Seeing the world through a different lens

14/08/2014

Danny Burns2 photo miniDanny Burns

The Secretary-General of the United Nations was expected to publish his report to the General Assembly on the MDGs and the post-2015 development agenda on 12 August. How much of his insight will have been informed by listening to the voices of the poorest and most marginalised?  Participate partners have been critically reflecting  on the participatory methods they have employed in attempts to shift power in policy making.  One such approach, the Participate Ground Level Panels (GLPs) created a participative space for people living in poverty and marginalisation to deliberate what is needed from the post-2015 global policy process.

 In 2013, Participate partners hosted three deliberative meetings between those living poverty and those with political authority through Ground Level Panels (GLPs). The idea for a GLP aimed to provide a mirror to the deliberations of the United Nations (UN) High Level Panel (HLP) but from people who lived in extreme poverty or marginalisation.

The Ground Level Panels took place in Egypt, Brazil, Uganda and India. Each panel comprised a group of 10-14 people with diverse and intersecting identities including urban slum dwellers; disabled people; sexual minorities; people living in conflict and natural disaster-affected areas; people living in geographically isolated communities; nomadic and indigenous people; older people; internally displaced people; and young people. Each panel created relationships, shared experiences, connected the local level to the national and international development contexts and provided a critical review and reality check on the five transformative shifts as outlined by the UN High Level Panel.

The GLPs saw the world through a different lens to the HLP. The people in the Panels understood the dynamics of change facing people living in poverty and this gave them the ability to say if these policies were meaningful. While economic growth is an unchallenged assumption in the HLP for the Brazilian GLP it was seen as part of the ‘death plan’. For the Brazilians the critical issue is not ‘poverty’ per se, but ‘misery’ and ‘dignity’. While the HLP focused on service provision, the Indian Panel’s desired goals largely focus on social norms, behaviour 
and discrimination.

There were some common themes which emerged in all of the Panels. People want to feel that they have meaningful control over the influences that impact their lives. In all cases structures for equal participation were highlighted as foundational. In almost all of the Panels there was a recurring theme of ‘self management’. People don’t want aid. They want the means to generate and sustain their own livelihoods. So if we are serious about moving ‘beyond aid’ in the new development agenda then empowerment must become the priority.

One thing that struck me was the difference in composition of the HLP and the GLPs. The HLP was made up of people largely from an elite political class. There was the odd member of royalty and a few interesting academics thrown in, but by and large they were high ranking politicians. There was very little diversity in the group, and the interests were narrow. The GLPs on the other hand were highly diverse. Slum dwellers sitting side by side with pastoralists, transgender people, and people living in refugee camps … It is easy to stereotype people as ‘poor’and see them as a huge sprawling undifferentiated ‘category’, but they bring far more diversity than people who hold power.

What defines the success of a Ground Level Panel? Is it the response of the national government or within the UN process, or is it also influence on policy at the local levels? For Natalie Newell who led the GLP in Uganda on behalf of Restless Development, the experience demonstrated the importance of the local level. 
”It is important to be clear with all involved about what can realistically be achieved from the GLP process. This includes considering the strengths and weaknesses of this approach, and what it can add to the policy debate. From the perspectives of those that participated in the Uganda process, the changes at the community level and for them as people were an important success.”

Listen to Nava and Richard’s reflections on the Uganda Ground Level Panel.

Read more about the Ground Level Panels in Participate’s latest publication ‘Knowledge from the Margins: An anthology from a global network on participatory practice and policy influence.’

Danny Burns is a Co-Director of the Participate initiative and Team Leader for the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS. He can be found on Twitter at: @dannyburns2

Read other posts from Danny Burns

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Participate’s proposal for Post-2015 targets that respond to the realities of poor and marginalised people

16/04/2014

Danny BurnsDanny_Burns200

 

‘When the demolitions started in 2005, our life changed drastically… we were moved 50km away from Manila. There was no house…we were not able to spend the money on making the floor but on food because my husband could not work there… (now) The soil of our house erodes during rainy season’. My children had to stop school for a whole year…’ (Sara Mendoza, Philippines)

Participate research  has shown with remarkable consistency that not only has development failed to benefit the poorest and most marginalised people, it has frequently been the cause of, or has deepened their poverty. In other words, the poorest and those on the margins are often collateral damage for the ‘development’ of those who are easier to reach. The stories of numerous people in the Participate research was of shifting sands – never feeling secure, stable, recognised, safe – never knowing what tomorrow might bring.

