Post 2015 Development Goals

Written evidence submitted by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) [1]

Lessons from the MDG framework and why governance matters

Lessons learned from the adoption of the International Development Targets and the Millennium Development Goals: in particular how effective has the MDG process been to date

1. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been an influential framework for global development cooperation, shaping the international discourse and driving the allocation of resources towards key global development priorities. They have received unprecedented political commitment and reflect a strong consensus for tackling poverty and other development problems. [2]

2. An essential component of their strength and appeal is that they embody clear and concrete goals with measurable targets and indicators on social sectors like health and education. [3]

3. However, the MDG framework is silent on governance, which today is recognised as a critical factor in enabling d evelopment and making the attainment of the millennium goals possible in the first place . [4]

4. While governance concerns were debated in the formulation of the MDGs – and are mentioned in the preamble – they were not included in specific targets. This is partly because they can be harder to quantify, but perhaps more fundamentally, because these are inherently political issues that can be very sensitive. We discuss this further below.

5. As a growing body of research suggests, governance structures and dynamics are essential in shaping development outcomes and in explaining differences in progress between countries.

6. For example, Nepal has made significant progress in improving maternal health care through the devolution of decision-making to local bodies to ensure greater equity of services across the country, as well as through processes to strengthen oversight and accountability between different stakeholders, including the government, service providers, and local communities. [5] And while it is a controversial case, Rwanda has also made considerable strides in maternal health, linked to forms of governance that allow for both top-down and bottom-up monitoring, which build on existing local mechanisms for user feedback and redress. [6] Conversely, governance gaps such as lack of policy coherence and accountability for performance have contributed to an under-provision of maternal health services in Malawi, Uganda and Niger. [7]

Implications for a post-2015 framework

The process: are the right voices being heard? What are the opportunities for and constraints to global consensus?

7. The lack of concrete targets on governance in the MDG framework is not accidental. The prospect of a measurable goal on governance was negotiated out of the final objectives because of reservations about including areas considered to be the domain of domestic affairs and therefore too politically intrusive to address at a global level. [8]

8. Political sensitivities are as relevant now as they were in 2000. A crucial challenge that therefore needs to be addressed is that the policy push for building governance, or even transparency and accountability, into a future development framework is widely perceived across the developing world as driven by OECD DAC donors and other influential Northern actors.

9. It is also associated with the "good governance" agenda that has come to define much international development thinking and practice since the 1990s. This agenda can be rather normative and prescriptive, based on idealised models of governance that do not adequately reflect contextual realities. There is also recognition that it may impose standards that are too high for countries in the developing world - particularly those that are fragile or conflict-afflicted. [9]

10. Thus, the scope to balance historically Northern-led agendas with the political perspectives of less aligned country groupings, such as the G77 or emerging powers, will be a strong determinant of whether any proposals to address governance factors will be seen as legitimate among the range of stakeholders.

11. How any governance objectives are framed is therefore likely to play a key role in determining the outcome of the process.

Transparency and accountability as an entry point for governance in a post-2015 framework ?

12. Debates on how governance issues could factor in a new development consensus remain very op en. However, there has been growing momentum around the idea of building transparency and accountability (T&A) into a future framework, with calls emerging from a variety of stakeholders in both the North and the South, including within the UN, civil society coalitions, and particular member states.

13. Building on the 2004 World Development Report (WDR), which identified systems and relationships of accountability as the main cause of failures in service delivery, T&A are increasingly seen as essential factors in both promoting more effective governance and more responsive institutions, and improving development outcomes, especially around service delivery.

14. This is reflected in the increasing number of transparency and accountability initiatives (TAIs) that have emerged at both the global and the domestic level in recent years. This includes, for example, the Open Government Partnership (OGP), which arose from the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan. The OGP has generated extensive high-level political momentum behind a transparency agenda, and already has 57 countries on board since it was launched only one year ago. Of these, 45 countries are already delivering on new commitments to improve domestic transparency, such as major legislative changes on access to information about public services and public expenses in Brazil.

15. There are different interpretations/types of T&A and what they can achieve. Some would consider T&A to have potential for building greater accountability for service delivery and performance, linking service providers directly with users (what the 2004 WDR refers to as the "short route" of accountability). For many, T&A are also a path to greater citizen voice and enhancing development effectiveness from the bottom up (or the "long route"). As a result, in recent years we have seen a proliferation of bottom-up or "demand-side" mechanisms to hold decision-makers to account, alongside more traditional forms of accountability such as elections.

16. Whether they focus on the short or the long route of accountability, the argument informing many of these initiatives is that T&A are essential because a well-informed and aware citizenry is better able to hold decision-makers to account, be they service providers, government officials, or elected representatives. Greater transparency and access to information provides a framework for the population to become informed about their rights, service standards, and performance in service delivery. Citizens are thus empowered to hold decision-makers responsible and answerable for their actions, which in turn should help to tackle corruption, promote more effective service delivery, and ensure resources are being used efficiently.

