Our Accountability for the SDGs

» Posted by on Sep 24, 2019 in Uncategorized | 11 comments

Accountability: Are we responsible for meeting the SDGs? Yes, personally and by programming for more sustainability

In a 2014 article about mutual accountability for the SDGs, Dr. Paul Zeitz states that “Sustainable development is the most urgent challenge facing humanity. The fundamental question is how the world economy can continue to develop in a way that is socially inclusive, advances human rights, and ensures environmental sustainability.” Today, the UN Secretary General’s report on SDG Progress on progress to meeting them is unveiled. As many of us work in global development, we need to consider our accountability for its findings.

First, Dr. Zeitz points to key aspects to such accountability, of which three are most relevant to sustainability:

  • Universal, Voluntary and Commitment-Based Approach

For the SDG agenda to be successful, “Shared and joint commitments by partners from governments, civil society and the private sector can inspire faster and bolder action, can garner enhanced citizen and media attention; and can contribute to the mobilization of resources from internal and external sources.”

Our industry has pushed for greater investments for decades.

  • Broad-Based Youth and Citizen Engagement

Local youth- and citizen-driven monitoring and accountability mechanisms are essential for improving budget transparency and service delivery outcomes. If citizens are enabled to pay attention, respond and engage, and then take responsibility and action, then everyone can be empowered to foster an enabling environment for “mutual accountability” and measurable results.”

While most of our work does M&E and listen to ciitzens, even foster voice through civic engagement and feedback loops, we are far from done.

  • Call for a Multi-Stakeholder SDG Monitoring and Accountability Mechanism

“… it is more challenging and more complex to ensure ‘mutual accountability’ for results. Given the advances in human cooperation and technology, we know that the SDG era can usher in and foster a new culture of ‘mutual accountability.’

It is here where we fail quite badly in global aid. We rarely talk about our reciprocal accountability with our participants and partners, with the countries themselves.  Too often we push money, extract data, claim success and leave abruptly. These SDGs push us to think about “global accountability” and how our actions at work and home need to change to (un)affect others. In a piece on mutual accountability, “Accountability for Development Cooperation under the 2030 Agenda” by Timo Mahn Jones explores “global accountability”, based on “mutual accountability, by which two partners agree to be held responsible for the commitments they voluntarily made.”

  • He warns of the danger that “development cooperation stakeholders do not follow through with their commitments, and are not held accountable.
  • He suggests that existing donors need to honor ODA/aid targets and new partners, especially the private sector are vital for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, “to move from billions to trillions” in funding.
  • Equally in need of revision is the roles of ‘donor’ and ‘recipient’ as we have entered a new world of “sharing of risk and ‘mutual pain’ where all of us are affected if we do not reach the SDG targets – although unequally.

How do those of us in our industry foster such accountability? We can say, rightly that we have played a role in sectors like health, agriculture, natural resource management through many projects over the last century or more. Absolutely but we know, our projects are piecemeal and often scattered, more short than long in implementation (typically 5 years) and as we rarely return after clcose-out, we do not know how long will results will be sustained. Yet we have tried to do good and there are many public and private players. Is it adding up? .

The Sept 2019 UN report shows promising if mixed results.  

Immunizations are increasing, thereby saving millions of lives (SDG3).


There is also good news from investments in
renewable energy growth.

However, while those living below minimum living wage is falling on every continent, still, “one child in five lives in extreme poverty” (SDG1).


Hunger
, unfortunately, is rising (SDG2), partly due to a 150% increase in “direct economic losses from disasters… over the past 20 years, with losses disproportionately borne by vulnerable developing countries” and 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced, sometimes from wars donor governments supply arms to or refugees are forced to remain in other developing countries, the UN report tells us, with shrinking refugee funds.


