Partnering to achieve the SDGs: Lessons learned from monitoring civil society’s engagement in development

At the next High-Level Political Forum – the apex of global follow-up and review of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – in July, forty countries are expected to engage in Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) of their own progress at national and sub-national levels. As per the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its guiding principles, follow-up and review should be: voluntary and country-led, taking into account different national realities and capacities; open, inclusive and participatory; and supportive of reporting by all relevant stakeholders.

The Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (the Global Partnership) applies similar principles to its monitoring exercise. The Global Partnership is a unique, multi-stakeholder platform to support the delivery of effective development co-operation for the realisation of development efforts, including the SDGs. Its ten-part monitoring framework tracks progress in the implementation of effective development co-operation commitments. The Global Partnership monitoring process is voluntary and country-led and a number of its indicators require a multi-stakeholder monitoring approach, including Indicator Two, which tracks civil society’s ability to “operate within an environment which maximises its engagement in and contribution to development.”

The Global Partnership conducted its last monitoring round in 2015/16. Meanwhile, the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment (Task Team) conducted a stock-take of the country-level experiences with the multi-stakeholder monitoring approach of Indicator Two. Given the similarity of the guiding principles, lessons learned from the monitoring framework’s Indicator Two could also be informative for SDG follow-up and review, particularly for countries engaging in VNRs in 2017. We’ve selected three main recommendations coming out of the stock-take, which could also be relevant to SDG follow-up and review.

1. Work with focal points and encourage intra-stakeholder group coordination

For the monitoring of Indicator Two – which called for the engagement of national government, civil society organizations (CSOs) and development co-operation providers – the Global Partnership recommended stakeholder groups to each work through a focal point to help coordinate stakeholder participation and inputs to the monitoring. The stock-take confirmed the value of working with focal points for inter and intra-stakeholder group coordination. However, it also found that the value could be further enhanced by broadening engagement across and within various stakeholder groups, including outside of capital cities. Moreover when working with this method, it is crucial that the roles and responsibilities of the focal points be clearly outlined.

2. Make sufficient time and resources available for multi-stakeholder processes

Probably unsurprising is that multi-stakeholder processes are challenging and resource heavy. It is therefore important to initiate the process early and to secure sufficient human and financial resources. Time is needed for sensitization, to get stakeholders on board, and to identify focal points. Meanwhile, effective multi-stakeholder dialogue requires building a common understanding of the subject matter and the objective at hand.

Important to keep in mind is that the ability to conduct more robust multi-stakeholder processes can be limited by capacity constraints such as insufficient financing, shortage of personnel and lack of experience and awareness. In its 2016 Monitoring Report, the Global Partnership compared the countries reporting and receiving external support with those that did not receive external support. It found that amongst countries with no external support, only 59% reported on Indicator Two. This figure increased to 92% for countries that did receive external support. Further, the stock-take found that experience and know-how was an issue for state and non-state actors alike. Consideration should thus be given to country-level capacity development and financing to design and implement effective multi-stakeholder processes for follow-up and review of the SDGs.

3. Organize follow-up to discuss the findings

When it comes to monitoring – whether of the SDGs or the Global Partnership’s development co-operation indicators – the interest and value lies not only in the numbers, but in knowing where the ship is sailing in order to adjust course accordingly. One of the broader aims of the Global Partnership’s monitoring exercise is behaviour change. This does not necessarily come out of the monitoring exercise itself, but rather out of follow-up based on the monitoring results. Participants of the Indicator Two monitoring were interested in follow-up steps, including multi-stakeholder dialogue on the findings. Given that countries are to engage in annual reviews of the SDGs, consideration could be given to convening, institutionalizing and maintaining ongoing multi-stakeholder dialogue on particular SDGs. Similarly, consideration could be given to reflection in single stakeholder groups on country reports, including the implications for their own practices as well as actions needed to make progress.

Overall, the Global Partnership monitoring is relevant for SDG follow-up and review in light of the multi-stakeholder process, but also in terms of its content. The Task Team’s stock-take found, for example, that stakeholders deemed Indicator Two relevant for SDGs 16 and 17 on inclusive societies and accountable institutions, and partnerships for sustainable development respectively. Countries could build on the Global Partnership’s monitoring framework to inform follow-up and review of these two SDGs (as well as others, like SDG 5). This would also be in line with 2030 Agenda’s guiding principle that follow-up and review should build on existing platforms and processes.

To conclude, engaging in and organizing a multi-stakeholder monitoring exercise is anything but easy. However, participants of Indicator Two monitoring found it worthwhile from the perspective of collective interest in making progress. The same can be said for the SDGs. Inclusion – and more specifically the principle of leaving no one behind – is a cornerstone of Agenda 2030. It calls for multi-stakeholder engagement throughout SDG design, implementation and follow-up and review. After all, this is “an Agenda of the people, by the people, and for the people and this, we believe, will ensure its success.”

