The Hydrology of Policy

10/09/2014

picture of Carlos CortezCarlos Cortez

As we move into a period of post-2015 ‘stock-taking’ in advance of the UNGA at the end of September, Participate partners have been critically reflecting on the participatory approaches they have employed in attempts to shift power in policymaking – including the engagement with the post-2015 process. This blog introduces the ‘hydrology of policy’ to help illustrate the complex process of bringing research into policy influencing.

Knowledge generated by people living in poverty and marginalisation flows across different influencing levels, feeds into different spaces, leading to potential changes in discourse (and sometimes practice) and in policy that revert to affect the lived reality of people on the ground. But this is not a one way process: changing discourse can open new spaces, and changes in practice can influence discourse. Local level changes can proliferate ‘horizontally’ to other communities; and likewise ‘vertically’ these changes can influence what happens at the national or global level. This can be understood as the ‘hydrology of policy’ (see illustration below).

IDS_Anthology_ Hydrology of policy

The ‘hydrology of policy’ shows how the ideas, needs, proposals for change and experiences from the poorest and most marginalised people can be represented as the water that starts from springs in the local isolated places where they live, flowing into little streams. These streams of ideas, needs, proposals and experiences join to create rivers that feed the big river that represents the global debate on the post-2015 themes. Most of the decisions are taken in places where marginalised voices are hardly heard, because the springs are far away from where the big river joins the sea. From the illustration it is clear that the rivers go through a winding route, with obstacles such as dams along the way that limit and control the flow of the water. This represents the challenges faced while trying to bring the voices of the poor and marginalised to the place where the decisions are taken. Often they only reach after an ‘evaporation’ in which their perspectives on the change they want has almost disappeared and are little considered by the decision-makers.

The results of the global debate are represented as clouds which depict the general discourse and practice of ‘development’ from the perspective of the decision-makers. The clouds move towards land and arrive back at the source of the spring as a ‘rain’ of projects, programmes or simple promises from government and social actors. As in the real world, rain can be light, causing drought, or can be heavy, like a storm, in both cases not responsive to the poorest and marginalised.

Bringing research into policy influencing at multiple levels is a complex process, and engaging across different levels to achieve changes in development that prioritise the poorest and most marginalised people is not without challenges. Demand for change needs to happen at every level of the system – from local to global and global back to local.

This blog is an edited version of Carlos’ contribution to Participate’s latest publication ‘Knowledge from the Margins: An anthology from a global network on participatory practice and policy influence’.

 Dr Carlos Cortez is a member of the Participatory Research Group and is based at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico (UAM-X).

 


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

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Working with creativity to empower women and children

07/03/2014

Vivienne Bensonprofile picture Vivienne Benson

Every year on 8 March, thousands of events are held around the world to inspire, celebrate and empower women to mark International Women’s Day (IWD). This year on 6-7 March, it is directly preceded by the President of the General Assembly to the United Nations (PGA) High Level discussion on The Contributions of Women, the Young and Civil Society to the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

At the centre of the PGA discussion are the challenges that continue to impede groups from participating fully in society and from having the scope to ensure the accountability of decision-makers through their actions and voices.

Empowering marginalised women, men and young people to speak for themselves on issues of equity and rights should be a primary objective of the UN and other global decision makers. Key to that objective is developing the skills and capacity of women, men, young people and civil society to use different tools for creative expression in order to support people to speak through the medium that is most relevant to them.

Telling their own stories
The Participate Initiative’s partners have worked with participatory methods to facilitate processes where people living in poverty and marginalisation can tell their own stories about how and why change happens in their lives. The Middle East Non-Violence and Democracy (MEND) works to promote active non-violence and open media in East Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank. They have worked with marginalised women from these areas to share their reality through film.

Palestinian women filming

Palestinian women share their stories with the world through participatory film-making. Credit MEND 2013

MEND worked with a group of women in the village of Al Jib. The group learnt how to make their own films, from behind and in front of the camera. Reflecting on this process the women involved explained that they were ‘happy because we have a voice and we can send our message out’. In making their film, they are able to talk about what is most important to them: ‘there isn’t a single word in the world or in the dictionary that can express my anger and sadness [about the Wall that encircles village] and the tragedy because it really has no limits’. The clarity and poignancy of this message is expressed in their short film – Unhappy Birthday.