C
limate is the most worrisome of the UN reports. Reversing CO2 emissions and fostering the sustainability of climate adaptation and mitigation projects is imperative given today’s UNEP report that includes this graph. Collective accountability is key to reining in CO2, for our emissions are leading to unprecedented ice melt, sea-level rise, and high pollution, not globally sustainable. 

While we in ‘development’ could say we affect the earlier SDGs, climate is a global problem, one that each one of us affects with our consumptive actions… or aren’t all of them? Don’t we affect hunger through our food waste and food purchases from afar? Don’t we affect child survival and immunization through our advocacy for aid and even private donations to other health and food security charities?

Some of us disproportionally affect emissions by our wealth, population, or both. The Global Carbon Atlas from 2017 shows how wealthier and more populous countries emit far more than the poor ones. As CO2 rises, climate is affected, storms are more severe, yet the poorest countries have the fewest means to prepare or respond. In their World Disasters Report, The International Federation of the Red Cross found that “Between 1991 and 2010, the impact of recorded disaster events in poor countries resulted in over $840 billion of financial losses. Yet, over the same period, only 0.4% of the $3.3 trillion spent on aid was dedicated to prevention or risk reduction“. Our industry does some Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) but why have we not advocated to prevent more suffering?

Thinking about “collective accountability” makes this graphic from the UN SDG report uncomfortable, as the burden of climate change falls disproportionately on the poor through economic losses from disasters.

The UN Secretary General states: “The world will soon enter a decade that will be decisive for both current and future generations and for all life on this planet. It is the world’s responsibility and within its power to make it a decade of action and delivery for sustainable development.”

This will require both a clear accountability to them – not just us and ‘our’ projects. This will require us seeing such projects as our continued responsibility to sustain, namely, to design them collaboratively enough, led by local partners ranging from governments and private sector to communities, with the means to sustain what they value. As we return to evaluate sustainability less than 1% of the time, learning opportunities have been scarce to improve current and future projects.

USAID has talked about long-term transparent and accountable investments in “local solutions” partners. Has it worked? Not yet. While President Obama and former United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Raj Shah promised up to 30% of all contracts would go to ‘local solutions’ that “promote sustainable development through high-impact partnerships and local solutions”, little of that was met, given bureaucracy and the need for fast success, rather than investing more in long-term capacity development of partners. While there seem to be good examples such as HaitiAfghanistan is a poorer example. While most international non-profits implement projects through local sub-contractors, certainly building their capacity to manage and account for foreign taxpayer dollars spent, like this MSI in Lebanon example, is important. But if we extend the measure of ‘success’ beyond our project implementation, then policies and programming needs to change to sustain capacity and implementation post-exit (INTRAC report). Too often we still exit when funds are spent. USAID’s new Journey to Self-Reliance does promise to listen, to “ support partners to become self-reliant and capable of leading their own development journeys.“

It requires listening to those whom our aid, aids. Time to Listen talks movingly of a desire for collaboration during design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. It requires we take the time to listen, have an openness to learn from our partners and participants about what they could – and could not- sustain and why. We need to do so before, during and well-after projects close, learn quickly and do better and be collectively accountable for longer. It requires seeing such people as real experts, not abstractions. How? Listening to those living with hunger and climate change is vital. While we read about Amazonian fires threatening over 2 million acres of rainforest, contextualizing statistics with stories that illustrate that those whose Development Goals donors are ‘sustaining’ know best what works there.  In this case, understanding the range of why the Amazon rainforest reserves are endangered is important for design, so that better approaches to achieving SDGs become a driving force to change all our lives. We need to be  accountable to them.

Let me know your thoughts on bringing the SDGs to our work and lives…

11 Comments

  1. Comments from the Pelican site:

    Svetlana Negroustoueva negroustoueva@gmail.com via dgroups.org
    Fri, Oct 4, 12:08 AM (13 days ago)
    to Pelican

    Dear Jindra,

    Thank you for bringing up the issue. In fact we discussed this extensively at the morning session at the IDEAS evaluation conference, (you may have been at another session) inspired by the brief produced jointly by EvalGender+, EvalSDGs and IIED
    “Equity-focused, gender-responsive evidence: a blind spot in VNR reporting” https://pubs.iied.org/17497IIED/

    We have lessons from reviews of VNR done by evaluators that are actionable for VOPEs and individual evaluators. I will be happy to share presentations and whatever comes up afterwards, please email me if anyone else is interested.

