When ‘informal’ meets the ‘formal’: The challenges for civil society groups engaging in the OWG process

Posted by

The 13th session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals is not the only post2015 event taking place in New York during July. Away from the UN, civil society organization members seeking to influence the final document will be working together at meetings across the city, discussing the latest goals and targets and formulating joint responses.

During the 12th session in June 2014, Beyond2015 organised a breakfast meeting between civil society groups and OWG members. Sowmyaa Bharadwaj from Praxis talks to Mwangi Waituru about some of the challenges she faced and the lessons she learned as a result of taking part.

Beyond2015 meeting_OWG12

Beyond2015 hosts a meeting between UN representatives and civil society organisations in New York during the 12th session of the OWG in June 2014.

“For each of the Sustainable Development Goals there will be hundreds of organizations that either endorse or disagree with the issues being put forward depending on their own agendas. Our aim was not to isolate stories of what happened in, for example, a small corner of Kenya or India or Brazil but to reflect the realities faced in similar ways across many different parts of the developing world. We also wanted to get the message across that what we were proposing was grounded in these realities and based on several years’ robust research.

The first challenge was the huge amounts of diversity in perspectives of OWG members because of each country’s different understanding of issues related to e.g. poverty and inequality. So getting 180 different people with their own political agendas to try and reach some sort of common consensus and to give you time to present your own agenda was one huge problem.

The second problem was that some of the missions we interacted with had very limited capacity – some, such as the Philippines, did not have a Chair which meant that they weren’t able to vote on some matters. This resulted in them trying to lobby for issues that their own countries were trying to push forward.

The third challenge was that there was a lot of diversity among the civil society itself which made presenting ourselves with a common face extremely difficult.

So what did we learn from this? The main lesson we learnt is that people are very willing to listen to your point of view if you have good evidence.

The second lesson is that you need to know about the person you are going to speak to both formally and informally. It was very important for us to know beforehand the stance of different countries on different goals before we actually approached them.

The third is the importance of having a meeting of minds, speaking the same language and delivering shared messages. Although it is impossible to have a universal voice from the NGO sector, it is important that we have five or six common issues that are non-negotiable. This will be very helpful in future actions taken.

Finally there should be equality in the representation from the northern voices and the southern voices and their agendas should be treated equally and not blown off because their attendance was just to meet a political requirement.”

Read Sowmyaa’s full report  ‘Where ‘Informal’ meets ‘Informal: Report on the 12th session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals



Setting the moral compass for the post-2015 framework

Posted by

Neve Frecheville, lead policy analyst for CAFOD and former chair of the Beyond 2015 campaign addressed participants at the President of the UN General Assembly’s High Level Event on human rights and rule of law this week (10 June). The following blog is an adaptation of her presentation. The points she raises are informed by the work of Participate and Beyond 2015 partners.

Many member states and panellists have realised that to be fundamentally transformative, the post-2015 development agenda needs to be people-centred. One of the lessons learnt from the MDG experience is that a siloed approach does not work and that development cannot be ‘one size fits all’. If we do not recognise and respond to the diverse contexts and realities in which people live, our interventions are at best ineffective, and at worst harmful. This means that the post-2015 development agenda should be providing goals and targets which facilitate people to direct their own context specific development, not imposing a top down framework. This means reaching out to people where they are and allowing a shift in power dynamics that will have to be reflected in the relationship between the local government official and the grassroots community, the citizen and the state, and here at the international level.

Delivering human rights and rule of law that work for the poorest

But what does this mean in terms of the practical application of a global development framework composed of a specific, limited number of goals, targets and indicators?

The recommendations put forward here are garnered from participatory processes with people experiencing poverty, exclusion and vulnerability, because of factors such as economic status, disability, ethnicity, age, gender, and many more. Applied, they will enable the framework to be people-centred and deliver human rights and rule of law that work for the poorest.