Targets that fail to address these issues – instead focusing only on providing more and better services – will continue to fail those that have been left behind by development. The targets needed for people living in greatest poverty and those who are most marginalised are ones that provide solid ground and strong foundations from which dignity is enabled and people can build a future for themselves and their families. These include a secure place to live (an informal settlement which people know will be there tomorrow is a good start), an identity, the rights to citizenship, a basic livelihood (probably in the informal economy) and safety and security. They also include freedom from extreme discrimination and exclusion, an environment that does not destroy their capacity for building collective solutions and solidarity, and meaningful processes for them to articulate their needs, participate in and shape the construction of their own futures.

The refrain that reverberates through our research is that ‘there are clinics, and schools, but we don’t get access to them’. There is no point in talking about education if children still have to work in the fields or beg on the streets because their parents livelihood is not enough or because education is not available to them because of who they are (women, people with disabilities, lower castes, etc). There is no point in distributing resources to local villages if these are diverted by corrupt officials or dominant local families. There is no point in local clinics if people can’t afford medicines or are humiliated by doctors that treat them like animals as opposed to a person in need of treatment with a right to appropriate health care.

The realities of those living in extreme poverty and marginalisation are different to those on low income, and if their needs are to be met and their rights recognised then a different development paradigm is necessary: One which challenges fictional trickle down theories and starts with the poorest and most marginalised; one which recognises that much of what countries see as unquestionable – such as infrastructure development and economic growth – has to be questioned; and one which directly addresses the discriminatory norms and abuses of power that impact gravely on people’s capacity to overcome poverty and marginalisation, and participate in development.

The Participate proposal for post-2015 targets does not try to provide targets for every issue that was raised in the 18 participatory research studies.  Rather it seeks to distil three foundational target areas which must underpin the others, and without which the post-2015 targets framework will be meaningless for the poorest and most marginalised people. The targets relate to:

  • Livelihoods and pro-poor infrastructure development
  • Participation and citizen action
  • Tackling discriminatory institutional and social norms

As country representatives at the United Nations continue to formulate the final post-2015 framework, Participate reiterates the call to ‘leave no-one behind’. Tackling extreme poverty and marginalisation, alongside rising and intersecting inequalities, must be a priority. This will require a rights-based, people-centred approach which prioritises social justice and recognises the need for long-term policies and programmes.

Read more of Sara Mendoza’s story ‘Urban Growth in the Philippines’ on page 19 of the Work With Us report

Danny Burns is a Co-Director of the Participate initiative and Team Leader for the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

Read other posts from Danny Burns


The Sustainable Development Goals for post-2015: Economic Development or a Guarantee of Rights?

27/03/2014

Carlos Cortez Ruizpicture of Carlos Cortez

Earlier this month, the Participate initiative co-hosted its ‘Work with Us’ exhibition at the headquarters of UN in New York in partnership with the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations. The exhibition coincided with two important events in the post-2015 calendar; the ninth meeting of the Open Working Group (OWG) for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the President of United Nations General Assembly (PGA) debate on the Contributions of Women, the Young and Civil Society to the Post‐2015 Development Agenda. During the same week, Participate Co-Director Danny Burns and myself met with members of the Open Working Group, including some of the UN Permanent Representatives.

These meetings were a good opportunity to present Participate’s research results; to further understand the complex process underpinning the Post 2015 agenda; and to gain some insight into the different positions and opinions on what should be included. We also discussed the serious limitations to getting the voices and perspectives of the most excluded and poorest heard in the global debate.

Different perspectives on poverty
The positions and proposals on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), expressed in the discourse and in the concepts used by some of the OWG members, show different perspectives on poverty, their causes and on the way to face the situation in the future. While some consider economic development to be the answer to reducing poverty, there are a few who see that the struggle against poverty and exclusion requires the guarantee of rights and a more complex perspective that includes cultural and social issues.

