Monday, January 11, 2016

Sustainable Development Goal 16: No More Business as Usual, by Alan Whaites

SDG 16 Blog Series: No 1: Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 16 – Supporting Institutions for Inclusive and Peaceful Societies

SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

The international development community rightly saw the agreement of Sustainable Development Goal 16 as a significant break-through, a recognition that institutions matter to development outcomes, that inclusive state-society relations are important, and that fundamentally peace is core to human well-being.   The celebration of the agreement of the Goal has, however, started to fade and now stakeholders are waking up to the morning after the party, perhaps with a few sore heads as the challenges of actually achieving the Goal become clear.  

This blog is the first in a series that will explore questions related to the implementation, measurement and achievement of Goal 16. The series will look at the problems that will need to be overcome by all of those involved if the aspirations outlined in the Goal are to be delivered as part of Agenda 2030.    

The starting point is to recognise that Goal 16 is ambitious, and addresses areas that are crucial to economic progress.  Increasingly the starkest problem facing aid actors is `un-development,’ the successes of human development being undermined by weak governance and consequent crises, violence and conflict.  Yet, calculations made as background for the 2011 World Development Report suggest that broad challenges exist in achieving institutional strengthening - by some measures it will take 1000 years for Haiti to reach the same level of capability as Singapore.  Only the very fastest reformers achieve significant institutional progress within a generation. This disequilibrium of improvement, with governance failing to keep pace with human and economic development, provides the backdrop to the fact that by some measures roughly 50% of states affected by conflict and fragility are now middle-income.   

Disappointing rates of institutional development mean that if we take Goal 16 at face value it represents a daunting challenge.   This challenge should not, however, become an excuse for defeatism. Instead it is a call for a leap of innovation by governments, and wider stakeholders, including the development community.  This need for innovation was the focus of discussions among governance practitioners at the most recent meeting of the OECD-DAC Network on Governance (held in December 2015). The group debated areas of practice where new ways of working may be needed, including the need to work `beyond aid’ by adopting approaches promoted by groups such as the Thinking and Working Politically Community of Practice.    
The Network heard that no single set of stakeholders can achieve Goal 16. Therefore the leap of innovation necessary to achieve Goal 16 is more achievable if actors work collectively rather than separately – collaborating on lessons, evidence and opportunities for mutual support or division of labour. Partnerships and improved working with multiple stakeholders will be central to the process. Donors are an important part of the discussion – but cannot deliver change directly. 
As a result discussions around the architecture for collaboration need to reflect the challenges of strengthening partnerships, while also improving the particular skills needed by each set of actors. The GovNet meeting heard arguments that at present the development communities supporting delivery of Goal 16 are fragmented.   This fragmentation can pose problems for focused and co-ordinated effort – it also hampers shared lesson learning and evidencing, communities act unaware of innovations and approaches developed elsewhere.   

The group encouraged debate on closer collaboration between all stakeholders involved in supporting SDG 16, and this series of blogs underlines that commitment, featuring in future weeks contributions by:  
Yongmei Zhou
Debra Ladner
Sarah Lister
Richard Youngs

The GovNet discussion has started from a belief that new forms of conversation are not the answer in themselves to delivering Goal 16.   Process and architecture are relevant in as far as they can stimulate and support real change – building stronger partnerships for action and bridging gaps in knowledge management. GovNet considered how to build on existing conversations to address knowledge management (shared lesson learning) and the promotion of creative experimentation, including whether principles for improved collaboration might include:

  • Looking at the whole problem not symptoms, and joining up across agendas
  • Better use of mutual evidence, maximising our knowledge
  • Keeping each other honest on progress – realistic monitoring that tells a grounded story
  • Collaboration with wider audiences, bringing together all stakeholders
In kicking off this discussion the group reflected that, for development actors the time to celebrate the achievement of the goal has passed, as has the option to continue business as usual. The need for changed approaches, new ways of working, is the underlying driver, and the reason why conversations matters. Achieving Goal 16 will demand something different from all those involved.  

The views expressed in our blogs remain those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the OECD or its members