On having Voice and Being Heard: Participation in the Post-2015 Policy Process

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Elizabeth Mills

Elizabeth Mills

From their inception and formal agreement in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have played a significant (and also ambivalent) role in shaping policy agendas, directing aid around the globe, to combat poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women. This week, the Post-2015 UN High-Level Panel convenes in London to discuss the shape that the future global development agenda will take following 2015.

The Participate team will use this blog and Twitter to provide a unique window into the the discussions taking place in and around the HLP reflecting on and documenting the policy process as it unfolds.  We will be blogging on the HLP meeting here, working with our partners in the Participatory Research Group, and providing regular updates through twitter using these hashtags: #worldwewant; #post2015; #beyond2015; #post2015HLP. Check back here for regular updates and follow the debate live on Twitter: @IDS_UK

The development policy climate is on the cusp of change and the imperative for active and participatory engagement is crucial to ensure that the post-2015 framework genuinely reflects the priorities of people most affected by poverty and injustice. The field of development, and of participatory research, has and perhaps always will be challenged by the difficulties posed by the disjuncture between the practice of people’s lived realities and the policies that directly (and indirectly) affect them, between thoroughly listening to the voices of the most marginalised and ensuring that these voices are heard by policy makers. This disjuncture calls us all – from marching academics and activists, to striking miners, from HIV community-health workers to international policy makers – to really look at the difference between having voice and being heard, and to hold ourselves and each other accountable in the process of creating a world where policies genuinely speak to people’s needs. The Participate initiative reflects the imperative of listening to voices from the margins and ensuring that these voices are heard in the post-2015 process.

Working with partners in Latin and Central America, Africa, Asia and Europe, Participate aims to provide high quality evidence on the reality of poverty at ground level, bringing the perspectives of people living in poverty into the post-2015 debate.  As discussed previously on this blog by Joanna Wheeler and Danny Burns,  Participate is working with communities, social movements and civil society organisations in more than 25 countries across these regions, to draw together an extensive body of past and current participatory research in order to ensure that the perspectives of those most affected by poverty and injustice directly inform the post-2015 process. Participate will use in-depth methods to gain insight in to the lives of people most affected by development. Some key activities include: creating a Ground Level Panel tomirror the work of the HLP; putting cameras in the hands of the poorest to make films, to share stories from their own lives and provide a more nuanced understanding of the subjective aspects and consequences of development; encouraging policy-makers to spend time living with people and learning firsthand from their experiences. More information on Participate’s activities is available here.

Elizabeth Mills is a PhD candidate working on health, citizenship and HIV/AIDS within the IDS Knowledge, Technology and Science research team.

Read other recent blogs from Participate:

This post was originally published on Participation. Power and Social Change blog http://participationpower.wordpress.com


Post 2015: What do policymakers know about poverty?

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Danny BurnsJoanna Wheeler

Joanna Wheeler and Danny Burns

Whose knowledge should really count in decisions about the future of development?  As members of the post-2015 UN high-level panel meet today for the first time, we want to know how they can be sure the decisions they take will be informed by the perspectives of those most affected by poverty.

For policymakers to really understand the complexities of lives led by people who are marginalised and living in poverty, they need to experience in a real way the choices that people have to make on a day-to-day basis. For example: what are the risks a woman living in a city slum has to negotiate to go to the toilet? Why can’t people with disabilities access their local health clinic? Why do some children in rural Uganda have to give up school to get clean water? What happens when your village is swept into the sea by coastal erosion and all of the land behind it is owned by someone else?

The high-level panel, which is co-chaired by Liberia, Indonesia and the UK, will make its decisions based on how members of the panel understand poverty and its causes. And yet, the experience of poverty is very distant from the lived realities of most of the members of the panel.  There are many ‘experts’ in development, but those that have the most important knowledge, rooted in direct experience, are the people that live in poverty themselves. Yet these people are systematically left out of decisions on global development structures.

To help address this, the Participate initiative (a global collaboration between the Institute of Development Studies and Beyond 2015) invites members of the high-level panel and senior decision makers in the post-2015 process to join our programme of ‘immersions’ in order to come face to face with these realities, and to enter into dialogue with members of communities living in extreme poverty.

An ‘immersion’ involves living, eating, sleeping and working with people living in poverty for a number of days and nights. The process gives decision makers the opportunity to relate to people on a personal level and to learn firsthand from their experiences. It can offer unexpected insights into the realities faced by communities living in poverty.

Participate will also organise a ‘ground level-panel’ which, like the high-level panel, will deliberate on the future of development. The participants will be dwellers of city slums, pastoralists who walk with cattle across bush lands in search of water, refugees from war, and small farmers whose crops have failed in response to climate change. Mirroring the high-level panel, the ground-level panel will produce their own recommendations.

