Three years ago, Renee Ho and I reflected on this blog about the changing nature of intermediation. Intermediation, we argued, was becoming localized and decentralized. Citizens were better able to express their needs and priorities, aided by new online. Service providers and implementers could no longer “control the narrative” because their donors and other stakeholders could see what people thought of their work. We argued that International Civil Society Organizations (ISCOs) should reconfigure to enable and amplify the effects of stronger connections, transparency and accountability.
Three years on, the shift to a more connected world is accelerating. The opportunity – and need – for smart, evolving ISCO intermediation is stronger than ever. In this follow-up, my colleague Megan Campbell and I would like to discuss three lessons learned, which together should help shape the evolution of ICSOs over the coming years:
Listening isn’t action
Listening and engagement initiatives are proliferating. They are a great first step, but responding is the hard part – and increasingly the binding constraint. And listening without action is a waste of time at best – and breeds cynicism and mistrust at worst. I myself have been waiting over 2,000 days for a response of an issue I raised with a local government agency on the SeeClickFix platform. No one has bothered to even tell me whether they have heard it, and if so why they can’t (or won’t) take action. Large organizations and governments are struggling to put in place adaptive management processes that enable them to respond to the voice of the people they seek to serve.
Don’t limit yourself to Incremental responses
In an recent article, Lant Pritchett argued that the gains from targeted interventions, of the kind favored by many aid agencies and practitioners, are dwarfed by the gains that come from broader institutional development and policy changes. Similarly, listening initiatives often focus on feedback about specific interventions – what can we do right away? But sometimes we need to step back and ask what type of fundamental shifts in resources, decision-making power, and institutional processes do we need to bring about more profound and longer-lasting changes?
Conversation is key
In 2015 I celebrated shifting the power toward individual donors and users. Yet this does not mean decisions should be made by plebiscite. The true power of feedback comes from rich conversations that generate new ideas and understanding. Most people understand the need for institutions – political, economic, and social. They want to hear the insights of specialists, regulators, and leaders. They just don’t want those “experts” to make all the decisions unilaterally: they want their own voices and perspectives to be heard. They want to be part of a genuine conversation about what they need to make their lives better – and how to get it. The evidence shows that good conversations that include the people and the leaders as equal partners can lead to major gains in social, environmental, and economic outcomes.
Will ICSOs seize the opportunity, open their doors, and seek out rich conversations with the people they seek to serve? Will they create adaptive management processes that close the loop by changing what they do – sometimes incrementally, sometimes fundamentally? Or will they hunker down, reinforce their defenses, and continue to try to control the narrative? Each organization’s answer to those questions will determine whether the organization survives and leads – or dwindles into irrelevance.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were a crucial first attempt to set ambitious goals for a successful development in the 21st century. Their key shortcoming was that the poorest 20% of the global population was largely ignored in the race to improve statistical averages. The new set of goals – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – were thus created in the spirit of “leaving no one behind”. This means that the SDGs require all goals to be reached, for everyone – especially those at the margins of society.
However, the UN 2017 SDG report emphasises that data identifying who is vulnerable or what their needs are is often unavailable. This poses a great challenge if the SDGs are to be fully implemented, as we currently don’t have a full understanding of who is in danger to be left behind and what these communities would need, in order to benefit from the promises made on the global level. How can we tackle this problem?
Several of the international civil society organisations (ICSOs) that we at the International Civil Society Centre are working with – such as Save the Children, BRAC, WWF, CARE International or Plan International – have a clear ambition to contribute to the implementation of the SDGs. And as a basis for this work, they have a great wealth of data and evidence.
And yet, while all these organisations alone are making great strides, imagine:
Since September 2017, the Centre together with 12 ICSOs is making this a reality. Our Leave No One Behind project aims to give voice and agency to marginalised groups and communities within SDG implementation and monitoring processes, through a diverse and globally coordinated approach using community-based data.
In the current pilot phase (ending February 2019), we are focusing on national level collaboration in five countries: Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nepal and Vietnam. In each country, the national offices of ICSOs, as well as local partners and civic platforms, come together in an unprecedented effort to create collective impact. These country teams have jointly agreed to focus on a specific aspect of the SDGs, relevant to their country’s context.
For example, in Bangladesh the focus is on ensuring a universal health care for people living at the margins of society, mainly talking to people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, migrants and the ultra-poor. The colleagues in Kenya are exploring how to strengthen community-led monitoring of SDG implementation, and in India the focus is on measuring the overall SDG progress for marginalised groups across 100 ‘hotspots’, making 10,000 families in the country.
As we all know, collaboration is a tough one and it has been a challenge to figure out the right approach and level for this collaboration. One year into the project we – thanks to the commitment of so many parties – are thrilled to see the commitment of the ICSOs and several other organisations to make this initiative a success. Our clear ambition in the upcoming months is: a) finalise and evaluate the results of the national level work, b) based on these insights develop an ambitious “blueprint” for setting up evidence-driven partnerships bringing together actors across the sectors, jointly fighting for the full inclusion of marginalised people in the SDG delivery and c) secure funding for a scaled-up version of this initiative that will be expanded to more countries until 2022.
We see a lot of potential in this initiative and we also know that there just is no other way: In order to ensure nobody is left behind in the delivery of the SDGs, actors across the sectors must join forces and pool strengths and knowledge. The ICSOs can play a key role in this, working across the globe with structures that reaches from the grassroots to the international level. One of the sector’s key strengths is this wide reach and influence and the resulting ability to trigger and shape change. The project is a key lever for showing the sector’s capabilities to make the SDGs a success for everybody, including the people who live at the margins of society – hence, failure is not an option!
We are looking forward to hearing from anyone who is interested in being part of this collaboration.
Global Perspectives 2018 will bring generations together in a unique framework. Established civil-society leaders can glean from the creativity and energy of young innovators, while younger actors can gain experience and useful networking opportunities. The conference emphasises mutual learning with a blend of workshops, panel discussions and interactive peer-to-peer exchange. Participants are invited to contribute in various ways, such as by hosting a workshop, planning side meetings or showcasing their initiatives.
It is a very rewarding environment, one that you will definitely enjoy, but don’t just take it from us. watch these videos from previous participants to see what Global Perspectives 2018 can offer you.