The participatory video process enabled the women to build relationships and learn from other women in their community. It has supported them to build the confidence and belief that they can and have the right to express their aspirations for change, ‘what I gained from the project the most was that I have more self-confidence, I am more strong and more sociable now’.

The Participate Initiative has 18 partners within 29 countries, all of whom have worked with the poorest and most marginalised communities to communicate the issues that are important in their lives, on their own terms. The Seed Institute, Kenya, Nairobi worked with children in Mwiki to conduct their own research on the experience of children living with disabilities. In their findings they explained that these children were forgotten and ignored. Using participatory video, they voice their concerns and identify practical solutions to improve the lives of children living with disabilities, and their families.

International Women’s Day and the PGA discussions should stand as a reminder that women and children should be heard in their own voice. The use of video and other creative mediums are effective ways to empower communities to find their own voice and speak their unfiltered message locally and globally.

Vivienne Benson works as Research Administrator at IDS and is the Events Coordinator for the Participate Initiative.

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Involving the world’s poorest citizens in the post-2015 agenda

28/10/2013

Joanna WheelerJoanna_Wheeler200

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2013 issue of New World, the flagship publication of the United Nations Association – UK

In September, the world’s leaders, governments’ representatives to the UN and representatives from civil society from many countries converged on New York for a Special Event on the future global framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. Nearby, civil society organisations talked about how to get the voices of the poorest and most marginalised through the barriers that cordon off the UN Plaza and into the post-2015 process.

The barriers are not only physical – in many ways the entire process of consultations and surveys is set up to keep those perspectives from having any real weight. There is no formal system of accountability where the people who are most affected can challenge the decisions made about global development. Yet the success and legitimacy of the post-2015 framework will rest on the extent to which it provides for their meaningful participation.

While there are success stories about how the MDGs have been achieved, these are not often the stories told by the world’s poorest and most marginalised. Development interventions can often have unintended consequences: a village built to house indigenous people in Mexico sits abandoned because of the poor quality structures and the lack of viable livelihoods.

The poorest and most marginalised people have not been reached because of prevailing inequalities, including economic inequality (the lack of sufficient income), geographic inequality (many live in precarious conditions without land rights) and identity-based inequality (for example, gender-based discrimination is pervasive).

These become entrenched in the lives of people living in poverty – and they mean that simple and one-dimensional solutions are inadequate. For example, in Ghana, providing places in school is of little use if children cannot attend because they spend much of their day walking ever-greater distances to get water due to drought.

GCRN community meeting

Participatory Research in Ghana: People come together to discuss the issues that affect their lives and build plans to change their situation

The experience of poverty is also shaped by social norms and relationships of power that limit access to rights and services. For example, ‘city-makers’ in Chennai, India live on the streets, and are often unable to access services or their rights because they cannot secure formal identification. They are further discriminated against because they come from scheduled castes—making it more difficult for them to access dignified work or stable housing.

In order to understand how people have been left behind by the MDG approach, we need to understand what prevents people from making the changes that they are calling for, and how they think that these obstacles can be overcome. Research carried out by the Participate network in 29 countries shows that future development processes need a different approach in order really to reach those who are most often excluded. This vision for global development provides an important reality-check, and is based on the following:

  • Rights and recognition for all. Rights are foundational for recognition and dignity. Being treated with respect by family members, public officials and representatives of the state, and wider society helps people see themselves as citizens. As citizens, they are able to act to demand greater fairness and access to the resources they need.
  • Inclusion, solidarity, collective action. The most marginalised people experience discrimination within their families, in their communities and their wider society. Collective action is needed to address these problems, and that requires us to address the barriers that stop people coming together to mobilise effectively.
  • Participation, accountability, democratic institutions. Institutions that are democratic and accountable will respond to the demands of the poorest and most marginalised, and participatory approaches to decision-making can help ensure this happens.
  • Services and policies that respond to the needs of the poorest. Services and policies that effectively respond to the needs of the poorest people are holistic, long-term and have a focus on quality. Dignified livelihoods are a necessary element of their success.