    Sincerely,
    Svetlana Negroustoueva
    Co-chair, EvalGender+

  2. Comments from the Pelican site:
    Eddah Kanini eddahkan@gmail.com via dgroups.org
    Wed, Oct 9, 4:27 PM (8 days ago)
    to Pelican

    Good question Jindra.
    During the week, we discussed deeply on mutual responsibilities of professionals. In Evaluation, the Consultants just like the commissioners of Evaluation are accountable for the progress of SDGs. The Evaluation consultants should scrutinize well the TORs and advise on various issues e.g reconstruction of the theory of change, the gender integration, the Evaluation Criteria etc. Although challenging, the Evaluator has a responsibility to follow-up on the commitments such as the use of the Evaluation report and implementation of the recommendations.

  3. Comments from the Pelican site:
    Tina Wallace
    Wed, Oct 9, 4:34 PM (8 days ago)
    to Pelican

    Dear Pelicaners – I’ve come to have quite a dim view of how much our work has resulted in SDG progress, but I may be wrong. Do you see more hope that we are accountable as a profession? Personally?

    There is unboubtedly a major problem of accountability in international development work. There is a weak regulatory framework for organisations at every level. While finances are well overseen usually and accountability to donors is increasingly tight based on often very detailed indicators, accountability within the countries where the work is done is often limited or even ignored.

    There is almost no way or mechanisms communities, movements, groups can realistically use to regulate or call to account INGO work- when they arrive , their conditionalities, the way they work, their strategies and priorities, when they leave or how far the work was relevant or well done.

    Who decides when INGOs should move between core themes, different approaches, new priorities… be that human rights, participatory ways of working, advocacy as key, service delivery, focus on measurable results, gender equality etc etc. Who is this discussed with?

    I would suggest that actually all the accountabilities actually in use are developed by donors and INGOS and tge mechanisms of accountability to recipients are very weak indeed. There are exceptions of course but the bulk of funding is currently not well explained let alone negotiated or reported on in relevant ways to those at the receiving end.

    Most M&E practitioners lack the mandate time skills and possibly motivation to see themselves as accountable beyond those who hire and pay for them often under v narrow short term contracts. Some I know do worry about this glaring gap in accountability to their ‘users’ ‘partners’ ‘vulnerable people’. But how to do this in the paradigms of too down aid focused on specific results to be achieved and reported on quickly?

    How often do AID AGENCIES sit and seriously discuss joint planning, shared project development, accountability to the poor? There are a few good papers and ideas but v thinly spread I think. And how to do this without the language, cultural knowledge, listening, and responding? And with whom? Far far less time has gone into thinking about culturally appropriate approaches, del partnerships, and the skills of listening and interpretation than into training on standard tools rolled out for inward accountability.

    I know many who worry hugely about these issues and some great initiatives. But they are the outliers and rarely heard.

    The tools of modern managerialism drive much development aid and within that it is hard to see how to find ways to be accountable to people while the machinery of donors and Ingos gets ever more onerous.

    It’s one reason many staff and partners get burnt out- living with these contradictions between rhetoric and reality.

    Tina Wallace

  4. Comments from the Pelican site;
    bob@bobwilliams.co.nz via dgroups.org
    Fri, Oct 11, 5:24 PM (6 days ago)
    to Pelican

    And one of the main tools is to promote the notion of accountability. Only fools rely on their tools and relying on ‘accountability’ to get people to do things is one of the most foolish of actions. Years ago organisational consultants were writing about the notion of responsibility for rather than accountability to. We manage complex situations by helping people feel responsible for, rather than accountable too. Accountability actually removes agency not generates the kind of agency necessary to engage is wicked problems the face the development sector.

  5. Comments from the Pelican site:
    Hi Tina,

    This is a very nice answer, I would just like to add one thing –

    You wrote, “There is almost no way or mechanisms communities, movements, groups can realistically use to regulate or call to account INGO work- when they arrive , their conditionalities, the way they work, their strategies and priorities, when they leave or how far the work was relevant or well done.”

    I would just like to add one group, from an idealistic point of view, and that is national governments. I would posit that national governments are ultimately responsible for development and the achievement of the SDGs (though I have issues with them as well). I think it is clearly within the role of national governments to address every issue you raised in the paragraph above. And if governments don’t have the ability to play this role, we should help them acquire that ability. (If governments don’t want to achieve the SDG’s, that’s another question.)

    Too much of our work is driven from the outside. I would love to see national governments or national champions take the lead and we, in international development, follow and help them, starting with where they are and with clear achievable goals with reasonable timelines for next steps in a long term process. This would require drastic changes in the way development does business, so despite Busan and Paris, I don’t see it happening soon.

    Cheers,

    Frank

  6. Comments from the Pelican site;
    Agree with Bob 100%. Always disliked the word accountable and found it negative. People are only ‘held accountable’ when things go wrong. Never heard of anyone being ‘held accountable’ when the succeeded. This use of accountability is top-down thinking, and as Bob says removes agency.

    Thanks for pointing that out, Bob.

  7. Comments from the Pelican site;
    Agree with Bob 100%. Always disliked the word accountable and found it negative. People are only ‘held accountable’ when things go wrong. Never heard of anyone being ‘held accountable’ when the succeeded. This use of accountability is top-down thinking, and as Bob says removes agency.
    Frank

    Thanks for pointing that out, Bob.

  8. Comments from Pelican
    Good morning

    Here is an article I read yesterday that speaks directly to this concern and offers some recommendations. I hope you gain some further meaningful insights from it.

    Regards

    Tanya Mohr

    Paper:

    The Bellagio Initiative
    The Future of Philanthropy and Development in the Pursuit of Human Wellbeing

    Commissioned Paper

    Evaluating Development
    Philanthropy in a Changing World

    IDS_Master Logo

    Robert Picciotto
    King’s College, London
    November 2011

  9. Comments from Pelican continued
    Good morning
    Here is an article I read yesterday that speaks directly to this concern and offers some recommendations. I hope you gain some further meaningful insights from it
    Regards
    Tanya Mohr

    Paper:

    The Bellagio Initiative
    The Future of Philanthropy and Development in the Pursuit of Human Wellbeing

