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SDGs: it’s NOT just about data

Posted on 30/10/2017
By Myn Garcia
Flickr CC Judson Weinsheimer

It has been buzzing in development circles. But it seems stronger now in certain places. It’s the buzz on the data revolution.

And there is also a lot of talk about the need for people in the margins to participate in the monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But what does the data revolution mean? And what would it take for citizens to be interested in monitoring the SDGs?

The Participate Initiative’s Policy Brief, Using knowledge from the margins to meet the SDGs: the real data revolution says that ‘the ultimate success or failure of the SDGs depends, in large part, on inclusion.’ Indeed, inclusion is key. But what does inclusion look like? What does it take for the SDG process to be genuinely inclusive in a governance context? SDG 16 is regarded as the goal that would ‘unlock’ the SDG framework and fulfil the ‘ambition to leave no one behind.’ But how?

‘Arguably, localisation is about taking the SDG agenda back to its roots, where the difference matters and where it actually matters most.’

Domestication and localisation of the SDGs is an effort that is currently underway in many countries. Dissecting how it works allows us to understand facets of inclusion. To say localisation gives one the impression that the process now should be driven from the top to the ground after a set of global goals have been agreed. Lest we forget, the goals were arrived at after civil society, community-based organisations and NGOs were consulted (perhaps over consulted) in developing the architecture for the Post 2015 Development Agenda. Arguably, localisation is about taking the SDG agenda back to its roots, where the difference matters and where it actually matters most.

One of the tasks at hand for the sustainable agenda “unanimously adopted by 193 UN members” is to ensure the domestication of the agenda into national development plans and / or poverty reduction strategies of countries and that these are informed and influenced by local development plans developed through processes that are participatory, formal and informal.

‘Inclusion in governance undeniably requires political will and is complex, embedded in a system.’

A decentralised structure of governance allows for people’s participation at the local level with citizens engaging with local authorities and councils. Conversations with civil society, local authorities and local councils in some Commonwealth countries raised the challenges to decentralisation. But they also pointed to some of the enabling processes:

  1. Formal, institutional spaces designed for citizen to engage and have the authority to input in or influence decision-making processes such as local planning and budgeting. This may come in the form of membership in local councils and service delivery committees, among others
  2. Informal engagements such as citizen led mobilisation, advocacy campaigns and community-based dialogues on issues that policy makers would be able to consider for the agenda of both the executive and legislative council, for example
  3. Raising awareness of citizens’ rights in areas that matter to them such as delivery of services; enabling citizens to engage more constructively and confidently
  4. Citizen-generated and evidence based data which includes citizen scorecard and gender barometer and individual or collective stories and testimonials which would facilitate dialogues and other inclusive processes between government and citizens
  5. Citizens access to information and protection of fundamental freedoms
  6. Collective action and social movements that connect people in the margins to people in power- in government, civil society and wider society including the media, donours and the private sector

Inclusion in governance undeniably requires political will and is complex, embedded in a system. Inclusion engenders accountability which should be understood within a system characterised by the nature of power and economic, cultural and social contexts. It requires an integrated approach at different levels in a web of interconnections. It certainly can’t work through ‘one-off processes of consultation or narrow citizen-monitoring mechanisms‘. It is definitely not just about data.

Myn Garcia is the Deputy Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation. Image credit: Flickr CC Judson Weinsheimer