There are also differences between those who maintain that that the road beyond 2015 must continue towards realising the MDGs, and those whose consider the debate on the SDGs as an opportunity to have a deeper reflection on the general agenda – one which includes an open, participatory process from the definition to the implementation of the post-2015 agenda. Other differences appear to be between the pragmatic perspectives of those that want to define objectives and indicators and those who want to embed the rights of the poorest and more excluded social groups in new institutional and social approaches.

A lot more work to do
As members of Participate, we spoke of the impact of cultural and social norms on the existence of poverty and exclusion and the need for a different approach to deal with them. The differences between those who are more receptive and active around these issues and those that weren’t were clear.

For now it looks as though the proposal will be based on economic issues, with a group of targets similar to the MDGs. If the final document is to include the guarantee of rights, gender equality and the active participation of the poorest and accountability, we’ve got a lot more work to do.

Dr Carlos Cortez works for the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana Xochimilco (UAM), Mexico. He is also a member of Participate’s Participatory Research Group (PRG).

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Participate: Response to the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda Report

07/06/2013

Joanna Wheeler and Danny Burns Joanna Wheeler mini photo Danny Burns photo mini

This post previously appeared on the Participate blog. Subscribe to their blog for regular updates on the Participate initiative.

This response is based on in-depth participatory research with people living in poverty and marginalisation, from 18 organisations working in over 30 countries worldwide, which together form the Participate initiative’s Participatory Research Group network. The research has included people with disabilities, older people, people with mental health issues, urban dwellers, people living in slums, rural communities, indigenous communities, farmers, people affected by natural disasters, youth, vulnerable children and children outside of parental care, marginalised women, sex workers and sexual minorities.

Read the full response here

Citizens at the Centre

It is encouraging that the Panel has evidently listened closely to some of the issues raised by people living in poverty and marginalisation. The focus on eradicating poverty, promoting sustainability, addressing conflict and violence, and protecting human rights and dignity are welcome. The strong stance on gender equality reflects the gendered nature of poverty and discrimination articulated by people participating in this research across the world. The acknowledgement that strong accountability and the participation of the poorest and most marginalised is essential but most of all, the commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ marks a potential shift in the global approach to development.

However, ultimately the High Level Panel report does not go far enough in its focus on those most affected by poverty and marginalisation.  A ‘people-centred’ agenda is one in which the transformation of societies is led by citizens themselves—including the poorest and most marginalised. This must be the guiding principle that underpins the new global development framework.

Whilst the report emphasises transformative shifts, it does not fully recognise the most important transformative shift of all—recognising the ability of those living in poverty and marginalisation to act to address their own situation, and then building a global development framework that supports them rather than reinforcing existing powerful interests. Going forward, the UN process needs to take the perspectives of those living in greatest poverty much more seriously in how the agenda is set.

Transforming Shifts?

The High Level Panel Report proposes 5 ‘transformative shifts’, needed for the new global development framework.  If these transformative shifts were seen through the perspectives of those living in greatest poverty and exclusion, there would be some important differences.

Participate’s full response to the High Level Panel report analyses how the post-2015 framework must go further if these shifts are truly going to be ‘transformative’:

  •  ‘Leave no one behind’—but don’t lose sight of who is getting ahead
  • ‘Put sustainable development at the core’—but don’t force people to make impossible choices
  • ‘Transform economics for jobs and inclusive growth’—but growth isn’t always good
  • Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all’—but don’t ask if you won’t really listen
  • ‘Forge a new global partnership’—but it must be led by citizens

Participate offers further critique on the agenda proposed by the High Level Panel around their proposals for data disaggregation; the need to understand intersecting inequalities, and challenge discrimination and unequal social norms; and the need to address gender equality across the development framework.

The High Level Panel report provides a welcome input to the global discussions on the post-2015 agenda. As advocates in this process, Participate looks to the Panel members to continue to articulate the importance of inclusion of the poorest and most marginalised people in on-going debates and processes of policy formulation, as well as the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals.

