Thoughts from the post-2015 High-Level panel meeting in London

Just in case anyone missed it (but how…), last week was the second meeting of the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 agenda.  This is the group of 26 people who have been tasked with writing the first draft of what will, in time, become the successor agreement to the MDGs.  It was the second time the panel had met, but the first substantive meeting – the first being a few hours in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September.  The meeting was in three parts – a first day focused on discussion of a few issues selected by the UK government, with invited experts; a second day was just the panel, looking at issues relating to household and indvidual level poverty; and a third ‘outreach’ day, where the panel met with representatives from the private sector, NGOs and youth groups.  I was there for Friday, and picked up news from people who were there on the other days.  In no particular order, my impressions were:

  • The arrival of the ‘the youth’.  The inclusion of a dedicated outreach session for youth groups meant that there were lots of dynamic and excited young people around all day on the Friday, and they made their presence felt.  It’s not clear yet if they’ll have a distinct policy agenda, but it was great to expand the outreach beyond the NGOs and the usual companies.
  • The need for clarity from ‘civil society’.  The Friday session with NGOs produced not just one Christmas tree but a whole forest of proposals and ‘you musts’ from the assembled organisations.  Of course, faced with the actual panel in front of them, organisations had to push their agreed lines.  But it was something of a wasted opportunity to present the panel with a few key messages that they might actually remember and be able to act on.  Perhaps in Monrovia?
  • The need for the private sector debate to move on (or stop).  The session on the private sector was interesting, but becoming rather familiar – a long list of good initiatives and examples of how the private sector can play a positive role in development (with some discussion on how they should also pay their taxes, which was good to see). What we’re having is just a general private sector and development conversation, not one about post-2015.  If this conversation is going to go anywhere, it has to start addressing more specific issues of what all this means for an actual agreement.  Or else it will probably just fade away as people lose interest.
  • It’s (still) about process.  The internal debates about how the Panel should be resourced and by who seem to have died down (for now). But the process issues continue to dominate, in the public parts of the agenda at least, and have shifted to questions of participation by outsiders in the panel’s work – how can people particularly ‘the most excluded’ (a phrase I heard again and again) be heard by the panel?  On which, the IDS/Beyond 2015 team presented the ‘Participate‘ project as part of Friday’s agenda, which aims to use participatory research methods to bring the views and voices of the most excluded communities into the panel’s discussions.

My key message? Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise.  This applies to civil society, as above, and also to the panel.  They are getting there slowly – one concrete output from the meeting seems to have been the agreement that the focus of the panel will be on ‘ending poverty in our time’.  But there’s a long way to go, and no shortage of advice – which can get rather wearing.  One of the most sensible comments I heard was from Abijit Banerjee, the Indian economist who sits on the panel and who, after sitting through an hour of ‘you musts’ from NGOs and others explained that in fact they would all probably be disappointed as the panel can’t possibly promise that all the issues would be in – they have to be told what’s most important.

On which – quick plug – Paul Ladd from UNDP and I presented the ‘MyWorld’ project to the panel.  This is all about prioritisation – it’s a global survey, which will run until at least 2014, asking people which options they think most important from a range of choices representing the different perspectives and ideas for a post-2015 agreement.  It’s being developed by a group that includes UNDP, ODI, the UN Millennium Campaign, , the ONE campaign and the World Wide Web Foundation.  We’ll be reporting on the results at future meetings of the panel, so they get an ongoing picture of the emerging priorities.  Launch soon, watch this space.

Update: seconds after I posted this, Jonathan Tench from Unilever tweeted that I was being a bit unfair on the private sector parts of the discussion – citing 15 recommendations made during the event relating to business and post-2015, and the fact that this is just the first in a series of conversations which will continue at the next two meetings of the HLP.  So I’m looking forward to the moving on bit, and to it not stopping!