17. This thinking on T&A is also central to UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘golden thread’ policy narrative. A cornerstone of this narrative, which he brings to his role as co-chair of the post-2015 UN High Level Panel, is that more open and transparent societies (alongside more open economies) will lead to greater development. [10]

18. However, as appealing as these assumptions about the centrality of T&A to both improved governance and development outcomes are from a normative perspective, it is essential to emphasise that whether and how TAIs work in practice is a different matter – and their importance should not be exaggerated without taking into account broader contextual factors.

19. There is some evidence on domestic accountabilities strengthening the quality of governance (especially in terms of state-society relations), as well as supporting development outcomes. For example, in a survey from 100 case studies assessing the effects of TAIs focused on citizen engagement and participation, Gaventa and Barrett [11] find significant positive impacts in 75 per cent of the cases. [12]

20. Moreover, there is also potential for international agreements and networks to galvanise change (such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the International Aid Transparency Initiative, and the Open Government Partnership).

21. Yet evidence remains much more mixed as to which forms of governance or accountability best support outcomes in specific contexts. Recent studies highlight the need to question common assumptions on the links between TAIs and improved governance and development outcomes, pointing to the role of the wider context, and specifically whether key ‘enabling factors’ are present.

22. For example, a study by researchers at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) on the existing evidence on TAIs finds that many initiatives assume that transparency and citizen or user oversight will address corruption or institutional inefficiencies. Yet the review highlights the extent to which the effectiveness of reforms was in many cases reliant on broader external factors. For example, in the well-known case of participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, improved outcomes reflected a long history of civic engagement and political leadership committed to its success. [13]

23. There is also scope for Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) to support aspects of governance, particularly in their potential to enhance the effectiveness of initiatives for transparency and accountability by strengthening information flows between actors, and thereby ensuring more responsive service provision (e.g. the East African Twaweza initiative). However, in order to realise the potential of new technologies to support development, it is (once again) crucial to recognise the role of context. Evidence indicates that the potential for ICTs to enhance accountabilities is dependent on which actors are involved and on their own incentives. Moreover, experience to date with technologically enabled TAIs indicates that the potential of users and existing systems must become the driving factors behind these, rather than technologies themselves.

24. Political economy factors, including the ways communities are organised, strength of civil society groupings, the capacity of coalitions to advocate for reform, and the legal and media environments, are also crucial in enabling or undermining the effectiveness of TAIs – and ultimately the quality of service provision. [14]

25. Finally, institutional capacity (to overcome policy incoherence, or to build performance monitoring, etc.) is another key part of the story, but it is not currently captured by the narrower focus of most TAIs to date.

Considerations on potential goals and targets

The content of future goals: what would be a good set of global goals? What continuity should there be with the MDGs, and how should the unfulfilled MDGs be taken forward?

26. There are two dimensions of the debate that merit particular attention in considering future development goals: 1) whether there should be governance specific goals (with governance understood here as having intrinsic value in and of itself), or 2) whether governance should be included as a cross-cutting factor that is essential to achieve (other) development goals (governance as instrumental).

27. The first option, of a stand-alone goal on governance (or on transparency and accountability as a central pillar of governance), is more ambitious but also perhaps more challenging.

28. On the one hand, transparency or access to information may provide a more quantifiable and measurable goal for governance, which could contribute to the appeal of a target framed along these lines. This could also offer an opportunity to generate necessary resources and interest to take governance more seriously in a future development framework.

29. On the other hand, it is also essential to acknowledge that many key aspects of the T&A agenda are likely to be beyond statistics and conventional data or measurement. Moreover, as discussed, T&A are only one dimension of a much broader institutional landscape, and while they may be important in their own right, they alone are not likely to provide a panacea to challenges of governance and development. Perhaps most fundamentally, a stand-alone goal on governance would come against the issues that have been raised above related to the normative quality that informs much of the thinking around T&A and the good governance agenda more broadly.

30. The second option, addressing governance (and T&A in particular) as a cross-cutting objective, presents different opportunities and challenges to potentially strengthen the effectiveness of outcomes across other development goals. Including transparency and accountability as a cross-cutting theme, where their value can be assessed not necessarily on normative terms but in terms of the difference they can make to development outcomes, could help assuage political sensitivities associated with an agenda widely perceived as being driven by the North.