Read other recent blog posts from Participate:


Post-2015 civil society consultations: our shared perspectives

11/02/2013

Danny Burns2 photo miniDanny Burns

This post previously appeared on 29 January 2013 on the Participate blog. Subscribe to their blog for regular updates on the Participate initiative.

Yesterday saw the opening of activities related to the High Level Panel (HLP) meeting in Monrovia.  Civil society organisations (CSOs) from across the world engaged in discussions about what to present to the High Level Panel at the official CSO Outreach meeting on Wednesday. We were interested to see whether the issues that were being generated through civil society representation, resonated with the early messages that are coming out of our participatory research. These are some of the things that struck us:

Development does not reach the poorest and most vulnerable

Many civil society contributions stressed the fact that the most marginalised aren’t being effectively engaged and their perspectives need to be taken into account – which of course is the core purpose of Participate. The disability groups in particular were concerned that available statistical data was not disaggregated to show disability. This is one of their key demands of the post-2015 framework, and was echoed by others, who pointed out the inequalities that are hidden in statistical averages.  One speaker from Bangladesh explained that whilst education enrolment has extended to the vast majority of children in Bangladesh, this has not been the case for disabled children, where only 10 per cent of disabled children have access to education.

This theme of inequalities was recurrent in the debate with civil society groups and speaks to one of the key findings from Participate’s first analysis of participatory research – that even development that has had demonstrable positive impacts on society as a whole, frequently fails to reach the most excluded and those living in greatest poverty. We will talk more about the research findings in our blog on Thursday, when the High Level Panel will have explored the implications.

Civil society groups come together ahead of the High Level Panel meeting in Monrovia

Constraints of consultation

One of the civil society representatives spoke about how they are engaged with the formal consultations on the post-2015 framework. She recounted how “rigid” the questionnaire was and that participants were unable to express the qualitative issues that they wanted to talk about. This resonates with underlying Participate principles that genuine enquiry needs to start with people telling their stories and articulating their issues in their own words, without being constrained by pre-constructed questions.

Rights-based approach

A large number of speakers stressed the importance of a rights-based approach to the post-MDG framework. This is clearly strongly supported across civil society and may be one of the major points of tension with established institutions and governments, who lean towards quantitative measures of growth and development. The Beyond2015 campaign also stresses the importance of a rights-based approach.

Commonality of causes

One of the paradoxes of both this meeting and the wider process is that the debate is structured around different constituencies, for example, children and youth, people living with disabilities, women, older people, etc. – with the NGOs that are advocating on their behalf, fighting for space to get their voices heard in the MDG process.  At the same time they recognise the commonality of their causes. Participants gave strong examples of the interconnection of constituencies and issues. One delegate talked about how one of the great burdens for older people is childcare, particularly in African contexts where for various reasons, grandparents are primary child carers, and so outcomes for children are closely connected to the wellbeing of older people.

Finally and inevitably there was a great deal of discussion about prioritisation of issues and goals over one another.

Danny Burns is a Co-Director of the Participate initiative and Team Leader for the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS.

Read other recent blog posts from Participate:


What were the PPSC blog’s Top 10 posts of 2012?

03/01/2013

Stephen_Wood200Stephen Wood

On behalf of the IDS Participation, Power and Social Change research team, I’d like to welcome back our readers to what we hope proves to be a fascinating year for our blog. Reflecting the outputs from several research projects and a number of pressing global debates and issues we are engaged in, the PPSC research team have some really interesting pieces in the pipeline in the next few months.  I hope you’ll continue to read and engage with the debates and discussion that arise from our articles.

However, in case you missed some of our blogs last year, I thought you might like to look at our Top 10 most popular pieces, as well as some of our articles that you might have missed! Please do share these with your networks, add comments if you haven’t already and as always, encourage others to subscribe to the blog!