It is not yet clear what the new global development framework will look like, and therefore it is even less clear how the perspectives, voices and decisions of those most affected by poverty and exclusion will be included in the process. The current paradigms of development aid are breaking down, and the emerging framework could set out new parameters that put people at its centre and give them a real say in the decisions that affect them.

Meaningful participation needs to start now while the framework is being set – and continue throughout the implementation, monitoring and evaluation stages. Without this, the post-2015 process will become just another top-down example of UN member states failing to address the most pressing problems of our time.

Joanna Wheeler is a research fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS and co-director of the Participate Initiative

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Searching for dialogues: Convergences and divergences around the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 global development agenda

09/10/2013

Carlos Cortezpicture of Carlos Cortez

This post previously appeared on the Participate blog and is also available in SpanishSubscribe to their blog for regular updates on the Participate initiative.

The dialogue initiated in September at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is central to the ongoing debate around the construction of a future global development model and its impacts. In particular, discussions centred around the role that the current development model has in perpetuating global poverty and exclusion. In this vein, the UNGA was a space for identifying the existing opportunities as well as the difficulties for opening up a truthful dialogue amongst the diverse actors looking for alternatives.

The Participate initiative and the global campaign Beyond 2015 took the opportunity to engage more with these ongoing dialogues and to present the findings of the research carried out by the 18 partner organisations of Participate.

I believe that with these activities, we advanced towards the goal of bringing the voices of the poorest and most marginalised into the post-2015 global decision-making processes. However, this engagement also confronted us with the difficulties around the advocacy process, particularly the government representatives.

The concerns, ideas and proposals made by various organisations, including Participate’s findings, proved that there are converging issues being raised. However, I could observe notable divergences in the way the emerging problems and challenges are being understood. Worth giving a special mention is the concern around the poverty, exclusion, and lack of rights that a considerable part of the global population endure; as well as the recognition that until now the actions undertaken to eradicate these issues have been limited; to say the least.

The convergent issues

  • Bring to an end the charitable approach to development and demand a focus on rights promotion and protection, and justice for the people living in poverty. Indeed many called for a ‘rights based approach to development’.
  • Recognise that the participation of the poorest and most excluded in decision-making processes, from the local to the global level, constitutes an essential condition to overcome their hardship.
  • Insist in not separating the problem of increasing poverty from increasing inequality, and a call for urgent structural changes to the global economic and financial systems. This was indeed, one of the most critical demands.

The discourse and proposals put forward by the global civil society largely coincide with those of some international organisations. In this sense, NGOs and civil society coalitions presented their proposals framed under side events organised by UN agencies such as UNDP, UNICEF, OHCHR; organisms that largely coincide with civil society’s discourse and some core proposals towards the definition of a post-2015 agenda. However, this was not the case for the vast majority of the governments. Their limited presence and lack of disposition for opening spaces for dialogue with civil society made evident the fact that the lack of success of many poverty reduction programmes are largely a result of intermingled politics rather than bad planning. Hence, envisaging substantial changes to the current governmental lens of what is needed from the new post-2015 development agenda seems like a huge challenge.

Members of the Participate network participating in the Panel discussion around the findings of our research. Left to right: Mwangi Waituru (The Seed Institute, Kenya); Nusrat Zerin (Sightsavers, Bangladesh) and Carlos Cortez Ruiz (UAM, Mexico)

Members of the Participate network participating in the Panel discussion around the findings of our research. Left to right: Mwangi Waituru (The Seed Institute, Kenya); Nusrat Zerin (Sightsavers, Bangladesh) and Carlos Cortez Ruiz (UAM, Mexico)

In this sense, Participate demonstrated the possibility and importance of bringing the voices, concerns and experiences of the most excluded to the global decision-making spaces. Through an interactive exhibition, the production of a documentary and a panel discussion around our synthesis report, we have shown the value of conducting and promoting participatory action research processes. Processes in which, through innovative and traditional techniques and methods, participants have been able to voice their ideas on how to tackle their problems and what they expect from decision makers. The diversity of materials and outputs have also raised the sensibility and conscience of what is needed in order to face one of the most important challenges for our society in the forthcoming years.

