[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]
Prof. Dr Raymond Saner, director for Diplomacy Dialogue at the Centre for Socio-Eco-Nomic Development (CSEND), opened the session by reiterating points from the opening ceremony of WSIS Forum about connecting the unconnected and giving a voice to the people. Strategies regarding the sustainable development goals (SDGs), collecting and analysing complex data, and monitoring and reviewing concerns were mentioned. Saner talked about the reviewing process which is due next year, and what monitoring is and what it could be. Defining it as a soft form of evaluating, Saner mentioned that the SDG texts do not mention who should be doing the monitoring, in which way, and for whom.
This lack of assignment of responsibility also opens the way for participation at the ground level made possible with information and communication technologies (ICTs), and monitoring and evaluation by communities. He talked of principles in monitoring processes, and research that looked into major international agreements on SDGs to determine whether they included guidelines on monitoring and evaluating. Examples included Agenda 31 of the Paris Agreement, where the only monitoring mentioned is mini-evaluations done by experts, which is not entirely transparent and inclusive; and the WSIS 2003 conditions involving all stakeholders, which are an improvement on only limiting the monitoring to experts. In the 2015 WSIS document, monitoring is only mentioned three times throughout the entire text and there it is assumed to be done by experts. This underlines the trend of regression to a non-transparent, non-inclusive, non-participatory, and non-multistakeholder approach when it comes to evaluation and monitoring. Saner stated that it is a challenge for governments to figure out how to vertically consult other stakeholders. Thus, creating a some form of a wiki in each country could help tremendously in monitoring and evaluating the SDGs while ensuring community engagement, participation and ownership.
Ms Barbara Rosen Jacobson, research & project associate at DiploFoundation and the Geneva Internet Platform in Geneva started by explaining the concept of ground truthing, by gathering data directly from the field instead of through distant observation. In the SDG context ground truthing can help double check what organisations and governments report. She mentioned four elements for ground truthing for SDGs:
- Contribution to the effort of monitoring SDGs especially from a data availability and data quality perspective.
- Providing a sense of inclusion and participation in the SDGs especially in communities and stakeholders who feel that they have been left behind.
- Helping to ensure a level of transparency to verify data presented by governments.
- Including the data protection perspective that needs to be considered at all times.
Rosen Jacobson also talked of some solutions to the challenges of monitoring and evaluating: crowd-sourced data, volunteer data, setting clear definitions and methodologies which are not based on the experiences of sole individuals, and presenting the data in a user friendly and intuitive way. Embracing the potential of people who want to contribute to the SDGs is a great opportunity that helps make sure they feel ownership towards the goals.
The next panellist, Ms Alexandra Sicotte-Levesque, manager for community engagement at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva, focused on community engagement challenges from the Federation’s perspective in a world where humanitarian crises are on the rise while resources are scarcer. Not approaching community engagement as an ad hoc part of projects but as a systematic and consistent effort was underlined. She mentioned the Grand Bargain agreement between donors and international organisations to help bridge the humanitarian divide and increase impact with the limited resources at hand. One of the outcomes from the agreement was the participation revolution that had come with increased access to ICTs by communities around the world. Some questions posed included: how can community engagement become institutionalised to lead to better accountability? How is information provided to communities? How is collecting and analysing feedback ensured? How is community participation ensured? She stressed that if these steps were to be prioritised and institutionalised, community engagement could increase significantly. Ensuring community engagement at every cycle step of a project was also mentioned as a crucial component. Providing the data in local languages and making it accessible was another key point. Finally, a mix of traditional and non-traditional technology needs to be utilised. She talked of first responders’ unique access to the feedback of communities which constitutes valuable information on how to shape programmes. The most difficult issue was described as how the data and feedback provided by communities are being aggregated, analysed, and used. This issue is not only about humanitarian goals, but is relevant for governments and other bodies.
Panellists talked of the fact that there is more recognition for participatory science and it offers exciting solutions to certain problems. The importance of using different channels and collecting feedback and data over time and not just once were cited as ways of creating more trustworthy data. The vitality of data and the fact that there are many places where there is no data available at all was stressed as well.
Moderator Ms Beris Gwynne, from the Consultoria e Gestão de Recursos Humanos, Lda, (INCITARE) in Coppet, VD, Switzerland, took questions from the audience where one participant mentioned the obstacles in access to data as an issue, especially on topics such as torture, since that tends to happen behind closed doors.
Saner took the floor and mentioned that, due to globalisation, governments cannot put a lid on the entire process but must cope with international NGO involvement and other effects. He cited the governments’ need to know how to coordinate policies between different ministries and governmental bodies, and how NGOs sometimes have more experience in coordination. Policy consultations also need to be carried out in an inclusive, multistakeholder manner, and this is something that can be learned. He stated how certain governments feel it is too difficult to engage in dialogue. Ground up efforts are also valuable, even in the face of possible bias, by designing action research. Broadening the base, checking the validity of what comes in, and engaging with the community in a regular manner compared to the traditional, linear way of research was underlined. Another benefit of recurring engagement with communities is that it creates more trust which also helps future data collection. Creating Wikipedia groups in different countries was recommended again by Saner, who also said that gathering feedback regarding various SDGs from people on the ground can prove vastly beneficial.
Concluding remarks by Saner covered the fact that although 2019 is the four-year mark for SDGs, most governments do not have any monitoring or evaluation strategies in place. A good way forward may be for all stakeholders to engage with their governments regarding their plans on monitoring and evaluating the progress of the SDGs.
By Sonia Herring