Top 10 blog posts of 2012:

  1. “Just do women’s empowerment”  by Naomi Hossain
  2. “On having Voice and Being Heard: Participation in the Post-2015 Policy Process”  by Elizabeth Mills
  3. “Spring uprisings calling spring academics: #bring books out to the streets” by Maria-Josep Cascant Sempere
  4. “Global development: the new buzzword?” by Maria-Josep Cascant Sempere and Alex Kelbert
  5. “Eleven predictions for Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood (if they continue to remain in power” by Mariz Tadros
  6. “Post 2015: What do policymakers know about poverty?” by Joanna Wheeler and Danny Burns
  7. “No gong for Cameron’s Hunger Summit” by Naomi Hossain
  8. “Challenging attempts to silence civil society in Uganda” by Stephen Wood
  9. “Are we ready for an ‘academic spring’?” by Danny Burns
  10. “Digital activism in post-revolution Egypt: How relevant is online dissidence in the marathon for democracy?” by Hani Morsi

Excellent blog posts you might have missed in 2012:

Stephen Wood is a researcher on the Sexuality and Development Programme within the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS and can be found on Twitter as: StephenWood_UK

Read other recent blogs by Stephen Wood:


Time to Listen

13/11/2012

Danny Burns

The Participate team spent much of last week preparing for and engaging with the High Level Panel. The panel was very open and responsive to our message, and a number of panel members filled in the postcards that we provided, asking them to indicate how they might engage with Participate. These are all positive signals, but apart from the usual worries about how whether politicians and other decision makers will really listen, or retreat back into long held political positions and entrenched development assumptions, I have a concern about how the process itself might undermine the possibilities for real engagement.

Since we started this process ‘time’ has been an issue. It was raised again at the High Level Panel meeting.

Participate has always seen itself as working to three separate time frames.

(1)  We are trying to support the deliberations of the panel through meaningful engagement with participatory research with the poorest and most vulnerable, but we are also aware that there is only so much that can feed into this process because it is proposed that the draft report is already written by February 2013 which is just after their second meeting.

(2)  So our second key milestone is the September Special Session of the UN on the future of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). We are planning to have both of the big synthesis reports (of past and current participatory research), our participatory video and the documentary film, ready before then to provide strong evidence from the ground about how poverty really plays out.

(3)  But the real underlying agenda is the longer term. If we accept the premise that participatory research should be feeding into the policy making process, then it follows that it should be built into every stage of the development process  – from program development, to implementation, to evaluation and accountability processes. In other words if those living in poverty and those who are most marginalized are to really be listened to, participatory processes need to be embedded into the development programmes that follow from the new framework.

In many respects (3) is the most important of all of these. This was highlighted by a number of panel members on Friday and is reflected in the work of  ‘the Participatory Research Group’ projects which are at the heart of the Participate process, as these will continue beyond the lifetime of this decision making process.

Given the short time line for the panel it is my view that this sort of framing for the future of development is more important than arguing for the inclusion of this new goal or that new goal.  Establishing the principle of meaningful stakeholder participation at every level of the process might also be something that the panel could agree on.

But there is an even more fundamental question about time that I think it is important to reflect on. If the panel is reporting in February, panel members will quite literally have only just begun to get to know each other.  The panel meets three times (November 2012, late January/February 2013 and probably March 2013). At the first of these sessions they were only in dialogue with each other for just one day.  With 26 people present, this hardly gives them time to offer each other their own experience let alone to bring in what is necessary from outside.

Participatory research takes time. We and all of our participatory research partners can do good work over the next eight months or so, but it is important that time is allowed for the right conclusions to be drawn, for these to be tested in other contexts, and to be validated by the communities from where the knowledge was generated. The same is actually true for the UN Development Group (UNDG) 50 country consultations which have been rolled out on a punishing time scale which will lead inevitably (in most cases) to rapidly cobbled together reports – the driving force behind which is meeting the time table.

It is not enough to affirm the importance of listening to the voices of those living in greatest poverty when we know that the decision-making time-table will not allow this to happen as it should.  I think that we collectively need to have the courage to say that it is more important to get this right, than to rush headlong in to a process that doesn’t have real ownership, because the time which is needed to listen hasn’t been given.

Danny Burns is a Co-Director of the Participate initiative and Team Leader for the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS. 

Read other recent blog posts from Participate: