28 May 2015

This is a guest post by Dr. Ulrich Graute. He is an International Cooperation and Development Expert (UN, EU, national) and Senior Adviser, as well as a board member of the Regional Studies Association. Ulrich represents the RSA at a UN General Assembly Hearing on the Post 2015 Development Agenda on 26 and 27 May and volunteered to keep us up to date with the latest developments. This is the continuation of yesterday's post The RSA attends UN hearing with stakeholders on the new Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Four experts deliver a sharp analysis of the agenda …

Four pannelists ready to speak-up (left) and the moderator Magdy Martinez-Soliman of UNDP

Later during the conference a classic communication gap between UN and stakeholders became apparent. Four women from Kenya, Egypt, Mexico and India were asked to present their views on the agenda, its monitoring indicators and means of implementation. What the UN more cautiously had indicated in the concept note is that the final draft of the development agenda is already written (but not to be published before the end of May, i.e. a few days after the hearing) and that any major request for change from non-state stakeholders might spoil the already difficult task to find agreement on the agenda among 193 UN member states by September.

Well, the UN found a master in the four women who knew exactly where proposed goals and indicators for inclusiveness are too wishy-washy and where the more targeted goals and indicators exclude important aspects. Of course, as non-state stakeholders they are not responsible for the timing and diplomatic strategizing at the international level. They were just invited to speak at a hearing – and so they did.

… and the UN assures a punctual end of the debate

In a short intervention as RSA representative I tried to bridge the gap by asking panellists to talk about their local readiness to implement the agenda. By doing so they could have demonstrated that further ignoring the local situation by the UN could condemn the agenda to fail right from the beginning. Unfortunately, before giving the floor to the panellists the UN moderator collected a total of about fifteen statements. Not surprisingly, panellists were overwhelmed and did not even try to respond to all statements, questions etc. This way the session came to a punctual end. But I am quite sure that in the final report by the organizers the session will be described as a ‘lively and high level debate with plenty of meaningful interaction between UN and stakeholders’. 

What was achieved? What are the conclusions to be drawn?

After these negative remarks one has to ask for the added value of these events.
The UN has to be credited for delivering what was promised at the first place: Engaging stakeholders and organizing a public hearing. This is notable because in the past it was not common to organize such events while intergovernmental negotiations were on-going. The limited experience of the organizers may explain to some extend why the hearing was so formal and without real debate. For an “informal hearing” it was by far too formalistic. At the same time too little information was given to participants. The document available in advance, the concept note, was to generic and apparently it generated wrong expectations on the side of participants. Overall, the UN has to learn how to better engage non-state stakeholders.

On the side of academic institutions like RSA there are also lessons to be learned.

Firstly, we have to understand how important this engagement with non-academic institutions is for us. The Academy of Social Sciences (AcSS) launched a UK-wide campaign to lobby for the added value of social sciences. This wouldn't be necessary if researchers and scholars would attend and contribute to stakeholder events and joint search for problem-solving more frequently.

Secondly, when UN representatives assign an “important and leading” role to academic institutions (as it happened at the opening of the hearing) they predominantly think about academia as a provider of technical tools and magic formulas to save the planet and our living standard. There is less openness to admit that also a lot needs to be done to improve governance and management of global development processes – beginning with a better organization of informal hearings. It’s up to us to shatter the hope that a sustainable development on earth will be possible without improving the institutional framework and cooperation.