  1. Prioritise development investment which starts with the needs of the poorest and most marginalised people. As a global community, we have a responsibility to listen to those whose lives are most difficult, and make their interests a priority.
  1. Give marginalised groups the opportunity to define the rights that matter most to them. Many poor and marginalised groups see rights as a crucial means to achieving equality and dignity. The rights they prioritise reflect the deficits that they feel most keenly in their lives. For some, rights provide a pathway to recognition of their status as human beings and citizens, such as disabled children in Kenya interpreted their invisibility to policymakers as a lack of respect for their rights. For others, rights have a more material dimension; in Ghana, young people prioritised their right to education, food and shelter.
  1. Protect the rights called for by the poorest and most marginalised within legal frameworks. The concept of rights is central to any attempt to address deep-rooted inequalities. Yet while formal recognition of rights in law is a critical milestone, it does not automatically translate into concrete outcomes. Enshrining rights in law is a crucial first step, but they must be implemented through the transformation of discriminatory norms and values.
  1. Target institutional discrimination, and ensure that government representatives and officials treat all people with respect. Through research with partners in Uganda, the Philippines, Bolivia and Zimbabwe, CAFOD has seen the power of the MDGs to change and challenge discriminatory social norms representing a considerable improvement for specific groups of people, such as those living with HIV or indigenous peoples.
  1. Involve citizens in creating, monitoring and implementing the post-2015 development framework. A participatory approach to governance is one which engages with local knowledge, strengthens people’s voices, and enables people to influence decisions and hold decision-makers to account, thereby improving national ownership and accountability. While this approach can benefit many, it must be targeted to ensure they are inclusive of those who are usually excluded so that no one is left behind.
  2. Ensure that indicators are linked directly to positive impacts for the poorest and most marginalised, and that no progress can be achieved unless it is realised by all relevant social and income groups.

A central desire articulated by people around the world is to be able to play an active role in developing their own futures, and in shaping the policies and programmes that affect them. This needs to be at the heart of the post-2015 framework. People have clearly shown that they want to be part of identifying solutions with policymakers and practitioners. Not only should we be hearing people’s call for the right to participate in decisions that affect them, we should also be recognising that their participation is essential to secure good outcomes and effective implementation of the post-2015 agenda.

Human rights as a pathway to development

As one participant from Brazil commented, ‘The counterpoint to this [my poverty] is dignity. It should be a compass to show us the way. I have the right to dignity.’

Building effective, accountable, and legitimate institutions is not just an issue for conflict countries but for all countries. This needs to be a universal approach. Effective and resilient societies and state institutions build trust between the state and the population. As this is a universal framework, it will be as relevant to me and my communities in the UK as it will be to those of our partners around the world. I want a government that is open, accessible and inclusive to enable me to trust and participate in my country’s development progress.

This is about the development aspects of peace – the social, political and economic inclusion of people, ending injustice and discrimination and building resilient societies and institutions. Human security is prioritised by people who are poor and marginalised, as even small-scale disasters and conflicts have the potential to destroy years of progress and undermine the wellbeing of people for years to come.

This builds on the mandate from Rio+20 for the post-2015 development agenda, where the ‘Future We Want’ acknowledged the centrality of democracy, good governance, the rule of law, and human rights. The post-2015 development agenda can be transformative by making people the artisans of their own destinies through enabling them to participate every step of the way, from design and implementation, to monitoring and accountability of our global commitment to end poverty through sustainable development.

Recognise the interconnected nature of rights for all or risk deepening the poverty of people left behind

Posted by

This week, the Office of  the President of the UN General Assembly (OPGA)  is hosting a high-level session on the ‘Contributions of Human Rights and the Rule of Law in the Post-2015 Development Agenda’.  Post-2015 targets that do not prioritise the social, economic, civil and political human rights of all people, or recognise the interconnected nature of these rights will continue to deepen the poverty of people left behind. 

Protecting the rights of the poorest and most marginalized

In order to ‘leave no-one behind’, tackling extreme poverty and marginalisation, alongside rising and intersecting inequalities, must be a priority for both governments and the international community. This will require a rights-based, people-centred approach which prioritises social justice and recognises the need for long-term policies and programmes.

The research demonstrates that there are certain focus areas that need to be addressed to achieve sustainable positive change in the lives of the poorest and most marginalised.  In our proposal for post-2015 targets we suggest three focus areas:

  • Livelihoods and pro-poor infrastructure and development
  • Participation and citizen action
  • Tackling discriminatory norms

Post-2015 targets that do not prioritise the social, economic, civil and political human rights of all people, or recognise the interconnected nature of these rights will continue to deepen the poverty of people left behind. In relation to this there must be clear accountability mechanisms for all institutions, within the public and private sectors to ensure that human rights are fully respected.

PRG partners worked with transgender groups in India to highlight how discriminatory practices were denying their right to an identity

PRG partners worked with transgender groups in India to highlight how discriminatory practices were denying their right to an identity

Tackling discriminatory norms

We believe that tackling discriminatory norms to be critical to the role of human rights within the post-2105 framework. Participants in the research consistently expose discriminatory social norms and abuses of power at the local level as the main factors that impact on their capacity to overcome poverty and marginalisation. The rights and dignity of people with marginalised identities are systematically abused, excluding them from access to services and resources, and subjecting them to abuse because of intolerant attitudes. Participate research shows that a great deal of the worst prejudice and harm lies within families and local communities. Attention needs to be paid in these domains, as well as formally guaranteeing the respect of the individual and collective rights of these groups.

We propose four strategic targets, which are a distillation of the main messages from the research. We also provide an outline of example indicators that support a deeper understanding of the strategic targets and suggest potential directions for contextually relevant implementation.

Target 1: Access and quality of justice institutions, legal services, and the right to identity for people living in poverty and marginalization
Discriminatory social norms influence the development of unfair and inequitable justice systems that perpetuate these social norms, making access to justice and legal services unattainable for those most marginalised.

Example indicators:

  • % increase of people reporting confidence in accessing justice institutions and complaint mechanisms
  • % increase of people supported to gain proof of their legal identity

Target 2: Institutions are free from discrimination and prejudice
Because of their poverty, informal livelihoods, ethnicity, religion, sexual identity, gender and/or disability, people endure stigma and humiliation at the hand of those institutions which are supposed to provide them with services and care.

Example indicators:

  • % increase of people in poverty who express confidence in being able to access services free from discrimination and prejudice
  • Mechanisms are in place for filing complaints related to mistreatment, harassment and discrimination, that take into account language and cultural diversity

Target 3: Strengthened grassroots organisations of people living in poverty and marginalisation
Strong grassroots movements are crucial to building collective power in the fight against discrimination. An enabling environment for the development of such collectives is crucial.

Example indicators:

  • National legislation ensuring freedom of association, expression and media
  • % increase in resources allocated to support community based campaigning organisations by those who are marginalized

Target 4: Resources, programmes and policies focus on shifting discriminatory attitudes and achieving behaviour change

Discrimination experienced within the family and community needs to be challenged; legislation alone is not sufficient. Work on attitudes towards people affected by TB and HIV/AIDS has shown that awareness raising and transformative education initiatives can be extremely effective.

Example indicators:

  • Number of ‘awareness raising’ and ‘sensitisation’ initiatives increases by X%
  • % increase in policies and programmes that integrate components to overcome discrimination and achieve behavioural change

The Beyond 2015 civil society campaign and Participate’s partner PRAXIS will be will be in New York between 11-20 June. Visit our events page for more details.

Why the poorest and most marginalised must be made an OWG priority

Posted by

Participate has prepared the following response to the Open Working Group for Sustainable Development Goals’ revised Focus Areas contained in their Working Document ahead of the 11th session of the OWG on 5-9 May.

As the OWG continues to formulate the final post-2015 framework, Participate reiterates the call to members to ‘leave no-one behind’. Tackling extreme poverty and marginalisation alongside rising and intersecting inequalities, must be a priority for both governments and the international community. Targets that fail to address these issues, and that do not prioritise the social, economic, civil and political human rights of all people, or recognise the interconnected of these rights will continue to deepen the poverty of people left behind.

There must be clear accountability mechanisms for all institutions, within the public and private sectors to ensure that human rights are fully respected. In relation to this, the lack of emphasis of private sector accountability in the OWG focus areas is of great concern.

It is positive to read a reference to the ‘poorest and most marginalised’ but disappointing that it only appears in the footnotes relating to Focus area 15 (r) on disaggregated data. The principle of including these groups should not be exclusive to one target but made explicit throughout.

Participate’s own proposals for post-2015 targets sets out three foundational target areas which must underpin the others, and without which the post-2015 targets framework will be meaningless for the poorest and most marginalised people.

  • Livelihoods and pro-poor infrastructure development
  • Participation and citizen action
  • Tackle discriminatory norms

Participate has shared this response, which is grounded in participatory research with poor and marginalised people globally, with the Beyond 2015 civil society campaign who have built the central recommendations into their position for the OWG.

Participate analysis of the OWG ‘Working document’

Focus area 1 Poverty eradication, building shared prosperity and promoting equality

We strongly welcome the target to ensure equality of economic opportunity for all women and men, including secure rights to own land, property and other productive assets and access to financial services (f). Participate research highlights how marginalised groups (women in particular) are excluded from access to productive assets and formal land rights – a situation that makes livelihood security impossible.

However, in terms of how poverty is understood, an emphasis on intersecting inequalities has been lost. This is particularly worrying in relation to the establishment of an economic measurement of poverty (less than $1.25 dollars), which does not account for the multidimensional nature of poverty.

Focus area 5 Gender equality and women’s empowerment 

We are pleased to see the proposed target to ensure equal access to, and control of, assets and resources, including natural resources management. One of the major causes of poverty, in particular for women, is a lack of access to productive assets such as land and property, equipment, finance and markets etc.   However, access is not enough; people must be able to use those resources productively and effectively and individual and collective land rights must always be respected.

Focus area 8 Economic growth, employment and infrastructure

We are concerned with the assumption that economic growth leads to development for the poorest and most marginalised.  Post-2015 targets that focus only on providing infrastructure and formal employment will continue to deepen the poverty of people left behind.

We advise caution on the target concerning sustainable infrastructure accessible to all (g).  People are frequently displaced and their environments damaged in order to build infrastructure that does not benefit them. Sustainable infrastructure, that benefits the poorest while doing no harm to their livelihoods and environment is therefore critical.

We support the mention of the informal sector and informal employment (j) but would like to see greater recognition of their valuable contribution to economic growth.  Informal livelihoods and enterprise activities need to be supported, not criminalised, and recognised for building the social and material resources of development as well as providing a pathway into the economy.

Focus area 10: Sustainable cities and human settlements

The targets towards ‘universal access to adequate and affordable housing’ and to ‘eliminate slum-like conditions everywhere’ misses the devastating impact that slum ‘relocation’ programmes can have on the social capital and livelihood opportunities for their residents. Informal livelihoods and settlements that enable people to live a life of dignity must be recognised and supported.

Focus area 15. Means of implementation/Global partnership for sustainable development:

The discussion on the means of implementation needs to be substantially broadened.

Capacity building

While Participate broadly welcomes the target to a focus on generating disaggregated, timely and high-quality data (r), our research shows that disaggregated data is not enough – in order to truly understand the complexities of people’s lives and the ways in which they are impacted by different sorts of policies and interventions, qualitative data generated in participatory ways is essential.

In order to ensure that resources are invested in participatory processes we suggest a target that says: ‘Develop the capacity of local people to research their own realities, and develop strategies for responding effectively to problems in the their communities’.

Strengthened global partnership for sustainable development

People living in poverty and marginalisation need a development approach which is responsive to their needs and to their articulation of their rights. This requires a participatory approach to decision making at local and national level. Systems need to be built which ensure participation in the conception, design, implementation and evaluation stages of any development initiatives. This cannot be seen as something that comes after the development framework is set. It has to be embedded within it and seen as an integral part of it.

Focus area 16. Peaceful and inclusive societies, rule of law and capable institutions

We welcome the way in which the targets under this focus area speak to a participatory democracy and social justice agenda. Development fails the poorest because decision-making processes that affect their lives exclude them. People living in poverty have a right to participate in the design, implementation and monitoring of policies and programmes and to hold public institutions, civil society and the private sector accountable.