The Participate initiative is working with civil society organisations and NGOs to draw together an extensive body of participatory research in more than 25 countries, to ensure that a future development framework reflects the priorities of those directly affected by poverty and injustice. We hope to create spaces for people living in extreme poverty to pose their own questions and share perspectives based on their own experiences about how sustainable change is possible.

As Co-Directors of this initiative we are excited about supporting a different way of engaging with global policymaking processes. We’ve launched Participate in response to substantial criticism of the current Millennium Development Goals (MDG) framework – that the process of designing and implementing it was driven by a development elite, and as a result had very limited ownership, failed to engage with crucial issues, and adopted an approach that often further marginalised very poor people. By ensuring marginalised people are a central part of the post-2015 process, we hope to ensure a new framework doesn’t make the same mistakes again.

Joanna Wheeler is a Research Fellow and Danny Burns is the Team Leader for the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

This post was originally published on Participation. Power and Social Change blog http://participationpower.wordpress.com


Remembering the Poll Tax: lessons for contemporary political movements

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Danny Burns

Danny Burns

You may be interested in a programme that I participated in, on the resistance to the Poll Tax in the UK. It was broadcast on Sunday 2nd September 2012, is repeated on Friday and is downloadable as a BBC iPlayer podcast. The program is one of the Reunion series on BBC Radio 4 where protagonists in contemporary historical events are brought together to discuss those events some decades later.

What was striking to me in recounting these events of 22 years ago is how few young people have ever heard of the Poll Tax. Yet the anti-Poll Tax campaign was the biggest civil disobedience movement in UK history. 10 million people refused to pay the tax, there were riots across the country and a government was brought down. This people’s movement succeeded against opposition from every major political party.

It is crucial that we don’t forget our political history. There are important lessons for the contemporary political resistance movements that are emerging across the world today, and we have a responsibility to pass on this knowledge to the generations that follow.

For those that have a deeper interest in this movement, I published a book in 1992 ‘Poll Tax Rebellion’, which is still available through Amazon.

Danny Burns is the Team Leader for the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

This post was originally published on Participation. Power and Social Change blog http://participationpower.wordpress.com


Generations of Feminism – a reflection on AWID 2012

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Alison Carney

Two weeks ago I attended the international Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) forum in Istanbul, Turkey. AWID hosted more than 2,500 feminists, development professionals, activists and students at a four day forum to share ideas, experiences and plans for mobilization for women’s rights. I met some amazing, inspiring people from many different countries, working on different issues. The ideas that they planted in my mind, the things I had forgotten have made me all the more excited about the work I do on gender issues, and the work I plan to do. In spite of the wonderful experiences I had, there were a few things about this forum that just didn’t sit right, and that seem to me to be indicative of bigger problems within the movement for gender equality, among self-proclaimed feminists.

One would assume that at a forum that is intended to be a sharing of knowledge, an opportunity to inspire one another, there would be no hierarchy among attendees – especially in a feminist space where we are talking about gender issues. I realized over the course of the four days that this was not the case. As was echoed in conversations with my nine classmates who attended as well, there was a very clear generational division. We kept hearing phrases like “We are so proud of the young feminists here today”, or “it was so nice to talk to so many young feminists”. The feeling of being patronized was not helped by the young feminist corner that was set up, and felt more like a play corner. Where was the “old” feminist corner? It became very clear in the speeches during the opening plenaries, as well as in the daily sessions, that the older, more experienced feminists felt that they could not wait to pass the baton on to us young people, contingent on our adequate indoctrination with their version of feminism, of course. I had the feeling that my own form of feminism was not recognized, or was seen as naive simply because of my age. My more radical beliefs about sex workers rights, integration of LGBTQI issues into the global feminist movement and my desire that women with disabilities be recognized within the movement were brushed aside with an attitude that we young feminists just “didn’t yet understand”.

It seems to me so contrary to the feminist movement to silence voices based on the age of the activist. In a setting where the organizers of AWID clearly made a massive effort for multi-national, racial, religious and linguistic representation, why are the voices of young people not given equal importance? As students, it was assumed that any work or activism that we had participated in before starting out Masters degrees just didn’t really count. One of us was even told, “oh you are just a student, you will get it eventually.” In fact, it was the young people who I met at AWID who I found to be the most exciting in their activism and openness to new ideas and collaborations. For example, a woman in her early twenties from Palestine who is fighting for the rights of women with disabilities, a group that continues to be forgotten by the greater women’s movement. Another was a young lesbian from Uganda who works for a very minimal wage on the fight for LGBTQ rights in a country where her very identity puts her in constant danger. Is this not what feminism, and development for that matter, should be about? The people who truly embody their beliefs and work on issues that they themselves feel everyday. It is hard for me to understand why these young women are less legitimate in the eyes of the global feminist movement than some of the “experienced” speakers talking about women’s economic equality and then jumping into their privately hired car on their way back to the nearest 5 star hotel.