Let’s trust that we will be able to advance on the dialogue and the actions needed to end poverty and marginalisation. Let’s trust that governments, international organisations, the private sector, the civil society and all citizens work together to achieve change.

Carlos Cortez is a member of the Participate research group network from Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Xochimilco in Mexico.

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Post 2015 agenda – Listening to the voices of people living in poverty

06/08/2013

Susanne SchirmerSue_Schirmer200

‘If democracy binds us as a family, then why do we get excluded and treated differently?’ asked the panelists at a recent Ground Level Panel meeting in India. Meanwhile, their counterparts in Egypt commented on one of the reasons for exclusion: ‘To those who did not educate us, may God forgive you.’

Panelsts in Egypt sitting round tables and talking

Ground Level Panelists in Egypt discussing their vision for development

As the target date for the Millennium Development goals is drawing closer, the UN has established a High Level Panel (HLP) to discuss a new global development framework beyond 2015. In order to bring the voices of those directly affected by poverty and marginalisation into the debate, the Participate initiative, has established a Ground Level Panel mirroring the work of the High Level Panel. During July 2013, meetings were held in four countries bringing together people living in poverty and marginalisation from a huge variety of backgrounds and enabling them to voice their thoughts and recommendations for a new development framework. The blog entries about the meetings give a fascinating insight into what poverty means for people that are directly affected by it – and their views on how this could be changed.

The meeting in Brazil was characterised by the diversity of the people attending it, and each of the participants had different experiences of what ‘extreme poverty’ means for them. The diversity is also expressed in their message to policy makers. Combining an indigenous and a Banto African expression to highlight the interconnectedness of life and the importance of including everyone: ‘Awêre para Kisile’ – ‘That everything goes well for those who don’t have a name yet’.

In Egypt, the Ground Level Panel was not only rich in terms of the content produced, but also it provided a transformative space where panelists were able to challenge their capabilities and self-hindering beliefs. They explored reasons for their marginalisation and found the space to voice their stories and opinions. The process was not only able to prove that citizen’s participation is a right that enlightens, but also it provides a more stable alternative for expression. It also moves the hearts and hands towards a locally-owned change.

In India, panel members from across the country discussed reasons for exclusion and marginalisation, like disabilities and poverty. They then went on to look at the role of different players, stumbling blocks, a way forward and institutional mechanisms for bringing about change.

The panelists in Uganda identified common challenges that their ommunities faced, like access to health care and issues around land and peace. They then expressed their shared hopes for their country: ‘Our Vision for Uganda is that it respects the rule of law, human rights, and transparency to ensure that services are delivered to everyone equally without any segregation or misappropriation of national resources.’

Panelists in India giving a presentation on a podium

Indian panelists presenting their views

Find out more and read the communiqués from each of the panels on the Participate blog.

Sue Schirmer works as Communications Coordinator for the  Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS. Participate is hosted by the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS and Beyond 2015, it provides high quality evidence on the reality of poverty at ground level, bringing the perspectives of the poorest into the post-2015 debate.

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A bold and practical proposal for the post-2015 framework

01/05/2013

Joanna WheelerJoanna Wheeler mini photo

This post previously appeared on 22 March 2013 on the Participate blog. Subscribe to their blog for regular updates on the Participate initiative.

At the opening of the Advancing the Post‐2015 Sustainable Development Agenda conference in Bonn last month, Horst Kolher noted wryly in his opening remarks that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon asked the High Level Panel (HLP) to be ‘bold and practical’ in its recommendations for the post-2015 framework.

So far, it would appear that many of the proposals circulating are neither. Many are extremely technical, and seem disconnected from the realities of people living with extreme exclusion and marginalisation.