Interested in more information? You can hear stakeholders speak about their experiences with the multi-stakeholder process of monitoring Indicator Two in the summary video of our side event at the Second High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership in late 2016. You can also read the summary or full report of the Task Team’s Stock-take of Indicator Two monitoring.

About the Author:

The Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment is a multi-stakeholder body that seeks to advance the role of civil society in development. Its participants come from three stakeholder groups: governments that provide development cooperation, recipient governments and civil society organizations (CSOs) affiliated with the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE). The Task Team leads Global Partnership Initiative 2 (GPI-2).

Why Genuine Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships are Key to Achieving the SDGs

The 2030 Agenda and the evolving development landscape should be more than just an expanded version of the MDGs- it should be more than just business-as-usual. The real shift that we need to see is the genuine recognition of shared responsibility- the emphasis on a collective effort to push progress and solve common problems. And what sits at the cornerstone of this is enabling all development stakeholders, most especially that of civil society.

So what exactly makes CSOs so important?

Often we get lost in just saying that CSOs collaborate with the full diversity of people and promote their rights. That CSOs are voluntary, diverse, non-partisan, autonomous, non-violent, working and collaborating for change. But CSOs are more than this.

CSOs are key actors in development process because of not who they are but what they can bring to the table. The hard truth is that other development actors are often not attuned to situations on the ground as CSOs are- be it political, social, or economic. CSOs work in both peaceful and conflict situations, in different areas of work from grassroots to policy advocacy, and in a continuum from humanitarian emergencies to long-term development. Often what CSOs have to show for are things only CSOs can bring to bear.

But even if we already see the recognition of CSOs inscribed in the SDGs- just saying it doesn’t make it true. Development stakeholders need to push this further. The mere mention of civil society in the SDGs is not enough.

To fully maximise the contributions of CSOs mentioned above relies on how we as a development community enable the pre-conditions that will really make this happen in practice. To put it simple, it is by ensuring, securing, and institutionalising an enabling environment for CSOs. This means respecting their right to initiative and ensuring that CSOs participate on equal footing with everybody else. This means mean upholding CSOs as what they truly are- independent development stakeholders in their own right.

More than just respecting civil society as co-equals in this business of development, where does this take place and how does this matter at high-level negotiations?

This is where multi-stakeholder partnerships come into play.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships are expected to proliferate with the aim of supporting the attainment of the overall 2030 Agenda. It cuts through all goals, and has a front seat in the implementation, follow-up and review of the SDGs. But it in order for this to be effective, and in order for this to truly tap the potential of CSOs, it needs to work.

But how will this work if we often take it for granted, ignoring many of the tenants that make it true multi-stakeholder. Most days we only take it as a given. We call the GPEDC unique due to this very value. Yet the very process has now been endangered by fragmentation, limited transparency and lack of accountability.

Experience shows that many governments still pay lip-service to genuine multi-stakeholder partnerships, often exercising ‘pick-and-choose’ behavior, to an extent even threatening the viability of CSOs as development actors in their own right.

To make this work there is a need to redefine the approach of the 2030 Agenda process from a ‘whole of government approach’ to a ‘whole of society’ approach. There is a need for the 2030 Agenda process and all development stakeholders to commit to and implement comprehensive accountability and monitoring mechanisms. To promote democratic processes across different arenas and maximise institutional synergies at the global level without the expense of transparency and accountability is important now more than ever.

Simply put, every development actor should be represented fairly in the discussion and their contributions valued equally. As we go into HLM2, we must remember that our work should be founded on the meaningful inclusion of civil society in all processes, accountability for and of all development actors, and fair and equitable multi-stakeholder partnerships to even try to get close to achieving the SDG aspiration of leaving no one behind.

Going Further Together: Why Inclusion is Important for Effective Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives

The concept of multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) is gaining evermore traction in international development cooperation. Aside from the Global Partnership itself, MSIs are recognized as an important means of implementation to realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2030.

In light of the rising popularity of MSIs, a valid question is ‘what makes MSIs work well and why?’ This question forms the basis for recently completed research, The Comparative Studies of Multi-stakeholder Initiatives. Drawing from 17 MSI cases, each unique in its own way, in four countries (Costa Rica, Indonesia, Kenya and Kyrgyzstan), the study pointed to various principles that seemed to be key to MSI effectiveness. In this blog we share some of the study’s findings in relation to one of these principles, that of inclusion.