Now, this is not to say that the voices of experienced and well-paid feminists are not important. It is every woman’s right to live her life the way that she chooses. But, what needs to be recognized is that we can all learn from each other. Creating space for young voices by providing a ‘young feminists corner’ is not only condescending, but only reinforces the attitude that we as young people can only be heard by each other because we just don’t know enough yet. An older feminist economist, for example, may have something to learn about economic empowerment from a young sex worker activist. AWID should have made an effort to put young voices in the plenary speeches, as well as have sessions run by young people about our ideas and work. The attendees of the conference should not only engage with the issues that they know well and have been working on for years, but should also attend sessions on some of the new issues that are being taken on by young feminists and that are essential in all gender and development work, for example working with men, climate change, and sexuality. Feminism, and the work we do in development on gender issues, should be thought of as evolving, constantly growing to react to the multitude of oppressions that we all agree face women in the world.

Alison Carney is an MA Gender and Development student at IDS.

Read other recent blog posts from IDS students:
The real story after ‘Kong 2012’
Developmental hackspaces: fostering a meta-participatory ethos for Information and Communication Technologies for Development
Spring uprisings calling spring academcs: #bring books out to the streets!

This post was originally published on Participation. Power and Social Change blog http://participationpower.wordpress.com


Are we ready for an “academic spring”?

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Danny Burns

Danny Burns

The Wellcome Foundation recently announced that it would be taking steps towards open access to information. It is unhappy about the dominance of three academic publishers who according to the Guardian account for 42% of journal articles, and it proposes to set up its own online journal. It is also keen to ensure that research gets out within six months avoiding the absurdly long lead times of some academic publishers. Harvard University is “encouraging its faculty members to make their research freely available through open access journals and to resign from publications that keep articles behind paywalls”.

These are important steps from large and influential institutions, and I applaud them, but this is only the start of a much bigger revolution in knowledge generation and dissemination that needs to happen. The model of knowledge that is represented by academic journals is outdated, exclusive and ineffective.

Innovative and creative thinking is most likely to emanate from diverse collaborations. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) pushes academics toward the production of single authored papers in elite journals. Stephen Curry quoted in the Guardian says that although the adjudicating panels have been instructed to ignore the impact factors of journals, no one believes that “it is remotely possible to do so”. Journals are largely disciplinary and yet most real world problems are inter-disciplinary. It is really hard to get good cross disciplinary reviews of research.

Even the idea of peer review needs to be challenged. Who are the peers? Are they affected in any way by the research? Even if we accept the legitimacy of academic ‘peers’, their insanely busy lives mean that they are usually reading these articles on the bus or the train, or crammed in between other things that they are doing. It is hard to escape the conclusion that this is the elite talking to the elite.

While peer review is supposed to ensure good scientific method, the controversies over scientific climate change research clearly show how the perspectives that people bring to these analyses fundamentally impact on their assessment. When it comes to complex social issues, interpretation and sense making are critical. Knowledge that is co-generated and critiqued by those people that will be affected by it, is likely to be much more robust than knowledge extracted by external researchers; Knowledge that can pass freely across the internet can be interrogated and subjected to a much more diverse arena of scrutiny; Knowledge that is written in straightforward language that is meaningful to more diverse populations will be triangulated by a far more diverse community. Knowledge that is generated iteratively and continuously, and tested in action, is likely to make a far greater impact on complex social problems than knowledge crystallised in journals long after the event.

The internet provides other ways of validating research. As the Guardian points out downloads, numbers of bookmarks on social networking sites etc may much better indication of research quality than where it is published. Similarly initiatives like Google Scholar which can track who has cited or used work across a much wide range of outputs offer exciting possibilities. I want to know if my work appears in policy documents, books, pamphlets, films etc. I want to know how it is being used is to impact on poverty and vulnerability. I don’t want to know if an elite journal thinks that I am worthy of publication, and I don’t believe this serves society.

Academics have long assumed the position of “experts” in our society because they have had unique access to information and intellectual argument. This is no longer true. The internet makes access to information ubiquitous and opens that information up to the many different expert voices that have a right to reflect upon it. The more that we open up the knowledge that we generate the more society can benefit from the many views and perspectives which can give it meaning. It will not be an easy journey to find new models of knowledge distribution which allow real access and interaction. These will inetivably evolve rather than be constructed, but many people are starting to think about this and many initiatives are already well underway http://www.creativecommons.org.uk/.

There are clear implications for me. We should not stand on the sidelines and say that while we believe in new ideas about knowledge, we will continue to participate in the old system and legitimise it. We should stand up for a new vision of open knowledge generation. Many academics might not want to walk this road because to threaten the status quo might threaten their career progression. But if we believe in the social change that we espouse in our writings, this is exactly what we should be prepared to do.

Danny Burns is the Team Leader for the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

This post was originally published on Participation. Power and Social Change blog http://participationpower.wordpress.com