Lessons Learned from the UN’s High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda
© UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office/Patrick Tsui
Part 3 : The Panel’s Impact
This post is part 3 of a 3 part series. CIC Senior Fellow Molly Elgin-Cossart served as chief of staff to the High-level Panel Secretariat. In this series she reflects on her experience, highlighting key lessons learned as the international community heads into two years of intense multilateral negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda. Part 1 addressed the High-level Panel’s composition, and part 2 addressed the High-level Panel’s process.
As the intergovernmental process to decide on a post-2015 development framework continues, it’s worthwhile to look back and reflect upon the lessons learned by the High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
Lessons Learned on the High-level Panel’s Impact
- Be ambitious, but have the courage to be practical, too.
One Panel member, overwhelmed by a laundry list of demands including at least 43 goals presented by civil society representatives in London, finally burst out: “No, we can’t promise you all of these things! All I can promise you is that we will disappoint you. If this is the standard you are setting, then we are bound to fail.” This simple and honest moment did what so many post-2015 conversations fail to do: it interjected a sense of reality. Though the inclination is often to say what people want to hear, when you are tasked with decision-making, that mode of engagement just doesn’t work. Shaping a more realistic conversation with stakeholders was essential to the report’s reception, and ultimate success.
- Cultivate dialogue with external stakeholders.
The Panel and secretariat dedicated time to building and maintaining relationships with external stakeholders, and especially key thought leaders. This engagement influenced not only the substance, but also lay the groundwork to launch the report to favorable – or at least fair and balanced – reviews. Communiqués and summaries were made available publicly, and to civil society and other groups who were interested in the process. There was a dedicated effort to meet with as many different people as possible, as Panelists and teams met with thousands upon thousands of different stakeholders. This proved crucial to impact, as groups were aware of inside discussions and debates, and were able to receive the report with a better understanding of the discussions and trade-offs that went into its finalization.
- Be relevant to a global audience.
The Panel explicitly wanted to write a report for the larger public, to convey that this is truly a global and universal agenda. Practically, this meant avoiding UN jargon, and putting effort into global outreach.
First priority was outreach to a broad group of stakeholders. The Panel report became the first UN report in history to make versions available for those living with disabilities – there are now braille, audio, and large-print versions of the report, in addition to translations in all six official languages of the UN as well as Bahasa, a digital version of the report, and a forthcoming children’s version.
Second was supporting Panelists in a unified outreach effort. The communications and outreach focal points in the secretariat facilitated many in-person interviews, articles, and meetings to ensure that the release of the report was part of the ongoing conversation with stakeholders. The Panelists then spent the summer months speaking with people – in their own countries and elsewhere - about the discussions that fed into the report, and where the process is headed next.
Now the real work begins
The HLP report was just one input into the Secretary-General’s report, A Life of Dignity for All, which was presented to member states at the opening of the General Assembly in September. Now the real work of post-2015 begins as the process heads into intergovernmental negotiations, in which the member states of the UN will decide the future development agenda. It seems wise to take step back, to reflect on lessons that can be learned from the past year, take stock of where the post-2015 discussion is, look forward to consider where it needs to go over the next two years, and then recommit to working together to bring about an international agreement on an ambitious yet practical agenda for sustainable development. The road to 2030 is #inourhands.