As the High Level Panel prepares the report of recommendations for the post-2015 framework, due to be finished at the end of May, it is an important moment to critically reflect on what these bold recommendations might look like.  One of the civil society declarations from Bonn aimed directly at the High Level Panel called for structural transformation that addresses ‘the failure of the current development model, which is rooted in unsustainable production and consumption patterns and exacerbates inequality as well as gender, race and class inequities.’ This is certainly bold in comparison to the current MDG framework, which leaves inequalities largely untouched.

Whilst the panel appears to be listening to civil society’s recommendations – for instance the recent Bali High Level Panel Communiqué released after the HLP meeting at the end of March, refers directly to the civil society declaration in Bonn, around the need for a new framework to ‘manage the world’s production and consumption patterns in more sustainable and equitable ways’ –  there is still too little being said about how to achieve the massive changes that would be required for sustainable development and social justice to be achieved on a global scale.  Skepticism and wariness characterize the views of many in relation to what is likely to be a protracted inter-governmental negotiation process. These have not had a good track record lately.

Here’s a bold and practical suggestion for the High Level Panel (and all those involved in trying to influence the post-2015 framework): citizen participation.  Not just citizen participation as in asking people living in greatest poverty to tell people in the UN what they want, but citizen participation as in creating opportunities for people to have a real say in the decisions that affect their lives. Not just citizens as in people holding passports for a particular national government, but people everywhere with the right to have rights, irrespective of their official status, gender, sexuality, disability, age, race, or religion.  Citizen participation is a bold approach for the post-2015 framework, because it turns much of received wisdom about ‘aid’ and international frameworks on its head:  it is not just about a small global elite ‘hearing the voices of the poor,’ but about creating sustainable and long-term mechanisms for citizens to be involved in decision-making at all levels (from local to global).  What is missing from all the talk about how to make the new global framework tackle the big problems facing all of us, is a focus on who needs to lead that transformation: citizens, themselves. Early findings from the Participate initiative show that top down policies and interventions frequently fail to respond to the everyday realities of those living in poverty, and increase their sense of powerlessness.

If it is done well, citizen participation would shake the very foundations of the current global power structure, getting to the root causes of poverty rather than just the symptoms.

Citizen participation is also practical in that there is already a long-track record of a range of approaches and mechanisms to citizen participation, and a large body of research that points to some clear ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ if you want meaningful citizen participation.  Consider where democracy is really flourishing at the moment:  while the US and many countries in Europe face financial crisis and political apathy, Brazil, India, South Africa, the Philippines, and others have been at the forefront of innovations in citizen participation.  There is a lot of evidence about how citizen participation can deliver better outcomes, in terms of citizens more capable of claiming their rights, states that are more accountable and responsive and societies that are more cohesive and inclusive.

According to the Participate initiative, the global framework could do at least two things to encourage meaningful citizen participation: strengthen the capacities of citizens to claim their rights (and of institutions to respond); and build in citizen-led processes of regulation and monitoring to really hold governments and agencies to account for their commitments in the post-2015 framework. (See Chapter 5 of ‘What Matters Most’ report).

This is not to suggest that citizen participation is a silver bullet.  It comes with its own potential problems and draw-backs, not least of which is the risk that it is used to keep people busy participating about relatively inconsequential questions, while the real power is exercised elsewhere.  It must be adapted to the particular circumstances and power dynamics in which it is used.  No global framework can really achieve a context-specific approach to addressing entrenched problems.  But a global framework can enable more opportunities for citizen participation that others can take up at local, national and regional levels.

The most compelling reason for taking citizen participation seriously in the post-2015 framework is not the view of a researcher at IDS (or anywhere else), but rather that it is a demand being made by people living in extreme poverty and marginalisation in over 100 countries. The Participate initiative has found that many of those living in the greatest exclusion and marginalisation believe that their meaningful participation can make development more inclusive and sustainable. People want to have a say in the actual decisions that get made about them.  If the international community were to listen, it would be truly bold.

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