    Commissioned Paper

    Evaluating Development
    Philanthropy in a Changing World

    IDS_Master Logo

    Robert Picciotto
    King’s College, London
    November 2011

  10. Answers to Pelican:

    Jindra Cekan
    11:38 AM (9 minutes ago)
    to Pelican

    Such good responses re: accountability, folks, many thanks!
    1) Svetlana please do update us on Pelican. Svetlana and Frank: This was an important finding and country nationals have told me it’s the lack of financing for such M&E rather than lack of national government’s political will to fulfill the SDGs aimed (ideally) at helping them: “Although the VNRs demonstrate that countries consider gender equality and equity to be essential for achieving the SDGs, integrating equity-focused, gender-responsive evidence seems to be a blind spot in reporting. The 2030 Agenda needs a strong equity-focused and gender-responsive M&E framework to provide better evidence for learning, decision making and accountability to ensure that no one is left behind.”
    2) Eddah, Yes: “the Evaluator has a responsibility to follow-up on the commitments such as the use of the Evaluation report and implementation of the recommendations” as do Commissioners to act on those they agree are in their remit.
    3) Tina Yes! “There is almost no way or mechanisms communities, movements, groups can realistically use to regulate or call to account INGO work- when they arrive, their conditionalities, the way they work, their strategies and priorities, when they leave or how far the work was relevant or well done….the bulk of funding is currently not well explained let alone negotiated or reported on in relevant ways to those at the receiving end.” Tina and Frank, I dream of communities, NGOs and yes, national governments evaluating us INGOs, Multi-lateral and bi-lateral donors for how much (sustained) good we’ve done, rather than us evaluating how well ‘they’ used our funds. I just read a group of pro-actual localization INGOs (outliers?) blog on talking about USAID’s localization process, part of the ‘Journey to self-reliance’ which was heartening: http://www.stoppingassuccess.org/2019/09/09/interaction-reflections/
    4) Tanya, will read with interest, but one caution. in the introduction, “Pressing human needs are not being met by an official aid system short of resources, catering to multiple interests and hobbled by massive coordination problems. By contrast, private giving for development is growing and has proven nimbler and more results oriented than official aid.” I am all for it! (www.ImpactGuild.org) but finding impact investors who don’t demand high returns from local investments is the proverbial needle-in-the-haystack
    5) Bob and Frank- I see us evaluators as sometimes the only conduits of ‘responsibility’ from locals to donors. How else would you like to more palatably frame it so that we are heard? I honestly think donors do want to do good, albeit with self-serving interests clouding altruism :)… but what donors do this? At IDEAS 2 weeks ago in Prague, Ford was highlighted as doing local good well. Others?
    Warmly!

  11. Answers to Pelican:
    Such good responses re: accountability, folks, many thanks!
    1) Svetlana please do update us on Pelican. Svetlana and Frank: This was an important finding and country nationals have told me it’s the lack of financing for such M&E rather than lack of national government’s political will to fulfill the SDGs aimed (ideally) at helping them: “Although the VNRs demonstrate that countries consider gender equality and equity to be essential for achieving the SDGs, integrating equity-focused, gender-responsive evidence seems to be a blind spot in reporting. The 2030 Agenda needs a strong equity-focused and gender-responsive M&E framework to provide better evidence for learning, decision making and accountability to ensure that no one is left behind.”
    2) Eddah, Yes: “the Evaluator has a responsibility to follow-up on the commitments such as the use of the Evaluation report and implementation of the recommendations” as do Commissioners to act on those they agree are in their remit.
    3) Tina Yes! “There is almost no way or mechanisms communities, movements, groups can realistically use to regulate or call to account INGO work- when they arrive, their conditionalities, the way they work, their strategies and priorities, when they leave or how far the work was relevant or well done….the bulk of funding is currently not well explained let alone negotiated or reported on in relevant ways to those at the receiving end.” Tina and Frank, I dream of communities, NGOs and yes, national governments evaluating us INGOs, Multi-lateral and bi-lateral donors for how much (sustained) good we’ve done, rather than us evaluating how well ‘they’ used our funds. I just read a group of pro-actual localization INGOs (outliers?) blog on talking about USAID’s localization process, part of the ‘Journey to self-reliance’ which was heartening: http://www.stoppingassuccess.org/2019/09/09/interaction-reflections/
    4) Tanya, will read with interest, but one caution. in the introduction, “Pressing human needs are not being met by an official aid system short of resources, catering to multiple interests and hobbled by massive coordination problems. By contrast, private giving for development is growing and has proven nimbler and more results oriented than official aid.” I am all for it! (www.ImpactGuild.org) but finding impact investors who don’t demand high returns from local investments is the proverbial needle-in-the-haystack
    5) Bob and Frank- I see us evaluators as sometimes the only conduits of ‘responsibility’ from locals to donors. How else would you like to more palatably frame it so that we are heard? I honestly think donors do want to do good, albeit with self-serving interests clouding altruism :)… but what donors do this? At IDEAS 2 weeks ago in Prague, Ford was highlighted as doing local good well. Others?
    Warmly!

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