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).

Effective Development Co-operation Monitoring Workshop Summary Now Available

Monitoring effective development co-operation: what have we achieved; how can we do better?, a workshop at the margins of the Second High-Level Meeting (HLM2) of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation, took stock of progress in implementing the commitments for more effective development co-operation, mapping existing bottlenecks and discussing possible solutions.

Held on 29 November 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya, the workshop also assessed emerging challenges for development effectiveness and reflected on how to update the existing global monitoring framework in the context of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Discussions drew on the findings from the 2016 Global Partnership Progress Report, online consultations, regional consultations and other preparatory events held ahead of HLM2. Its conclusions were reported during HLM2’s first plenary.

The monitoring workshop’s six sessions gave participants the opportunity to engage in critical dialogue around the following topics:

1. Overview of the 2016 monitoring round
2. Increasing the focus on development results
3. Strengthening country ownership
4. Creating inclusive partnerships for development
5. Improving transparency and accountability
6. Updating and refining the Global Partnership’s monitoring framework for the future

Click here to read the summary of the workshop.
Click here to read the workshop’s agenda (French, Spanish).

Is Development Co-operation Becoming More Effective? Lessons from Country-Monitoring

With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, attention is now on implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The scale and scope of these ambitious goals necessitate new and better ways of working together. As called for in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, we must continue to improve the quality, effectiveness and impact of development co-operation.

Work in this area is guided by the four principles of effective development co-operation. In 2011, in Busan, Korea, on the occasion of the Fourth High-Level Forum of Aid Effectiveness, a series of commitments were made with the goal of implementing these four principles across the globe. Now, five years later, we must ask, has there been any progress in implementing the Busan commitments?

The results of the second monitoring exercise of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation are now available in the joint OECD-UNDP report, “Making Development Co-operation More Effective: 2016 Progress Report.” To complement the global aggregation of results, UNDP supported the preparation of country monitoring profiles, drawing on data submitted by countries that participated in the monitoring round. Additionally, four regional and sub-regional workshops were held to discuss key findings from the round and identify underlying factors, reflect on the experience of participating countries and examine how results resonate in various country contexts.

The report and supporting work show that important progress has been made towards advancing the Busan commitments, but that much more effort is needed to achieve true and lasting effective development co-operation. The report also reveals that the significant initial progress, seen in the mid-2000s, seems to have levelled off. For example, more than half of participating countries did not experience a substantial change in their Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA) score over the last five years. Additionally, development partners channel only 50 percent of development co-operation finance through countries’ public financial management systems. Transparency is growing, with more information on development co-operation publicly available, but developing countries continue to have insufficient forward-looking development co-operation finance information to support sound strategic planning, which can undermine gains in improving the transparency of their budget information and process, and of financial flows for development.

These challenges are compounded by the increasing complexity of development co-operation. Countries are now faced with the challenging task of managing diverse development resources in a coherent manner. In this context, we need to ask, is development co-operation becoming more effective, supporting countries’ efforts to eliminate poverty, reduce inequality and promote prosperity for all in a cost-efficient way?

Countries are making headway in establishing and strengthening their own results frameworks and exploring ways to manage diverse financing flows in a more comprehensive manner. Development partners can support these efforts by providing capacity building and by fully aligning their country support strategies to country-owned results frameworks. While it is encouraging to see that this alignment is happening when designing and planning interventions, there is too often a parallel process for managing results. Even in countries that have made strides in strengthening their results frameworks, these frameworks are not being fully used by development partners. For example, Costa Rica built a results framework, as well as execution procedures into their National Development Plan 2014-2018, and an inter-institutional coordinating effort is geared towards strengthening capacity for implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. More than two-thirds of development projects (72 percent) incorporate national results frameworks, plans and strategies as standard of measurement. However, less than half of the projects (40 percent) use government monitoring systems or statistical services to measure the results indicators. Governments also only rarely participate in the final project evaluations (9 percent of them), despite almost half of projects having evaluations of some kind.

At the same time that results frameworks are improving, global aggregate results indicate only limited advances in strengthening of country public financial management systems. There are, however, encouraging examples where countries have demonstrated notable progress in strengthening these systems, even in challenging contexts. Countries such as Samoa, the Cook Islands and the Marshall Islands have demonstrated remarkable improvements in strengthening public financial management systems and enhancing the coordination, and thereby effectiveness, of development partner support. Over 80 percent of development projects in Samoa use national budget planning, financial reporting, auditing and procurement procedures. The peer-review mechanism linked to the Forum Compact in the region is one of the key enabling factors for this progress.

The monitoring process also highlighted that “strong institutionalized partnerships at the country level can build mutual trust and underpin transparency and accountability.” For this, country-led monitoring itself can create a useful basis for building trust and to chart out a mutually agreed path for a truly inclusive development process. Myanmar conducted a Strategic Review of their aid architecture to further integrate effective co-operation thinking into federal institutions. The monitoring process was found to be very useful in exploring opportunities to translate learning into concrete actions to improve coordination and build stronger partnerships.

What is clear is that country context matters more than ever before. Modality, instruments and dynamics of development co-operation are different from country to country, and region to region. For example, countries such as Somalia and South Sudan require substantial capacity and political support to create stronger mechanisms to coordinate development partners. Countries such as Bangladesh and Kenya have seen a reduction of official development assistance over the last several years due to the transition to Lower-Middle Income Country status and have to explore a more holistic approach to leverage resources from the private sector and others. Countries such as Comoros and those in the Pacific Islands experience the presence of fewer development partners. Countries such as the Dominican Republic and Paraguay must explore more knowledge-based technical cooperation and innovation to provide essential services to those left furthest behind.

Approaches used to manage co-operation must be different for different countries. And, a much more granular approach is needed to take stock of implementation of the effective co-operation principles and to learn what works best to address specific challenges. There is need to support developing countries to ensure they have the technical and financial capacity to achieve sustainable development.

At the same time, despite diverse contexts and needs, overall transparency on development activities remains a crucial ingredient for building trust and stronger partnerships. There remains a significant gap in the quality and quantity of data that is available to countries to assist in planning and managing results. Substantially, more work is needed to clear bottlenecks and to improve the visibility of all resources available in a country.

In conclusion, the country-led monitoring has proven to not only be a way to assess progress on effective co-operation commitments, but to be a key component of achieving the four effective co-operation principles in itself. It has put the focus on country-level results, it has provided a useful entry point for multi-stakeholder dialogue and accountability and it has laid a solid foundation to build trust and engage new partners. Overall, a truly honest discussion on the real challenges obstructing the realization of the principles of effective development co-operation is needed to support concerted efforts of all partners to improve the quality, effectiveness and impact of development co-operation.

Will the Second High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership provide such a space? Are we committed to deliver actions for more effective co-operation in the 2030 development landscape?