31. Yet a major challenge lies in the lack of an evidence base that is sufficiently robust and well grounded. This remains a challenge and it means that any targets will need to distinguish between areas where there is a firmer evidence base and those which still stem from normative commitments but have not yet been properly tested. For example, much policy discourse on the linkages between T&A and improved development outcomes has continued to rely on assumptions about the power of transparency and access to information to improve services, regardless of the wider governance and accountability factors that also influence outcomes. [15]

Concluding remarks

32. If policy approaches to governance among some influential actors continue to be framed by normative discourse, there will be a risk to the legitimacy of any proposals for a goal on governance. In the lead up to international agreement on the MDGs, efforts to reach consensus on political areas considered to be at the heart of domestic affairs failed due to resistance among a number of UN member states. [16] Negotiations on a post-2015 agreement will be even more about reaching consensus across the political spectrum than the MDGs were, and there is no indication that there would be a substantial shift from these positions. There is therefore a risk of a standalone goal on governance being particularly unpopular among emerging donors and developing country groupings. [17]

33. As a starting point to build political consensus on addressing governance in a new development framework, proposals could clarify simple building blocks for global consensus, with options for differentiation on concrete targets or indicators. [18] Differentiation could happen at regional or national levels. For instance, regions or countries could agree to over-arching objectives, but set targets and indicators for these based on areas where strengthening accountabilities would have most impact in that context, taking account of existing political and institutional dynamics. While country or regional differentiation on any future transparency and accountability objectives runs the risk of lowering levels of ambition in some contexts, this should be balanced against the risk of any proposed global objectives being watered down for all countries or excluded altogether from a future framework due to political reservations.

October 2012


[1] This submission has b een written by Gina Bergh and Alina Rocha Menocal with Leni Wild and Marta Foresti , all researchers at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) . The views expressed and any errors of fact a nd judgement remain the responsibility of the authors, and are not intended to constitute an institutional , ODI view .

[2] Melamed, C. ( 201 2) After 2015: contexts, politics and processes for a post-2015 global agreement on development. London: Overseas Development Institute.

[3] Ibid

[4] Report by the Commission on Growth and Development (2008) The Growth Report: Strategies for Sustained Growth and Inclusive Development . Washington DC: World Bank, among others

[5] Wild, L. and G. Bergh (unpublished) The relationship between democratic governance and MDG achievement: A literature review . United Nations Development Programme /Overseas Development Institute.

[6] Chambers, V. and D. Booth (2012) Delivering Maternal health: Why is Rwanda doing better than Malawi, Niger and Uganda? ODI Briefing Paper, London: Overseas development Institute.

[7] Ibid

[8] UNDP (2012) Measuring Democracy and Democratic Governance in a post-2015 Development Framework. United Nations Development Programme Discussion Paper

[9] See Rocha Menocal , Grindle , Booth, Unsworth , and Pritchett, among others:

[9] Rocha Menocal, A. (2011) Analysing the relationship between democracy and development - Defining basic concepts and assessing key linkages . Commonwealth Good Governance 2011/12

[9] Booth, D. (2011) ‘Towards a theory of local governance and public goods provision’, in IDS Bulletin , 42:2 pp. 11-21, Brighton: Institute of Development Studies

[9] Unsworth , S. (ed.) (2010) An Upside Down View of Governance , Centre for the Future State, Brighton: Institute of Development Studies

[9] Pritchett, L. and M. Woolcock (2004) ‘When the Solution is the Problem: Arraying the Disarray in Development’, in World Development , 32:2, pp. 191-212

[9]

[10] http://www.dfid.gov.uk/News/Latest-news/2012/PM-chair-UN-panel-on-development/

[11] Gaventa , J. & Barrett, G. (2010) So What Difference Does it Make? Mapping the Outcomes of Citizen Engagement. Citizenship, Participation and Accountability Development Research Centre Working Paper 347. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.

[12] Within this they find that over 70 per cent of the initiatives produced positive outcomes in terms of the impact of citizen engagement activities on the responsiveness and accountability of states. Citizen mobilisation or engagement were found to have led to national level policy changes across several countries (Brazil, Mexico, Chile, South Africa and the Philippines), and in others these TAIs made concrete contributions to improved development outcomes and service delivery in the areas of health and education, food and livelihoods, and the provision of water and housing.

[13] McGee, R. & J. Gaventa (2011) Synthesis report: Review of impact and effectiveness of transparency and accountability initiatives. London: Transparency and Accountability Initiative.

[14] Joshi, A. (2010) Annex 1, Service Delivery: Review of impact and effectiveness of transparency and accountability initiatives . London: Institute of Development Studies

[15] Joshi, A. (2010) Annex 1, Service Delivery: Review of impact and effectiveness of transparency and accountability initiatives . London: Institute of Development Studies

[16] UNDP (2012) Measuring Democracy and Democratic Governance in a post-2015 Development Framework United Nations Development Programme Discussion Paper

[17] Ibid

[18] Beyond2015 (2012) Beyond 2015 Submission to the EC Public Consultation “Towards a post-2015 development framework” Version 2 – 01.08.12

Prepared 16th October 2012