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Do we need a Data Revolution or an Accountability Revolution? by L Haddad

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So, 23 months and counting till the next Development Goals are announced in New York in September 2015.

Today, together with Camilla Toulmin of IIED and Kevin Watkins of ODI, I was at a breakfast meeting of the All Party Group of Peers and MPs on Overseas Development and the All Party Group on International Development and Environment.  The title of the session was Sustainable Development: New Goals, New Thinking, Post 2015.

Our job was to brief parliamentarians on the Committees and hear from them on the development goal process and it was a chance for us to press some of our views.

Camilla talked about the importance of doing better than the High Level Panel’s report on integrating environment and development.   Kevin talked about doing better on equity issues.  I agree on both of these points, although I think the HLP did worse on the former than the latter.  I talked about civil society and accountability.

One of the less heralded shifts in the High level Panel’s report is towards greater government accountability.  How so, you say?

The 8 MDG Goals have 60 indicators associated with them, and 26, by my count, are things that governments are supposed to do.  The High Level Panel’s 12 Goals have 54 indicators, and 26 of them, again, by my count are things governments is supposed to do (i.e. can control).

So, a pretty similar proportion. But the shift is that most of the MDG accountability indicators are what rich country governments are supposed to do, mainly in environment and global partnership MDGs (7 and 8).  The HLP’s set of goals for governments–call them commitment goals–is much more balanced: it has indicators for rich, poor and emerging countries, and it has these commitment indicators spread evenly across all 12 Goals.

This is a big improvement, but as we have seen rich countries are not exactly being held to account for their failure to meet the indicators in MDG 7 and 8.  Accountability means a capacity to hold the duty bearer to account and it also means the duty bearer has to have the capacity to deliver.  And encouragingly the HLP report embeds rights language into many of its 54 suggested indicators.

So what to do to increase accountability?  A “Data Revolution” is helpful, but is not nearly  enough–there needs to be an Accountability Revolution.

Why? To build trust and to help us test our assumptions to course correct.  National governments are going to fund more of the next Development Goal action and the private sector will be more involved in one way or another and greater accountability can be a trust building exercise with both.  MyWorld shows that citizens from many countries (albeit far from a representative sample) prioritise the need for more open and responsive governments.

What? Things that can be delivered–indicators that are a stretch but which are feasible–the optimal stretch point will be different for different countries: Different countries will be able to cover different proportions of their poor and vulnerable populations with social protection, for example.

Who?  Citizens need to play a much bigger role.  We know from the Participate work (also not representative in any statistical sense) the frustration many citizens and civil society groups feel about only having their “15 seconds of Fame” (as Lyndsay Stecher puts it) where they are listened to (when invited) and then patted on the head and shown the door with no changes made by the “listeners” to anything except their PR.

Accountability mechanisms need to be developed such that what citizens conclude actually puts a lot of pressure on those in formal power to change. We know that citizen accountability mechanisms do not always work–but when they do they can be powerful ways of changing power relations (see my colleague Anu Joshi’s recent  review of the evidence–available at this link: http://www.ids.ac.uk/publication/do-they-work-assessing-the-impact-of-transparency-and-accountability-initiatives-in).  We also know the explosion of hand held computing technology opens up possibilities, but only if power relationships can be transformed.

None of this is going to be easy.  We saw how poorly the rich countries did in keeping to their commitment indicators in MDGs 7 and 8, even with readily available data (e.g. CO2 emissions, tariffs on agricultural imports from developing countries, income support to OECD farmers, percent of ODA to sanitation).  And in many countries the government’s commitment to respect and protect rights are weaker than in the OECD, making dissent and transparency more difficult.

The HLP talks a lot about “transformations” and the recent UNDP Human Development Report focuses on the Rise of the South, but the real transformation needed is the Rise of the Citizen–North, South, East and West.  We need a Data Revolution, but not nearly as much as we need an Accountability Revolution

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