Like MSIs, the concept of inclusion too has gained increasing attention. Inclusive partnerships is one of the four core principles of effective development co-operation agreed in Busan in 2011. Pledging to leave no one behind, the 2030 Agenda – with its goal on inclusive societies and call for collaborative partnerships – also has inclusion at its heart.

But what does inclusion mean for MSIs? When is an MSI inclusive? As the study confirmed, inclusion in MSIs can be complicated, but getting it right is a critical factor for MSI effectiveness.

Some of the challenges for inclusiveness in MSIs can be attributed to the increasingly complex aid and development architecture, with greater numbers and diversity of state and non-state actors. The acronym MSI was often used to signify ‘multi-sector,’ as it was to mean ‘multi-stakeholder’. However, this tri-sector approach (government, business and civil society) is simply too broad and no longer suffices. It is now clear that a sector encompasses a multitude of actors and interests, working at different levels of development. Unpacking these sectors or- stakeholder categories can contribute to a better understanding of inclusiveness with respect to a particular MSI and therefore its likely effectiveness.

What is meant by unpacking stakeholder categories? Take for example the sector ‘government’. One of the study’s findings was that the effectiveness of MSIs can be reduced by lack of coordination and coherence between government departments. If one or more government agencies that have power to influence the success of an MSI is not at the table, the initiative may not reach its goals. The same can be said of the heterogeneous civil society sector, where a diversity of views and niche areas are represented. Thus, the study recommended a design that is sensitive to the different interests in a sector and brings together – even from within a sector – the essential actors and various resources (e.g. political, social, etc.) required to get things done.

While the aforementioned example looks at horizontal relationships within a sector such as government or civil society, MSI effectiveness can also be affected by vertical divisions. The Global Partnership’s Mexico Communiqué encourages support to local and regional governments to enable them to assume more fully their roles in policy-making, service delivery, enhancing participation, and sub-national accountability. The relevance of this commitment today is supported by the finding of the study that MSIs can be weakened by the absence of the local actors, be they government or other non-state actors, in national deliberations. After all, often there is a ‘local’ aspect to the goals and objectives of most MSIs. The study thus recommended the creation of designated spaces at the table for local development actors that are directly implicated in the implementation of the initiative.

Another approach is to connect multi-level platforms and networks. What this approach could mean in practice, for example, is simultaneous discussion of areas of concern at national and sub-national levels by different stakeholders, who then also associate with each other vertically. This recommendation is drawn from the observations of the Scaling-Up Nutrition Initiative, which was used in the study as a comparative internationally-inspired MSI.

The examples above point to the need to look carefully at stakeholder profiles to determine which stakeholders should be at the table to give an MSI the right mix of interests and skills to increase its chances of success. So which actors should sit around the table to ensure that an MSI is effective? The study concluded that there is unfortunately no template for finding this ‘right’ mix of stakeholders, be it for a domestically-driven or internationally-inspired MSI. A good starting point is to have a number of committed representatives from different stakeholder groups, who share common areas of concern and goals, around the table to initiate a MSI. Power analysis and awareness of various entities within a particular sector – can point the way for stakeholder-expansion over time. For some stakeholders – especially the private sector – motivation to engage might not be immediately apparent. Reflecting on incentives that these stakeholders might be sensitive to can help in the development of appropriate value propositions to incentivize engagement.

The High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda already recognized in 2013 that “bringing to bear the energy and resources of everyone concerned with development – governments at all levels, international organizations, civil society, businesses, foundations, academics and people in all walks of life – is our singular challenge.” Indeed, the ambition of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda add urgency to bringing together the resources and value-added of diverse actors.

While the rationale for an MSI might be clear, the 17 case studies in the study – and more specifically the findings discussed above – demonstrated that operationalization is not always straightforward. In synthesizing the lessons from these case studies for the Global Partnership or the 2030 Agenda, the study offered some key recommendations for designing a MSI: 1) Unpack major stakeholder categories involved in the MSI; 2) Bring together the various resources from within and across sectors required to get things done and reach a sustainable outcome; 3) Create designated spaces at the table for local actors or establish multi-level platforms that are coherently connected; and 4) View the MSI as an iterative way of working, with inclusion as a process of expansion of stakeholders over time.

Want to know more? You can access the Comparative Studies of Multi-stakeholder Initiatives* via the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment website. Stay tuned for further Task Team blogs on this subject.

* The Comparative Studies of Multi-stakeholder Initiatives was commissioned by the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment and executed by Prof. Alan Fowler and Dr. Kees Biekart of the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

About the Author:

TaskTeam-logo-01The Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment is a multi-stakeholder body that seeks to advance the role of civil society in development. Its participants come from three stakeholder groups: governments that provide development cooperation, recipient governments and civil society organizations (CSOs) affiliated with the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE).