As you might expect, we’ve had a lot of response to the working proposal for a post-2015 development framework that we published last week. Three main points emerged, and I’ll summarise them in separate posts..
The great majority of responses came back privately, so I won’t name names. We’re grateful for all of it, including all the nice things – but I’m going to focus only on the elements that raised questions of the proposal.
As a quick reminder, the proposal set out ten goals, seeking to build on the strengths of the current MDGs (including clarity and communicability) and to addresss the weaknesses (to treat more seriously inequality, sustainability and accountability).
I’ll start here with the most direct criticism that we’ve received – interestingly, both from NGOs (North and South) and from, er, within a major DC-based institution. The criticism is that the proposal is deeply unambitious – either politically or substantively. Subsequent posts will deal with points raised on inequality and on sustainability, so here I focus mainly on the question of political ambition.
At a moment when the High Level Panel still has a more or less blank sheet of paper, when the UN’s global consultations are open and the serious politicking hasn’t even been begun, the argument goes, why would Save present a proposal for “MDGs plus”, rather than throwing out a series of more creative or radical ideas to see what may get traction?
There are probably a number of reasons for this. One is that Save has national members with quite different positions, from Japan to Brazil, and from India to the USA via Norway; as well as thematic experts on a whole range of policy and programmatic issues. The report was not a piece of free thinking, but a first attempt to line all of these up on a more or less common position; so it’s perhaps inevitable that the proposal didn’t get top marks for creative radicalism(!). Of course, there’s a lesson there for the actual process; that we probably need to be realistic about the limitations on a process that prioritises inclusivity. That doesn’t mean that we should accept a lowest common denominator outcome that closely resembles the MDGs; and for what it’s worth, I don’t think the Save proposal is that.
There’s an old episode of the UK political satire ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ (this one, I think) in which the senior civil servant explains to the new Prime Minister that if he wants to say something truly radical in his television broadcast he must have a very traditional presentation and background (sitting behind a big oak desk, with photos of the family, etc) so that people are reassured; while if he plans to say nothing new at all, he should have an eye-catching, modern background to stop people noticing.
I’m not saying that Save’s proposal is an attempt to smuggle through a wildly radical manifesto under cover of a very MDG-like format; but I do think there’s more to it than perhaps meets the eye at first (for example, focusing on tax to capture accountability, as well as being a measure of financial independence).
From discussions with external stakeholders – from developing country and donor agency officials to academic experts, we know that readers did see the potential for a comprehensive approach to key social, economic and environmental challenges facing the world today.
It’s also true that one of the main concerns in publishing the proposal was to encourage some focus on more tangible aspects of the post-2015 conversation. While there is still a couple of years to go in the main process, the High Level Panel has to report in a few months; and discussions of conceptual complexity are not necessarily the most useful input they could have. What I hope the proposal does is not to close any doors but simply to highlight some of the ways in which failings of the MDGs can be straightforwardly addressed.
Could it have done that in a less ‘traditional’ framework? Of course. Would it have been as useful a starting point? I’m not sure.
Perhaps we should be more worried about the criticism that the proposal lacks ambition in terms of its substance. As mentioned, the next posts will deal with specific points raised on inequality and sustainability, including the relevance of ‘dollar a day’-type poverty measures. Your thoughts as ever most welcome…