments of soft power

8. The UK can draw on at least three sources of influence in pursuit of the need for change outlined above. They are inter-governmental leadership; culture and media; and long term demonstrative leadership.

Inter-governmental leadership

9. The UK has demonstrably engaged in inter-governmental leadership to significant effect in the past. Examples include the Gleneagles Summit of 2005 in which UK leadership resulted in substantial agreements on climate change (associating leaders from Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa) and reducing poverty in Africa (with seven African presidents taking part). Without sustained British perseverance and exercise of soft power these outcomes would have been highly unlikely (Bayne, 2005).

10. The current Foreign Secretary is himself currently pursuing an amendment to the Geneva Convention with the addition of a protocol explicitly classifying sexual violence as a “grave violation” of the convention, with 134 UN states currently confirmed to be attending a conference to adopt a declaration to this end[1]. That is two thirds of all UN States and as such illustrates the significance and capacity of UK intergovernmental leadership.

11. More quietly, in the G8 context, the UK has joined with Germany in leading a shift of emphasis into recognising the linkages between the pressures of climate change, security risk and poverty and beginning to develop the first elements of an internationally coordinated response to these dangerous connections (Harris 2012).

12. There are other inter-governmental partnerships in which the UK is a leading player, such as the Open Government Partnership (OGP), which consists of 60 States and which met recently in London. The OGP agenda outlined by the Prime Minister, if enacted fully on the ground, would radically transform the barriers detailed above. They are[2]:
  • Open Data: Radically opening up government data for greater accountability, public service improvement and economic growth;
  • Government Integrity: fighting corruption and strengthening democracy through transparent government;
  • Fiscal Transparency: helping citizens to follow the money;
  • Empowering Citizens: transforming the relationship between citizens and governments, and;
  • Natural Resource Transparency: ensuring natural resources and extractive revenues are used for public benefit
13. HMG should continue on this path by scaling up its investment in exercising soft power in support of redefining international normative and legal frameworks in support of building stability overseas.

Culture and media

14. The UK is a consolidated and well established democracy which enjoys widespread respect for its democratic institutions. It also benefits from the English language and mass appeal of the British media, particularly the BBC World Service in the context of developing nations. The BBC World Service and BBC more generally, is therefore a key basis of soft power.

15. Critically, however, this effect does not arise because the Service is a mouthpiece for British policy; in fact, it arises precisely because it is not. It is a critical and independent source of credible information accessed by populations who do not have alternative sources of independent information. It is thus an asymmetrical source of soft power. Returning to Nye & Keohane, on the importance of free information in building credibility through free information as a basis for soft power:

“…credibility is the crucial resource, and asymmetrical credibility is a key source of power. Establishing credibility means developing a reputation for providing correct information, even when it may reflect badly on the information provider’s own country. The BBC, for example, has earned a reputation for credibility, while state-controlled radio stations in Baghdad, Beijing and Havana have not.” (Nye, Keohane, 2004)
16. British soft power, paradoxically, is therefore gained by a unique source of news from a British perspective that is frequently critical of the UK.

17. It is thus disturbing that the Government has significantly cut the BBC World Service since 2010, already resulting in a loss of audience of around 14 million and the cancellation of five language services. There have been four funding cuts in four years, with each presented as a “one off” cut by Government, with the latest involving a reduction of £2.22 million in 2013[3].

18. Applying Nye & Keohane’s analysis of the centrality of free and credible information to generating soft power, therefore, International Alert believes these cuts to be misguided and recommends that the Committee challenges the Government to justify its recent and future strategy towards the BBC World Service.

Credibility by example

19. The UK has gained significant credibility by being among the first to reach internationally defined targets for international development, such as the commitment to spend 0.7% GDP on Overseas Development Assistance (ODA). It has hosted initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership. It is supporting new and equitable partnerships with governments in conflict affected situations, such as the New Deal for Engagement with Fragile States (New Deal), and is one of the leading financial and practical supporters of the UN Peacebuilding Fund. As a result the UK is able to utilise its soft power in pursuit of the foreign policy agenda represented by BSOS. One consequence of this and a way of judging its success can be seen in the choice of UK Prime Minister to co-chair the recent High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post 2015 Development Agenda, alongside the leaders of Indonesia and Liberia.

