Andy Sumner: After 2015: children, champions and commissions

Development Policy20 Jun 2009Andy Sumner

I finished my blog posting yesterday with a promise to say something about the ‘what next?’ question. Well, I’m always thinking about a book academics generally can’t stand but I love – that’s Gladwell’s Tipping point (Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick is another good one).

In short, how to generate and spread (pro-poor) ‘sticky messages’, or in other words, why do some pro-poor ideas spread and get traction? I like to think about the role of messaging, connectors and strategic opportunism in the spread of ideas. With this in mind here’s my thoughts on what ‘after 2015’ should mean based on my own ideas and reading of the papers/thinkpieces submitted for our policy forum:

1. Children

2. Champions

3. Commissions

1. The message: Children and childhood policy to transform societies

One emergent and recurring theme in the ‘after 2015’ papers might be summed up as ‘a childhood policy and indicator focus as transformational for societies’. A focus on childhood poverty and wellbeing matters not only for its own importance but, of course, as the crucial investment point to break the inter-generational transmission of poverty and thus transform societies.

Of course the MDGs already have some key child education and health indicators but these are largely a ‘material’ wellbeing ‘minimum’. We can go beyond minimums to human flourishing.

The 3D Human wellbeing policy brief looks at the interaction of material and non-material domains of poverty and wellbeing. The non-material dimensions of wellbeing not only have intrinsic value but also the achievement of the material ‘minimum’ or basic needs (codified in legal instruments as rights) is about more than just material wellbeing. What people can do and be is very much determined by what they feel they can do and be. We also need more participatory research on the voices of children like Sophia Ireland and Christine Allison’s paper (and Layard’s new book).

Further, inequality and redistribution need significant strengthening (Layard’s new book noted the importance for childhood wellbeing of this drawing on the UNICEF Innocenti ‘score-cards’).

Nicola Jones’ policy brief makes a strong case for what to do next on gender equality and Jan Vandemoortele’s proposal for a focus on equity-adjusted child indicators is compelling (not least because Jan was a key MDG architect).

2. The connectors: Building stronger pro-poor champions and alliances

In terms of MDG impacts and a pro-poor policy focus up to 2015 and beyond, I think an important issue here is the building of stronger alliances for pro-poor policy and the importance of going from universal notions of the MDGs (some might say donor-led, but I prefer international community inspired) to ‘local ownership’ by governments and civil society of the MDGs and pro-poor policy ideas (take for example Social Protection too on this point – interesting think pieces from Andrew Shepherd on this and Nicola Jones too with reference to children as well as on-going efforts at the IDS Centre for social Protection too here).

Selim Jahan (UNDP)’s paper with much clarity notes the ‘alliance gap’:

“In the post-2015 period, it is imperative that we assess the alliance-nexus for the MDGs in various situations, identify the constraints and come up with concrete suggestions as to how an optimal nexus can be developed”.

Of course the UN Millennium Campaign and the Global Call to Action on Poverty are absolutely central here. So, great that Salil Shetty (UNMC director) is joining us to speak and also given UNICEF’s global role as child champion it’s good news too that Richard Morgan (UNICEF Head of Policy and Practice) will speak at the policy forum.

3. Commissions: Strategic opportunism and timelines

Finally, generating opportunism. We’ve been doing a lot of thinking at IDS on how research does or doesn’t change anything. One thing that comes out clearly is serendipity matters but to a significant extent. Of course, this cannot be created but opportunities can be generated by more strategic thinking on dates/timelines/big events/reviews/anything that causes human beings to stop for a moment and think, process, reflect on the future in light of new evidence. Of course advocates within and outside policy do this all the time. What might this mean for the MDGs and after?

Dates and timelines matter for triggering action and have the potential to capture people’s sense of imagination for change or rethinking approaches. 2015 is still five years away but it is the anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in November 2009 and 2010 is very much a landmark year. There is the UN MDG+10 conference. It’s also the deadline for aid to be (more) effective. Most importantly it’s five years after Gleneagles and the Commission for Africa.

As we move into 2011-2015 there are a range of ‘milestone’ anniversaries and thus opportunities. There are forthcoming anniversaries of the North-South Commission and the Brandt commission. It is twenty years after the end of the Cold War.

Maybe ‘development’ has changed sufficiently in terms of new ideas, narratives, institutions, actors, networks and major global drivers such as climate change and the economic crisis for a new Global Commission on ‘After 2015’?

All papers are at the Policy Forum webpage and Euphoric multi-media.