On Using Evidence to Improve Development Effectiveness: The South African SDG Hub

The effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires access to high-quality evidence. Providing access to and supporting the use of high-quality evidence directly supports each of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation’s core principles.

Ownership of development priorities by developing countries is not possible without access to local research and innovation. A focus on results is strengthened when countries have access to proven good practices. Partnerships are scarcely possible without access to inclusive learning platforms. And access to open research and data is key for fostering transparency and mutual accountability.

The South African SDG Hub, based at the University of Pretoria, seeks to play its part in improving developing effectiveness by connecting African governments with the most relevance, useful and reliable African research and innovation.

The South African SDG Hub

The precursor to the SA SDG Hub, the South African Sustainable Development Knowledge Hub, was launched in 2017 by South Africa’s Minister in the Presidency, and focussed on collecting, tagging and disseminating South African research relevant for the implementation of the SDGs. A partnership with the Department of Science and Technology ensures that selected South African innovations were also featured on the online platform. During the first half of 2018, the Hub’s partnership with the United Nations in South Africa will also be formalised.

Based on feedback from users in government, multilateral organisations and civil society, the initiative has expanded its initial online offering. It now has four work streams. In addition to sharing relevant, useful and reliable knowledge via its online platform, it also supports South African researchers with providing policy advice, facilitates dialogue between South African actors responsible for the implementation of the SDGs, and supports SDG-relevant capacity building initiatives.

With regard to capacity building, the South African SDG Hub collaborates with a new interdisciplinary postgraduate degree that equips participants with the leadership skills needed to implement the SDGs.

The Hub’s current cohort includes Advisors from the United Nations Development Programme, the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Department of Science and Technology, Statistics South Africa, the African Union’s NEPAD Agency, and selected development partners and academia.

Lessons

In launching and constantly improving the initiative, the South African SDG Hub is learning a number of important lessons on how to drive development effectiveness by collecting and sharing evidence. At this point, three lessons stand out:

  • More information isn’t necessarily better. On the one hand there exists a need to collect as many relevant knowledge items as possible. Yet, the more knowledge items one makes available, the less usable a platform potentially becomes for policymakers with limited time available to work through all the potentially relevant items.

 

  • Digital isn’t enough. Even a cursory look at the literature shows that evidence-informed policy making is about more than merely the availability of knowledge items. You have to go beyond uploading documents on a server, to also build and use high-trust relationships.

 

  • Availability doesn’t necessarily mean quality. Existing knowledge sharing hubs focus on making as much knowledge as possible available. Unfortunately, many repositories contain bad data or unreliable research. Any knowledge dissemination platform is faced with the challenge of balancing inclusion with some sort of quality control mechanism.

Now a Global Partnership Initiative (GPI), the new South African SDG Hub is going beyond traditional knowledge sharing, by building a platform that serves as a centre for high-quality, tailored and relevant evidence and data for practitioners and policymakers who truly matter.

25 Countries, 3 Regional Partners, 1 GPI: A Pilot Program Translating Global Commitments to Local Actions

Since the founding of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC), the Global Partnership Initiatives (GPIs) were recognised as vital components and constituencies that support the implementation of GPEDC commitments on effective and sustainable development. GPIs were invented as voluntary initiatives which directly implement internationally-agreed development effectiveness principles: country ownership, a focus on results, inclusive partnerships and transparency and mutual accountability.

As the name suggests, GPI Results and Mutual Accountability (GPI-R&MA) focuses on two inter-related principles of the GPEDC: quality result frameworks and inclusive accountability.

During the Strengthening Global Partnership Initiatives Engagement Workshop and the Global Festival of Action for Sustainable Development (Bonn March 20-24, 2018), GPI-R&MA highlighted its work in this area by showcasing its country results framework program piloted in 2016-17 in 25 countries: eleven in Africa, seven in Latin America and the Caribbean, and seven more in the Asia Pacific region.

The program, focused on enhancing developing countries’ own priorities and results frameworks, was led by regional platforms, namely Asia-Pacific Development Effectiveness Facility (AP-DEF) – a multi-country platform chaired by the Government of Bangladesh,  Proyecto de Integración y Desarrollo de Mesoamérica (PM) – a coordinating platform in Latin America and the Caribbean region (LAC), and the NEPAD Agency – the implementing agency of the African Union.

These regional platforms were instrumental in garnering political buy-in from countries into the program. Working with such regional multi-stakeholders is critical in implementing GPEDC principles and commitments. It avoids duplication of efforts and resources, allows knowledge sharing across countries, minimizes fragmentation, promotes ownership and ensures sustainability.

The key to implementing GPEDC principles is to allow partner countries to play their unique roles in driving the principles forward locally.

In the pilot, Asia-Pacific countries, supported by AP-DEF, focused on their implementation of UNDP’s Development Finance Assessment (DFAs) by collaborating with a wider range of stakeholders around financing strategies in the context of a changing financing landscape. The NEPAD Agency helped co-ordinate country exchanges, strengthening co-operation with development partners and participating African countries. Global development co-operation commitments must be translated to fit specific national contexts; and partner countries are the ones who can make GPEDC principles relevant for each country.

GPI-R&MA played a critical role in working with the regional platforms to lead the dialogues within and among the pilot countries. Through dialogue, not only did participating countries exchange knowledge and experience, but each region also developed a set of recommendations aligning governments, private sectors, civil society and development partners with the country results framework.  The outcome of this inter-regional dialogue generated key political messages that were used as one of the inputs to produce the Nairobi Outcome of Document during the Second High Level Meeting (HLM2) in 2016.

Inter-regional meeting at the Latin America and Caribbean GPI-R&MA Chapter meeting in April 2017 in Panama City, Panama.

The fundamental vision of the GPI-R&MA was to form a round of dialogue around the key commitments and principles of effective development co-operation, and they did just that. Key regional topics were eventually identified which established the basis for developing concrete actions to enhance the quality of country result frameworks and inclusive accountability. To this end, the current and future national, regional, inter-regional and global dialogues will focus on enhancing finance-planning linkages, promoting exchanges on development finance assessments, engaging with political leadership and developing partners, and applying inclusive accountability in the context of the Agenda 2030.

The pilot program is a good example of how the GPIs, such as the one on results and mutual accountability, can take the discussion from high-level forums to partner country platforms. Promoting new thinking and decision-making at the country level is how we can make progress on effective development co-operation and achieve global goals.

A Network of ‘Think Tanks’: Achieving Effective Development Co-operation at the Local Level

On March 19-20, 30 Global Partnership Initiative (GPI) representatives gathered in Bonn, Germany to renew and strengthen their engagement with the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation’s (GPEDC) in support of multi-stakeholder co-operation towards country-level implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The GPIs directly contribute to two of the core functions of the GPEDC: they offer catalytic support to the implementation of the Busan commitments at country level, and they are a mechanism for exchanging knowledge and lessons learned on implementation of the development effectiveness principles.

These voluntary initiatives are led by different types of development actors (e.g. national governments, international organisations, civil society organisations, the private sector). As the ‘think tanks’ of the GPEDC, GPIs are a vibrant, substantive community of 27 partnerships working on 9 diverse areas – from tax capacity to resource mobilization – issues either closely linked to the GPEDC or contributing to specific areas of development effectiveness. The workshop encouraged each GPI to share its role as a true agent for implementation, sharing policy-relevant lessons and discussing innovative partnership models.

GPIs and development partners represented at the workshop included Advancing the CSO Enabling Environment and CSO Development Effectiveness, Civil Society Continuing Campaign for Effective Development, Promoting Effective Triangular Co-operation, Effective Institutions Platform, Future International Co-operation Policy Network, International Aid Transparency Initiative, Joint Programming on Managing Diversity and Reducing Fragmentation, New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, Results & Mutual Accountability, Study of Donor Support in Large Scale Refugee and IDP Movements, Strengthening Comparable Tax Statistical Indicator, and Support to Tax Inspectors Without Borders.

Representatives from organisations – AMEXCID, NEPAD Agency, European Commission, German Development Institute (GDI), OECD, UNDP – and the Global Partnership’s Steering Committee –  Germany, Mexico, El Salvador, Canada, were also present.

In her opening remarks, H.E. Mrs. Florence Eugenia, Ambassador of El Salvador to Germany quoted Benjamin Franklin saying “we must, indeed, all hand together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately”, re-iterating the need to work together towards sustainable development especially by tracking and achieving progress in the four development co-operation principles.

Ms. Jacqueline Wood of the GPI Civil Society Task Team also mentioned that the GPIs are key to the “how” of achieving the SDGs as they are a network of networks working closely at the local level to implement principles of effective co-operation.

Another participant, Willem Fourie from the South Africa Sustainable Development Knowledge Hub, called for more face-to-face engagements such as that provided by this workshop. He also said that evidence-based policy making is founded not only on these strong relations, but also access to and use of high-quality evidence, for example that provided by GPEDC’s monitoring process. “You can’t have results if you don’t have local data. You can’t have mutual accountability if you can’t have access to open data.” Through GPI networks and resources, GPEDC has the opportunity to go “global light, country heavy” – in other words supporting country-led, on-the-ground co-operation towards achieving the SDGs.

The workshop was held in the margins of the Global Festival of Action which gathered 1,000+ delegates from all walks of life including students, practitioners, organisations and companies – a true multi-stakeholder forum. GPI delegates from Results & Accountability, CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness, Tax Inspectors Without Borders, New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States and Effective Triangular Co-operation presented their initiatives at the Festival.

To access the full list of GPIs supporting the Global Partnership, click here.

Watch full coverage of the GPI session at the Global Festival of Action here.

For GPI projects and updates, read our GPI bi-annual call for reporting summary here.