20. The UK has also demonstrably led the world in the provision of Open Government Data (OGD), increasing transparency and by so doing enabling active citizens and civil society to hold decision makers to account. OGD aims, by the provision of usable data, to achieve impact on government efficiency, transparency, accountability, environmental sustainability, inclusion of marginalised groups, economic growth and supporting entrepreneurs. This is a practical agenda which builds on the insight of WDR11. The UK came top of 77 nations currently committed to pursuing OGD programmes in the latest Open Data Barometer index[4].

21. This arguably results in the UK gaining more influence through soft power means than any deployment or the threat of deployment of hard power. Soft power is entirely separate and not dependent on hard power, as some political scientists have claimed. Nye & Keohane make the same observation in relation to other states who have engaged in similar leadership and thus gained credibility and soft power which bears little relation to their capacity to project hard power:
“Canada, Sweden and the Netherlands have more influence than some other states with equivalent economic or military capabilities.” (Nye, Keohane, 2004)
22. The Government should utilise the political capital it has generated to challenge other governments to follow suit. For example while the US comes second after the UK in the Open Data Barometer overall, it scores poorly in the provision of company and land registration. Encouraging governments of wealthy countries towards greater transparency could be an important step towards reducing global tax evasion, another important HMG priority. To the same end, the Government should also prioritise supporting local civil society in being able to effectively use such data to hold those in power to account.


23. The UK Government is well placed to exercise significant soft power, relative to its peers. It has already demonstrated this, notably on changing norms and practices on good governance, sexual violence and open data. It benefits both from its active leadership on such agendas, in addition to the wider influence of the BBC World Service and historic links across the globe.

24. It has not yet, however, realised the full potential of this power and does not appear to take a systematic approach to doing so, as can be seen by short termism in cutting the reach of the BBC World Service.

25. The Government must therefore marshal its influence through the use of its intergovernmental leadership, the BBC World Service and credibility by example, and in so doing realise the combined potential of the soft power the government enjoys but whose value it is not yet fully utilising.


  • BAYNE, N - Overcoming Evil with Good: Impressions of the Gleneagles Summit, G8 Information Centre, University of Toronto, 18 July 2005 (accessed at
  • CLARK, H – (Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme: UNDP) Speech delivered to the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa Conference, Dakar, Senegal, 23 July 2012.: 
“… more politically aware populations have also led to improvements in the accountability and responsiveness of a number of African governments. That, in turn, helps make government policies more effective and inclusive”
  • CLARK, J – Getting There: Women in Political Office Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Vol. 515, American Feminism: New Issues for a Mature Movement (May, 1991), pp. 63-76
  • GOETZ, AM; HASSIM, S - No Shortcuts to Power: African Women in Politics and Policy Making, Zed Books, 2003 
  • KAPLAN, S - Inequality, Fragile States, and the New MDGs, Fragile States Resource Centre, April 16 2012
  • HARRIS, K - Climate change in UK security policy -implications for development assistance? Working Paper 342, Overseas Development Institute, 2012 
  • NYE, J; KEOHANE,R – The Nature of Power, Foreign Affairs. Vol. 77, No. 5 (Sep. - Oct., 1998), pp. 81-94
  • WORLD BANK – World Development Report 2011 
  • WORLD BANK – Global Monitoring Report 2013
[1] Speech by Foreign Secretary William Hague at the War Child 20th Anniversary Policy Forum in London on 23 October 2013 (accessed at
[2] Speech by the Prime Minister David Cameron at the OGP London Summit, 31 October 2013

Monday 21 October 2013

Video: Peace, Post2015 & The UN

The Alliance for Peacebuilding, a Washington DC group, have produced a film which captures much of the chaos, excitement and insights of those of us peaceniks who were engaged in the week long UN General Assembly recently. It includes an interview with me, but frankly the insights of many who were also interviewed from the South and China are well worth listening to.

You can read my thoughts on what the General Assembly meant for peace here - but in the meantime enjoy the film...

Monday 30 September 2013

Human Rights: The revolution will be livestreamed

A camcorder. An internet connection. YouTube.

All that was needed for Sahar Fetrat, a young film maker in Kabul, to produce one of the hardest hitting windows into the world of routine and extreme sexual harassment felt by women and girls living in Afghanistan around. I say girls because, as this film attests, many of them are exactly that facing harassment bordering on rape when they are going to and from school.

Why is this important? Three reasons.

Governance, security & the rule of law

I have just come back from a week in New York where the future of how the world responds to countries like Afghanistan and other developing states after the expiry of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 was the subject of much debate. It was quite clear that for the reasons laid bare in this film those who actually live in these countries place governance near the top of their list of priorities - in this case it would have been nice if these men had actually feared being arrested and prosecuted for their crimes. In the absence of a meaningful security force these women have to, quite literally, run the gauntlet instead.


Secondly, during the course of last week many countries from within the G77 group of developing states launched a pushback against that agenda, with several claiming that governance had no place in the post 2015 agenda, which to them needed to remain all about poverty and nothing else. These women are not starving, but they are also not free. And by producing this film they tell us that in their own words, with one describing living in a "cage", constructed by the constant threat of assault.


These women now have a voice and the means to use it. Technology offers a new means by which we hear these voices, on a mass scale, for the first time and with the use of a simple camcorder actually witness what they are alleging takes place. It's hard to dispute the many examples of harassment it is possible to witness in this hard hitting film which blows away the chance of officialdom to play it down, or deny its prevalence. Given the access to relatively cheap technology even censorship is almost impossible. One woman explains how she wears the burqa in the vain hope of avoiding being assaulted or harassed while the murder of a senior and prominent female police officer in the country last week underlines just how far some are prepared to go to resist change. 

All power to these women. We have now heard their voice. The question is what the Afghan authorities will do about it at national level, and how as global civil society we can use these insights as a means to protect the centrality of governance to the post 2015 agenda. It's legitimate to object to the abuse you see in this film on normative grounds - is this really the world we want our daughters to grow up in? But it is also economically catastrophic: we can hardly hope to eliminate extreme poverty if we are happy to preside over a situation in which half of the potential workforce is forced into a burqa and live in constant fear.

The revolution will be livestreamed

With the UN Broadband Commission predicting 2.1 billion broadband connections by the end of this year we can look forward to more hardhitting windows into the real worlds inhabited by the poorest and most vulnerable. And the arguments against including governance as a means by which we measure the state of human progress will be all the weaker for it. At the end of the film the narrator calls for a revolution: it seems the revolution won't be televised - but it will be live-streamed.

Friday 27 September 2013

A drama of human progress: the stage is set

“If we don’t address conflict and fragility we stand no chance of eradicating poverty by 2030”. 
“Without peace and stability it is just not possible to build institutions or achieve economic development”. 
“we chose to unite the people ahead of any other target; nothing else was possible without that.”
Three voices which sound like they come from a peacebuilding NGO’s advocate in one of the many meetings during this week’s lobby-fest in New York at the UN General Assembly. Yet these were the words of Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Minister of Foreign Affairs Gutierrez of East Timor and a Ministry of Development spokesperson from Rwanda. Their point, echoed by many of the poorest and richest states alike this week, was that good governance is basic good development: not a niche concern. And without it, there is no chance of realising a vision of a world without extreme poverty.

So here were conclusions based on evidence, experience and what local people themselves had said very clearly in the many consultations to date. It was summarised by former High Level Panel member John Podesta:
"We know that without strong and accountable institutions, development just doesn't work over the long run ... there is increasing recognition that we need to get things like institutions and transparency right as part of the post 2015 agenda."

To add to the feel good factor for those of us advocating this holistic vision of human progress, where the rule of law and human rights are considered as essential building blocks of all nation states, we saw the Outcome Document agreed by the General Assembly, which was equally clear about the integral nature of political as well as social and economic ambitions.


This week was also marked for me by the slow but clear emergence of the spoilers. Having kept their heads down thus far, amid the fanfare of the High Level Panel and the numerous “global conversation” consultations through which people at the grassroots said loudly and clearly that they too viewed a future in which they could play a meaningful role, this week saw the inevitable pushback begin.

John Ashe
John Ashe, the new President of the General Assembly, launched a unique hybrid body called the High Level Political Forum which was agreed at the Rio+20 conference.

Among the roles of the Forum is to:
“…provide political leadership, guidance and recommendations for sustainable development”.

In so doing it will meet at Ministerial level every year with each resulting in a negotiated declaration. The Forum is thus emerging as the key centre of power which will take on added importance as the Open Working Group concludes its business in September 2014. In other words, this is where the deal will be done in 2015. It's important. 

Worrying, then, that Mr Ashe described the Forum as starting from a “clean slate” and that the Outcome Document dismissed all of that bottom-up consultation as just a “useful input”. This week also saw several other members of the G77 group of developing countries voicing scepticism and even outright opposition to the idea of including anything related to governance, justice or peace in the next incarnation of a global development agenda.  And that reference to peace and stability in the Outcome Document? It was taken out and then negotiated back in again at the last minute.

Here's what some members of the G77 found grossly offensive and tried to remove:
"[The post 2015 framework should] ... promote peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights for all."
Outrageous I think you'll agree. 

To me it's redolent of how the inspirational vision of a world in which everyone had a stake enshrined in the Millennium Declaration was eventually negotiated down to a set of targets that bore little or no relation to those ideals and predictably did little for the poorest as a result.

Thus, just when you thought it might be safe to start looking forward to a holistic global approach to development, the stage is set for at least two more acts of high drama and even higher stakes. In Act II the Open Working Group will debate in December the needs of LDCs and countries in “special situations”, governance and human rights before convening in February to talk directly about conflict, rule of law and equality. In parallel the African Union will consider the implications of the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, a way of doing development that places the relationship between citizens and their governments at the core, and the General Assembly under the stewardship of John Ashe will stage a series of thematic debates, including one on conflict, before the Open Working Group finally present the report of their deliberations to the Secretary General in September 2014.

Act III of the drama will therefore likely centre on the High Level Political Forum, and many predict will be the least likely to involve civil society. This is despite the claims made in the UN's own video above.

And there is the rub. At almost every one of the many meetings I took part in this week we were told by Heads of State, senior UN officials and others that the voice of civil society, the views of people themselves, were critical. But this was usually followed by a formal set of statements on the floor of the General Assembly from Governments that seemed to bear little resemblance to the key findings already established: not just that communities themselves wanted clear political rights and protections but that the evidence illustrated you simply could not achieve even narrowly defined technical objectives without adequately addressing inequality, injustice and people’s views.

Thus the challenge for progressive voices, it seems to me, is both global and local. 

Globally civil society in all its forms needs to hold these intergovernmental actors to account and keep the drama on the main stage, lit up for all to see. That means attending and observing meetings, putting on their own events and reporting the discussions widely. When I challenged an official working on the High Level Political Forum for 2014 this week about what a “clean slate” meant, he immediately started to backtrack, emphasising how they would learn from what people had already told decision  makers through the consultations after all. Public pressure works and the international system feels obliged to respond when the spotlight is shining.

Easy to get lost in here
Local, however, is the real key here. Outside of the vortex of New York, which seems to be populated by elites from permanent missions, NGOs and business folk who somehow navigate the labyrinthine combination of meetings, acronyms and processes; national governments need to be held to account by their own populations for what their representatives are saying on their behalf. It becomes all the harder for recalcitrant governments to claim that all of this rights, justice and peace stuff is a Northern inspired agenda (which many do) when their own people are vocally, visibly and volubly making the same case. 

At the end of this week I am left with a sense of hope that the very clear message local people expressed for a development agenda that was based on open government, transparency, rule of law and justice has been protected for the next stage of the drama ahead. As one permanent representative of a conflict scarred country emphatically told me - "it's in the Outcome Document. And they're not taking it out again." 

The first pushback failed. But that the pushback has begun is beyond doubt. The stage is set, and the stakes are high. 

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Post 2015: Business as Usual is not an option

At a special meeting on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in September the Open Working Group of the UN General Assembly on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) will become the principal international forum for debating what framework replaces the MDGs in 2015. International Alert, for whom I work, this week published a briefing intended to assist them in that work and to stimulate debate among others. We hope it is a helpful addition to the debate.


  • Evidence and experience illustrates that to achieve human progress the post 2015 development framework must place the development of open, transparent and accountable government at its core. Failure to include this in the MDG framework left the poorest and most vulnerable behind.
  • A new framework must take into account new global realities, including the emergence of shared challenges and threats.
  • The global framework must recognise the unique circumstances of each country by enabling a flexible pursuit of a single global vision with nationally specific goals.
  • The New Deal pilots offer practical insights into the barriers and opportunities of operationalising a participatory and explicitly political approach to development, based on a holistic framework. They provide valuable practical evidence for the OWG to use in its deliberations.
  • Accountability, transparency and effectiveness are intricately linked. It is not possible to generate sustainable development without oversight or open participation.
  • Development is not achieved if the private sector cannot function and grow. The post-2015 framework must create the national conditions for this.
  • The OWG must actively solicit the expertise of academia, science, civil society, regional intergovernmental bodies and the private sector in developing its report.

Civil society, intergovernmental bodies and the private sector must also rise to the challenge by making their voices heard, and coalescing as far as possible around the evidence and insight of the High Level Panel report; supporting the OWG in its critical work of synthesising those conclusions with complementary themes arising from the Sustainable Development discourse and the findings of the UN Task Team consultations to date.


Development is a political process. Yet the approach taken to achieving development as set out by the Millennium Development Goals since 2000 is explicitly non-political, favouring a socio-economic set of mainly technical targets. People in fragile countries where political institutions are weak, legitimacy is contested and violence is widespread have made little or no progress. The poorest were left behind.

1.5 billion people and 50% of the world’s poor live in parts of the world that are threatened by armed violence. The international community categorises these places as “conflict affected states” and regards them as separate to the rest of what is called “international development”. The problem with that approach is that it serves neither those areas affected by violence nor those countries fortunate enough to experience relative calm. Development is not simply a socio-economic process, whether in conflict affected or relatively peaceful societies. It is inherently political in both, which means the lessons from conflict affected areas are applicable to all.

Reaching the poorest

No fragile or conflict affected state has made significant progress in the globally defined fight against poverty as measured by the MDGs. The reason, as the World Development Report of 2011 told us, was that the MDGs were the wrong targets measured in the wrong way. Technical targets had replaced the inclusive political vision set out in the Millennium Declaration, implying that socio-economic progress could be achieved without addressing the unique political circumstances of each country. The report called for a “fundamental rethink”[1], citing human security, justice and jobs as essential elements of a revised and more holistic approach. Despite some limited progress since the 2011 report, with 20 conflict affected states meeting one or more targets[2], the World Bank Director recently observed:
“…While these successes offer hope, the reality is that far too many fragile and conflict-affected countries lag behind the rest of the world[3]”.
A New Deal? 

The emergence of the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States (‘New Deal’) is one attempt to try a new approach. Based on a broad narrative of progress, the New Deal proposes a mechanism through which government and citizens of fragile countries can work together with outside agencies to define a unique strategy for reducing fragility and thus building resilience. Each strategy looks at security, justice, the legitimacy of the political system and culture, the economy, tax revenues and the provision of services, in a framework which highlights some of the indicators of fragility. The New Deal recognises the primacy of national actors, as well as the role and relevance of donors and intergovernmental organisations, aiming to redefine the donor-recipient relationship as a different kind of partnership while also formalising the need for domestic civil society organisations to play an essential role in governance. While the New Deal emerged out of a conversation between states facing conflict and donor partners, its pilot implementation in seven countries now offers practical insights into the opportunities and barriers faced when a new development process is attempted in some of the most challenging and complex environments.

The New Deal is not a perfectly working model, but a generally applicable framework that has experienced challenges as well as successes in its adaptation to each context. It represents an important source of experience of what works and what doesn’t when attempting a more holistic approach to development, and is thus of critical importance to the OWG.

Multiple, parallel processes

To date there have emerged three separate processes concentrating on the future of development after 2015. They are represented by the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons established by the UN Secretary General (High Level Panel), the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development (OWG) arising out of the Rio+20 Sustainable Development conference and the Expert Committee on Sustainable Financing for Development[4], also arising out of the Rio+20 process. This has resulted in duplication of resources and, particularly in the case of the Expert Committee, risks the emergence of a financial framework that does not take account of the new vision of development likely to emerge out of the OWG.

A different world

The world meets to discuss these questions amid changed circumstances, compared with 2000. Among them are shared global threats and issues that have come into much sharper focus since then. These include climate change and other environmental threats, the continuing impact of the economic crisis of 2008, international terrorism, the desire for political and economic transformation illustrated by the Arab Spring, and the opportunities presented by the rise of new and emerging powers who are rightly not prepared to play a passive role.

In that context putting politics at the heart of development is difficult. There are genuine tensions between donors and recipient governments which can appear to challenge sovereignty. The fragility and lack of space in political systems in many developing countries make it hard for even well-meaning governments and their citizens to engage constructively. Countries are represented in the international system by the governments in power, whether or not they are the legitimate voice of all of their people. Donor countries meanwhile are under considerable pressure to justify their international aid contributions. Yet despite these very real difficulties, the overwhelming evidence of the limit to how far the current approach represented by the MDGs can transform lives means the debate cannot be ignored.

The challenge in front of us, therefore, is to create opportunities for positive collaboration while avoiding the temptation created by political sensitivities and the global economic slowdown to revert to a business-as-usual approach. This would allow governments to illustrate short term results to voters but would do little or nothing to meaningfully tackle the long term and deep rooted political factors that prevent a genuinely transformative development agenda. That in turn means making little if any progress towards achieving the goal set out by the High Level Panel to “…eradicate extreme poverty from the face of the earth.[5]

In recognition of the challenge we make the following suggestions as a contribution to the debate within the OWG. These are organised in three categories. First we address what kind of mechanism ought to be used instead of the MDGs. Next we discuss the substance, and finally we make recommendations about the process the OWG might follow.


The mechanism for post-2015 needs to learn from both the strengths and weaknesses of the MDGs. Having a single model was a strength because it became a rallying point. But it got in the way of context-specific strategies. The MDGs therefore incentivised some unfortunate as well as some positive kinds of behaviour by governments and other actors. Accountability is key, but accountability of governments to their citizens is worth a great deal more in terms of development, than accountability in an international system. The MDGs themselves were global goals which were applied in each country irrespective of local circumstances. Such an approach, in hindsight, was always bound to fail in fragile contexts where accountability and open government was weakest.

Global vision, national goals

Without a global vision it would be difficult to mobilise resources and sustain the commitment of governments but by definition a single vision does not address every country’s specific issues. International Alert, drawing on its experience in over 25 conflict-affected countries and territories, proposes that a single global vision has to be augmented by national indicators of progress. This offers the best prospect of getting the best from a single model and avoiding its disadvantages[6]. There are several possible mechanisms that such an approach could adopt, such as that set forward by over 50 peacebuilding and development organisations in 2012[7]. This is in line with the declaration made in The Future We Want report arising from the Rio+20 conference which states[8]:
“We recognize that progress towards the achievement of the goals needs to be assessed and accompanied by targets and indicators, while taking into account different national circumstances, capacities and levels of development”.
Accountability, transparency & effectiveness

Experience since 2000 also shows, however, that whichever mechanism is adopted must have accountability and transparency at its core, so that all those engaged can be held to account for their actions and contribution. This, in turn, relies on a politically engaged and aware population which is only possible through genuinely participatory politics, free from violence or repression. The Administrator of UNDP Helen Clark outlined the connection between political participation and developmental effectiveness to an audience of African leaders in Senegal in 2012:
“… more politically aware populations have also led to improvements in the accountability and responsiveness of a number of African governments. That, in turn, helps make government policies more effective and inclusive[9]”.
In other words, a politically engaged population is an essential part of effective policy making leading to sustainable development. The High Level Panel, UN Task Team Global Consultation, New Deal, World Development Report 2011 and numerous research reports from multiple perspectives all point to the need to place open, transparent and accountable government at the core of any approach to achieving human progress in a post 2015 development framework. Doing this will create a kind of virtuous circle, in which citizens of developing countries have a say in the elaboration of development strategies, in which they participate and for which they hold their governments to account; and in so doing the habits of participation and accountability are embedded in the political culture, thus contributing to developmental progress.

Finance fit for purpose

Experience, history and evidence illustrates that economic growth led by a vibrant national private sector is an essential pre-requisite for development. Indeed, it can be argued that most development is financed, or at least resourced, by individuals and families. Yet much of the current debate around financing for development remains rooted in the old idea of transfers from rich to poor, as represented by the debates surrounding the target of 0.7% of GDP being allocated by donor countries to the developing world. A more sophisticated conversation is needed about how national and local economies can developed and provide a sustainable route out of poverty and toward shared prosperity. It is well understood today that tax revenues are an essential part of the picture, not only for a reliable and autonomous source of financing but also because tax systems encourage government accountability. A key enabling element for that is the rule of law. This enhances consent to being taxed and lets the private sector operate in a predictable framework of regulation rather than on the arbitrary basis of networks, alliances and nepotism, which in turn encourages Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). It is tremendously important that the OWG’s discussion of financing mechanisms focuses at least as much on revenues generated in country, and on FDI, as on aid mechanisms and transfers.


Taking as a given that a holistic approach to development – including political, as well as social and economic factors – represents the only effective way to achieve genuine human progress, the OWG’s work will benefit by drawing on the High Level Panel report of 2013 and the New Deal.

