Time for critical reflection on participation in the post-2015 process

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Palestinian women share their stories with the world through participatory film-making: Credit: MEND 2013From debates on post-MDG discourse to High Level Panel meetings, from Open Working Group sessions to General Assemblies – policy engagement on the post-2015 framework has at times been both exhilarating and exhausting.  As we leap from one milestone to the next, it is often difficult to find the time to pause and reflect on what our experiences have taught us and to share these with others. Yet, there is a huge amount to be gained from taking time out to consider what we have learned and then to try and apply it to our work.

At the end of 2013, Participate and its partners came together to do just that. The result, Knowledge from the Margins: An anthology from a global network on participatory practice and policy influence  is a collection of their critical reflections on participatory approaches to influencing policy – including the engagement with the post-2015 process.

The UNGA stock-taking exercise in September and the forthcoming report of the Secretary General on the post-2015 agenda make up a significant moment in the post-2015 process, directly influencing and shaping intergovernmental negotiations on the framework itself. However, the creation of this revised set of global goals for development is highly political, with diverse actors and complex interests involved. At these points of consolidation and synthesis within this global policy process it is critical that we reflect on the participation of people living in poverty and marginalisation and how their power, perspectives and choices are or are not being engaged.

Shifting the power in policymaking

This Anthology shares the journey of Participate so far and within this, our attempts to shift power in policymaking. As we move forward, it is a tool to help promote thought and discussion about how to use participatory approaches to influence policy at a variety of levels lessons on what has worked and what as not. The purpose of sharing this experience is to:

  • Share insights and lessons we have learned to help promote thought and discussion about how to use participatory approaches to influence policy at a variety of levels. This includes lessons on what has worked and what as not.
  • Give others ideas of how the voices of those
 who are marginalised can be amplified.
  • Provoke action to bring policymakers and people living in poverty together face-to-face.
  • Provide recommendations for future practitioners, advocates and supporters of participatory research for policy influence, based on our experience.

A collective vision for social change

Uganda TFD

Drama allows for creativity in storytelling approaches and helps bring them to life

Participate has developed a number of innovations with the goal of collapsing the distance between the grassroots experience and global policymakers tasked with creating the post-2015 framework.  Through participatory methods such as digital story telling, participatory video and Theatre for Development, people living in poverty and marginalisation have generated and shared knowledge about their lives and contexts in order to help build more connected relationships with policymakers. Mobilising the knowledge generated between local and global policy spaces of influence for the post-2015 process has involved engaging multiple pathways, and a  non-linear understanding of change. In Participate this has been made possible by a collaboration of networked organisations, the Participatory Research Group, the members of which have had individual and shared influencing strategies, and who engaged in a global synthesis process to weave together the diverse knowledge of people living in poverty and marginalisation in order to amplify their messages through a collective vision for social change.

Why knowledge from the margins matters

ATD 4W women

ATD Fourth World research participants engaged in a merging of knowledge process in New York

There have been challenges along the way, from the outset a number of risks and tensions have been at the forefront of our minds. One specific tension was around the adequate and authentic representation of highly marginalised groups across levels and spaces for advocacy and engagement. Designing more representative methods for participatory policy processes is an increasingly important task; the multiple barriers that prevent people living in poverty entering into different policy spaces can create trade-offs and there are important ethical implications that need to be taken into account where meaningful participation is restricted. The anthology shares our learning on the gaps that persist in trying to connect people in order to shift power in policymaking, and the key areas of lessons we have learned.

The experiences shared from Participate in this anthology highlight again how and why knowledge from the margins matters for inclusive and transformative decision-making. The intention in documenting and sharing our lessons and experiences is not to create a definitive how-to-guide for using participatory methods and research to influence policy, nor to suggest that we have found
all the answers. Rather, we hope that it will spark debate and prompt further reflection amongst others committed to bringing voices from the ground into global decision-making.

Knowledge from the marginsKnowledge from the Margins: An anthology from a global network on participatory practice and policy influence 

When World Cup football imitates the MDGs

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Mwangi Waituru

The World Cup game between Brazil and Germany was quite similar to the Millennium Development Goals in several ways.

In 2001, the MDGs came into effect.  Like yesterday’s game, they were eight goals. Last night, it was Germany, a developed country playing against Brazil, an emerging economy. Similarly, the MDGs represented a contract between the developed countries and the developing countries on a set of seven things (goals) that the developing countries were to achieve against a commitment for provision of funds by these rich countries (goal eight).

Strikingly similar, the eighth goal was to be achieved by the end of the planned period. I have always wondered how the developing countries could deliver seven goals by 2015; eradicate extreme poverty, create employment, fight disease and ignorance, promote gender equality and environmental cleanness and yet commitment for money to do the job wasn’t to be realised until the same 2015 target year. How were they expected to finance the delivery of the goals? No wonder the timing of the Brazilian goal was wrong. It could not redeem the team. Goal eight should have been achieved first. If Brazil scored first, would the game have been different? If post-2015, we prioritise means of implementing the commitments, shall we get different results?

BrazilvGermanyInterestingly, I was to watch the game with my friend and colleague from Brasil Naiara Costa and her Husband at their apartment on 44th Street, New York. I left the UN headquarters on time but on reaching her apartment, she informed me that Marie-Luise (a German for that matter) was calling me to meet with the German delegation. So the Civil Society ME, finds himself somewhere between the seven goals to be delivered by the developing countries and the one goal to be delivered by the developed countries. Not only do I end up with a great discussion around a successor framework to the MDGs with the German Delegate on the sides of the game, but I end up watching the game at the UN delegates lounge on second flour at the ECOSOC and Trusteeship Chambers where all these discussions and agreements take place.


Mwangi Waituru is Director of the Seed Institute/CGAP in Kenya and a former Co-Chair of the Beyond 2015 campaign. He is also a member of Participate’s Participatory Research Group and continues to represents this group as a member of the Beyond2015 network.

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

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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

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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

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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.