On having Voice and Being Heard: Participation in the Post-2015 Policy Process


Elizabeth Mills

From their inception and formal agreement in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have played a significant (and also ambivalent) role in shaping policy agendas, directing aid around the globe, to combat poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women. This week, the Post-2015 UN High-Level Panel convenes in London to discuss the shape that the future global development agenda will take following 2015.

The Participate team will use this blog and Twitter to provide a unique window into the the discussions taking place in and around the HLP reflecting on and documenting the policy process as it unfolds.  We will be blogging on the HLP meeting here, working with our partners in the Participatory Research Group, and providing regular updates through twitter using these hashtags: #worldwewant; #post2015; #beyond2015; #post2015HLP. Check back here for regular updates and follow the debate live on Twitter: @IDS_UK

The development policy climate is on the cusp of change and the imperative for active and participatory engagement is crucial to ensure that the post-2015 framework genuinely reflects the priorities of people most affected by poverty and injustice. The field of development, and of participatory research, has and perhaps always will be challenged by the difficulties posed by the disjuncture between the practice of people’s lived realities and the policies that directly (and indirectly) affect them, between thoroughly listening to the voices of the most marginalised and ensuring that these voices are heard by policy makers. This disjuncture calls us all – from marching academics and activists, to striking miners, from HIV community-health workers to international policy makers – to really look at the difference between having voice and being heard, and to hold ourselves and each other accountable in the process of creating a world where policies genuinely speak to people’s needs. The Participate initiative reflects the imperative of listening to voices from the margins and ensuring that these voices are heard in the post-2015 process.

Working with partners in Latin and Central America, Africa, Asia and Europe, Participate aims to provide high quality evidence on the reality of poverty at ground level, bringing the perspectives of people living in poverty into the post-2015 debate.  As discussed previously on this blog by Joanna Wheeler and Danny Burns,  Participate is working with communities, social movements and civil society organisations in more than 25 countries across these regions, to draw together an extensive body of past and current participatory research in order to ensure that the perspectives of those most affected by poverty and injustice directly inform the post-2015 process. Participate will use in-depth methods to gain insight in to the lives of people most affected by development. Some key activities include: creating a Ground Level Panel tomirror the work of the HLP; putting cameras in the hands of the poorest to make films, to share stories from their own lives and provide a more nuanced understanding of the subjective aspects and consequences of development; encouraging policy-makers to spend time living with people and learning firsthand from their experiences. More information on Participate’s activities is available here.

Elizabeth Mills is a PhD candidate working on health, citizenship and HIV/AIDS within the IDS Knowledge, Technology and Science research team.

Read other recent blogs from Participate:

What keeps unpaid care off development agendas?


Rosalind Eyben

Last week at the United Nations in New York I was asking what keeps unpaid care off development policy agendas.  By care, I was referring to meeting the material and/or developmental, emotional and spiritual needs of other people through direct personal inter-action.  Who could disagree that care is pretty important for the continuation of society and for human wellbeing?  So why is it rarely talked about in debates about development policy –for example in discussions about what should be the world’s development goals after 2015?

Here are some of the explanations I was given.

The provision and receiving of unpaid care has an impact on food security, health, education, agriculture, business development, water and sanitation, transport etc. By belonging everywhere, care fits nowhere.

People struggle to continue to provide care even when living in extreme poverty. It’s called ‘resilience’ or ‘coping’.  Thus care only becomes visible in its absence in massive disasters and emergencies when family and community relations are severely disrupted. Afterwards, the UN and governments forget about it again.

The United States is the engine room of development policy ideas and in the US domestic policy arena unpaid care is invisible to policy. The good news is there is a social movement –http://www.caringacrossgenerations.org–  recently started in the USA working hard to put it on the agenda.

Because women and girls tend to do most unpaid care it can be conveniently ignored in societies shaped by gender inequities.  But this doesn’t take us very far.  After all, other gender-related issues have got onto policy agendas. Take gender-related violence. Despite also cutting across different sectors violence has become a favoured policy issue in mainstream development agencies.  So why not care?

Economists I met suggested that if the provision of good quality care were to get the support it deserved, it would cost a very great deal of money. They talked of strategic ignorance.  People ignore information that if taken on board would oblige them to change their behaviour. This is why in the World Development Report (2011/2012) – despite an extensive analysis of unpaid care in the main text – care disappears in the executive summary.    If unpaid care were given the recognition it merits, then governments and development agencies would have to revise radically their policy priorities and budgets (The world is spending $1.6 trillion on military expenditure). Imagine.  No one wants to go there.

