I’m on my way to a workshop at the UN which is part of a dialogue about what comes after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. The MDGs were conceived of in the 1990s, a relatively stable period for development. They are the outcome of a political process. They served as a human development counterweight to the economic development framing of the World Bank and IMF. They captured the results based management culture of that time.
Have they been a force for good? There is no uncontestable evidence either way. ODA has increased, but it is hard to link the existence of the MDGs to it. Some national development plans highlight the MDGs, some do not. It may have helped advocates of aid to make their case, but we don’t know. It may have distracted attention away from issues not captured in the goals, targets and indicators (infrastructure is often mentioned) but that may be due to other factors.
Against a backdrop of increased uncertainty on how to stimulate development best, many are asking the question, what should we do about the MDGS after 2015? There are several camps, including these:
• MDGs are needed but we need better outcome goals and indicators
• MDGs are needed but the outcomes need to be shaped by a much more broader global process
• MDGs are needed, but they need to reflect models of change about how development occurs. They must cover a combination of outcomes and behaviours. They must apply to rich, emerging and poor countries.
• MDGs are too reductionist. They need to be replaced by redistributive institutions and structures that specify the kind of global society we wish to live in.
My take on the MDGs is that the global community needs some kind of commitment mechanism. But it must:
1. Articulate the kind of world we want to live in. Outcomes are vital, obviously, and a different set may be warranted 15 years on. But the means are equally vital. Do we care about rights and justice? What about representation? If so, we must have targets for how the rules of the game need to change, particularly at the global level.
2. Apply to all countries, not just the poorest. The indicator of rich country behavior that is regularly monitored is the 0.7% of gross national income to ODA. Other features of rich country behavior (e.g. on climate, narcotics, finance, arms) need to be monitored.
3. Reflect the preferences of each country. There is no blueprint for development. We know a lot about the things that are helpful. But the exact combination of legislation, policies and spending will reflect national contexts, politics, capacities, and priorities.
4. Allow everyone to assess efforts as well as outcomes. It is too easy for countries to say they are doing one thing while doing another. Progress (or lack thereof) in the current MDGs does not shed any light on performance of individual actors. We need more monitoring of effort as well as the results of those efforts.
Whether these are the right attributes of such a commitment mechanism and whether the MDGs will be fit for purpose should be discussed not just by development insiders in New York, but all over the world and by those who would not describe themselves as development workers. I will be sure to update you on the conclusions of the workshop and whether it changed my mind.