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Reflections on Social Accountability - Catalyzing democratic governance to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals
Oslo Governance Centre - GAP
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The Millennium Development Goals remain a powerful symbol of international consensus on tackling poverty. Progress reports on the MDGs present a mixed picture of successes and challenges. Despite the setbacks caused by global economic shocks, progress has been made in many countries on fighting poverty, increasing primary school enrolment and improving health. To sustain this progress, the Summit Declaration highlighted the importance of using strategies, policies and approaches that have proven to be effective to sustain this progress. The United Nations Secretary-General's Report to the Summit reflected on the critical challenges that remain, including scaling up successful initiatives through inclusive planning that promotes state accountability and developing and sustaining effective public service delivery mechanisms (Greeley, 2010).
Sustainability, equality and human rights have emerged as fundamental cross-cutting issues that should inform the goals and targets of a post-2015 development framework. While highlighting this imperative, the report of the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda, Realizing the Future We Want for All, which was submitted to the Secretary-General just before the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2012, also underlined the relevance of the Millennium Declaration as a valid framework for development.
The wide-ranging national and thematic consultations taking place worldwide between the United Nations and multiple constituencies indicate support for a post-2015 agenda that builds on the MDG framework and keeps the focus on human development while tackling emerging challenges, including sustainable development, inclusive growth, inequalities, demographic dynamics, human rights and continuing conflict.
These consultations reiterate the need for sustainable development, public accountability and equality that have long been the focus of development work the world over. That these issues are resurfacing as priorities underscores the fact that the Millennium Declaration recognized—13 years ago—a more ambitious form of human development, one that is indivisible from human rights, equality, peace, security and sustainable development. In practice over the past several years, resources, reporting and public mobilization have been directed at the measurable agenda contained in the MDGs. Indeed, the final meeting review of outcomes from the Global Thematic Consultation on Governance and the Post-2015 Framework notes that “democratic governance goes beyond the building of institutions and includes developing the very relationship between institutions and people, to ensure that institutions are responsive to individual and community aspirations, to support participation and, in so doing, address imbalanced power dynamics” (UNDP and OHCHR, 2013).
In the current context, the time is ripe to reflect on lessons from these initiatives and ask how they can further support positive changes in service delivery and democratic governance to deliver progress towards the MDGs and how they can influence the development of a new framework. Based on a review of available literature, this paper presents comparative experiences of social accountability initiatives across four themes: the use of information and communication technology (ICT); issues specific to the urban poor and the informal sector; countries in or emerging from conflict; and social inclusion.
This paper supplements the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Guidance Note on Fostering Social Accountability, which explains the organization’s approach to social accountability and provides direction for programming. The following four chapters capture diverse examples of adopting a social accountability approach to existing programming and of new initiatives in which social accountability principles and tools were used to promote two-way dialogue between citizens and the state, address social exclusion or increase citizen engagement in service delivery. They also illustrate the possibilities for making democratic governance more effective in delivering development outcomes.