So care becomes a sensitive issue.  I discovered that even organisations that place gender equality at the heart of their work choose not to make care a priority.     But I also found some people totally passionate about care. One of them is incubating the idea of a ‘global initiative’ to which all UN agencies would sign up, engaging with member states to make care a policy priority across the different sectors. We need a high profile champion to make this happen. Any ideas?

Rosalind Eyben is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

‘Global development’: the new buzzword?


Maria Cascant and Alex Kelbert

Is ‘Global Development’ becoming a new development buzzword? A quick Google search would certainly suggest it could be. The phrase is increasingly popular in describing a global approach to tackling poverty and inequality. Influential blogs such as those by The Guardian and the World Bank talk of ‘Global Development’, while a number of journals and postgraduate courses further explore globalisation and development intersections from varied disciplines. Yet, the term is so broadly defined that it welcomes the most diverse ideological views in it.

Fashionable buzzwords come and go, and while they do, they define the way in which we frame and apply development concepts. It is not the same to say ‘climate change’ (2,080,000 hits on the English version of Google Scholar on 25.09.12) and ‘climate justice’ (881,000 hits), or ‘food security’ and ‘food sovereignty’ (2,180,000 and 211,000 hits) or ‘sustainable growth’ and ‘degrowth’ (1,560,000 and 4,270 hits). Different words bring different worldviews and analytical frameworks, with some being more power-aware than others. It thus becomes important to clarify the words we choose to use and the meaning we give to them.

In our case, we support a critical and bottom-up vision of Global Development – one that puts citizens first and that explores who wins and who loses in globalisation. This requires a multi-levelled analysis of actors, discourses, resources and power relations at the personal, local, state and global levels. It also needs to emphasise that it is people who make globalisation processes happen. To ensure this, globalisation analysis must start at the local level, be ethnographic and place-bound, as it is locally where people’s actions and reactions take place. Some scholars like Michael Burawoy have called this ‘grounded globalisation’ or ‘global ethnography’. Furthermore, any study of the ‘local’ needs to be understood in a ‘global’ context. From there, it is crucial to understand that the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ are not distinctly opposite, and that there are in fact multiple levels relational in nature.

In legal studies, Rodríguez-Garavito’s social minefields explore how Urrá Indigenous people in Colombia complement other forms of local struggles (i.e. marches) with the ‘prior consent’ mechanism. This international mechanism requires States to consult indigenous communities before accessing or giving access to land permits. Rodríguez-Garavito’s analysis spans the Urrá dam in the Colombian jungle, the Colombian Constitutional tribunals, Washington’s Human Rights Inter-American Commission and Geneva’s United Nations offices of Indigenous Rights – providing insight into how useful these institutions and processes are to the Urrá people.

In agriculture, the European Union’s influential Common Agricultural Policy is based on a narrative of a developed, mass and intensive ‘North’ model of production that the ‘South’ must follow. This, in turn, creates a reactive narrative revolving around a rich and exploitative ‘North’ and a poor and exploited ‘South’. Such a narrative portrays global farming with bad/good, either/or divisions of the world. Alex’s recent research on French farmers, members of the Confédération Paysanne (CP)trade union, shows a more complex, nuanced story. Indeed, CP farmers have looked beyond their own country and broken the alleged opposition of interests between French farmers (i.e. rejecting their granted subsidies) and other small-scale farmers elsewhere. Yet, these narratives are silenced. This is nowhere more clearly illustrated than in 365 pages of the 2008 World Development Report where Via Campesina – an international farmers union, of which the CP is a member and despite its representing of 200 million farmers – is mentioned only once, in a text-box. Blocking these more nuanced and alternative voices is a form of domination and isolates the complex power interactions taking place between what happens ‘here’ and what happens ‘there’.

In these bottom-up visions of Global Development, additional emphasis must be placed on analysing who the powerful actors are in development processes. At the international level, this includes the role of actors such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, bilateral aid donors and multinationals. One cannot talk of pro-poor access to medicines without exploring pharmaceutical patents; of quality primary education without IMF conditionalities on teacher recruitment; of food price increases without food commodities speculation.

The scenarios of the Urrá people and the French farmers illustrate how Global Development represents a broader analytical framework that can be used for situations where more established Nation-state and North-South frames do not capture the whole picture. A critical and bottom-up approach to Global Development can be ensured by analysing who the privileged actors are (including the global ones) and by constantly looking with a citizens’ lens at the experiences they have of globalisation and the moves they take to adapt, make use of, contest or re-imagine it.

Maria-Josep Cascant Sempere is a PhD candidate working on the theme of popular education, globalisation and social change within the IDS Participation, Power and Social Change research team.

Alexandra Wanjiku Kelbert is an MA graduate in Development Studies at IDS. Her dissertation has focused on challenging the North-South discourse in agriculture through a case study of the Confédération Paysanne in France.