Taking the Rio +20 Sustainable Development strand as its starting point, the OWG may make its greatest contribution between March and late 2014 by synthesising the HLP ideas and the New Deal principles into a coherent vision to be used as the basis for negotiations in 2015. We draw out the following elements of each strand and urge the OWG to reflect these elements at a minimum in their final outcome document due in September 2014.

The High Level Panel report redefined development. Highlighting the need to “build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all” as one of five transformative shifts needed to achieve genuine development for all, it argued that:
“We must acknowledge a principal lesson of the MDGs: that peace and access to justice are not only fundamental human aspirations but cornerstones of sustainable development”.
Inter alia this means that paying attention to the relationships between people and between people and their governments is a critical factor in any effective approach to sustainable development. The report set out how this could be defined and measured in a post-2015 framework by suggesting two key goals: Ensure Good Governance and Effective Institutions and Ensure Stable and Peaceful Societies. In addition the report sets out indicators of progress that would ensure “no one is left behind” by calling for data to be disaggregated and that targets “…should only be considered ‘achieved’ if they are met for all relevant income and social groups”.

In addition, and building on the evidence of what works, the New Deal places these relationships at the core of a new and participatory form of governance as a basis for good development. The Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs) currently being piloted in 7 countries are[10]:
  • Legitimate politics: fostering inclusive political settlements and conflict resolution 
  • Security: establishing and strengthening people’s security 
  • Justice: addressing injustices and increasing people’s access to justice 
  • Economic foundations: generating employment and improving people’s livelihoods
  • Revenue & Services: managing revenue and building capacity for accountable and fair service delivery
The OWG can thus build on insights gained through the New Deal so far and draw on practical experience of the barriers and opportunities encountered in pioneering this new way of framing and operationalising development. We urge the OWG to seek the input of those pilot countries in order to utilise their expertise alongside the findings of the High level Panel.

The OWG can and should integrate them into its deliberations and final report to the UN Secretary General in September 2014, which we expect to frame development in a broad and holistic framework, just as the HLP did.


The OWG is a new and innovative inter-governmental structure. There are challenges both to its member states but also to civil society and the private sector to ensure its success. Just as we challenge member states, so civil society, businesses and others wanting to get involved must also rise to those challenges, rather than waiting to be asked.

The Rio+20 outcome document The Future We Want states that the OWG will develop ways of ensuring the full involvement of relevant stakeholders and expertise from civil society, the scientific community and the United Nations system in its work, in order to provide a diversity of perspectives and experience. This is welcome, necessary and critical. We urge the OWG to draw on each of these three constituencies in the drafting stage of the final report due in September 2014.

We also urge the OWG to engage regional intergovernmental bodies and the domestic constituencies of member states as equally important stakeholders and future implementers.

In responding to the invitation to contribute to the OWG, members of civil society must continue to push for their interests and ideas, but we strongly suggest that they now start to coalesce around the emerging perspectives outlined in the High Level Panel report; at least as far as the substance of the new framework is concerned.

The private sector is an essential feature of development and is therefore a critical voice. Yet few leaders of industry are involved thus far. They are taking a leadership role and must encourage others to follow suit.

While the OWG is now the principal international forum for the substantive elements of the development debate it is not operating in a vacuum, since the Expert Committee for the Financing of Sustainable Development is meeting in parallel. Both the OWG and members of the Expert Committee must synchronise their efforts to avoid contradictory conclusions.


None of these challenges is beyond the capacity of our collective efforts. What is needed is a new and participatory approach – involving States, civil society and the private sector at global, national and local levels. There are plenty of good ideas in the public domain. The experience of the New Deal is already highlighting the opportunities and challenges of implementing a new partnership based on participatory politics, open government, transparency and accountability, and using a broad holistic development framework. At the global and the local level there are formidable challenges of co-ordination, domestic politics, economic uncertainty and rapidly changing circumstances in many of the countries that have made least progress thus far. Conflict and fragility affects at least 1.5 billion people, and it is they who need the international community to rise to these challenges the most.

[1] World Development Report, 2011
[2] World Bank Global Monitoring Report, 2013
[5] A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development: The report of the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Agenda (2013) p7
[6] Vernon, P, Baksh, D (2010) Working with the Grain to Change the Grain, International Alert – puts forward a set of possible goals and indicators
[7] Bringing peace in to the Post 2015 Framework (2012) A joint statement by civil society organisations