We echo calls from the Beyond 2015 civil society campaign, to ensure that the framing of targets here is outcome oriented to ensure a vision for transformative change is enabled and achieved through the framework. In order for this to happen we would like to see the continued emphasis of the following areas:

  • Decision-making is participatory and barriers to participation are removed, particularly for those who are systematically excluded
  • Public and private institutions are responsive and accountable to citizens
  • A properly resourced and enabling environment for citizen action is ensured
  • Access and quality of justice institutions, legal services, and the right to identity for people living in poverty and marginalisation is ensured Institutions are free from discrimination and prejudice
  • Strengthened grassroots organisations of people living in poverty and marginalisation
  • Resources, programmes and policies focus on shifting discriminatory attitudes and achieving behaviour change



Community involvement, raising voice and taking action

Posted by

peggy tusiimePelagia Tusiime is Community Empowerment Programme Manager at the Coalition for Health Promotion and Social Development (HEPS) in Uganda. As well as representing HEPs-Uganda in the Participate Participatory Research Group (PRG), Pelagia led the Digital Story Telling and Theatre for Development activities during the participatory research “Tackling the urban health divide in Kawempe Urban slum, Kampala, Uganda” (2013).


During this period of dialogue  with the United Nations Development Group on the participatory monitoring and accountability  of the post-2015 development framework, I wanted to share my experience of communities raising voice through participation.

At the Coalition for Health Promotion and Social Development – Uganda (HEPS-Uganda), we are concerned with engaging people living in poverty in influencing policies and decision making in the areas that affect them most directly. Through the work we have been doing within Participate and more widely we have seen achievements in this area over the last 18 months. These achievements take the shape of positive changes in policy and decision-making processes from personal to the global level; these changes take into account formal and informal actors such as civil servants or tribal chiefs; they also include formal legal changes, as well as changes in behaviour and practice.

Building a connection between decision-makers and citizens

In working to achieve this change HEPS-Uganda has implemented a participatory action research project which aimed at addressing slum health inequity in three intersecting ways: by engaging communities in generating knowledge about their health needs and working with them to communicate this information; exploring with researchers why and how they study the health needs of the urban poor; and engaging health research policy makers in dialogues with communities about increasing health evidence about the urban poor.

Participants at Participate Ground Level Panel in UgandaThe use of participatory methodologies and communication approaches in this project supported people living in poverty in Kampala to identify their own priorities, generate visions for change, open up spaces for dialogue and to engage with stakeholders on how to better meet the needs of the urban poor. At the core of this participatory approach is the significance of people’s own knowledge of their context and how their own needs should be considered when aiming to improve service provision and infrastructure development in the poorest areas. The use of creative approaches such as digital storytelling and theatre for development can enable effective and practical change at the community level. These strategies enable safe spaces for engagement, and they also help build a personal connection between decision-makers and citizens which contributes to a better understanding of what is needed to create change in the lives of people living in poverty and marginalisation.

Deepening democracy  

At HEPS-Uganda we engage with participatory approaches to bring perspectives of those in poverty into decision-making processes. We also work toward processes that enable citizen action and empower marginalised people to have a central role in holding decision-makers to account in the implementation of policies and programmes. We see the interconnectedness of participation and accountability as central to the role of participatory development in deepening democracy in Uganda.

The aim of our ‘Accountability Can Transform Health Project’ was to strengthen mechanisms and processes for social accountability at the community level, improve community participation in health service delivery, ultimately with a view to increasing the responsiveness of health services in addressing community concerns.

The importance of diverse approaches to participatory development

The citizen report card approach that we used was effective in showing health facility performance and community perspectives. This tool played an important role in fuelling discussions at dialogue meetings as it gave information about the strengths, challenges and opportunities of the different health services. One of the important outcomes of this programme was improved relationships and trust between service providers and community members where clarity has been given on services provided, their availability and the process through which you access them. The increase in knowledge on health rights and health responsibilities related to this meant that communities felt stronger about raising their concerns, speaking out about issues that they were facing and demanding a response from health service providers.

In the same vein, the HEPS HEAR model that we used in the implementation of the `Health Rights Action Project` in Mbarara district was very innovative in fostering action, collaboration and participation of grass-root based organisations to serve as advocates for the Right to Health in their communities. Their combined voice to foster visibility of community voices committed to securing quality, affordable health service delivery for all people through a consumer rights respective health system in Mbarara district.

This blog presents the actions taken and their impact on engagement of policy makers, service providers with communities using progress markers identified by those involved to assess significant change. By doing all this, HEPS focus was to contribute and promote social accountability and good governance among citizens through increased participation. This is anticipated to inform work in similar settings as well as policy making processes at all levels.