Dynamics: power to the people

UNDP: engaging people in a global conversation

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Olav Kjørven, Director of the Bureau for Development Policy at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), tells us how citizens worldwide are helping design the next set of development goals.

“It’s about what really matters. It’s about the world people want to live in.” - Olav Kjørven, United Nations Development Program

As Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, Kjørven’s current priority is engaging people around the world to shape the next generation of development goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Kjørven and his teams are using digital media and mobile phone technology to include as many individuals as possible. To date, more than 700,000 people have taken part in the “Global Conversation.”

In addition to local workshops in nearly 100 UN Member States, 11 global thematic consultations are taking place online through the “World We Want 2015” website. The “MY World” survey, available in 10 languages, invites people to vote for priorities for the future development agenda. 

Kjørven believes the results of these conversations and thematic consultations are creating a valuable repository of knowledge. 

Influencing the influencers

A vast amount of information has been created from the grassroots, but how will this data actually be used by policy-makers in decision making?

“Part of the answer is in how the whole post-2015 process has been set up by the UN Secretary General, which provides for different tracks of input into the deliberations, so it’s embedded into the process itself. The inputs that we have provided are already being considered,” says Kjørven.

Two key issues are emerging:

  • “The first high-level message is ‘don’t mess around with the MDGs’. We’re also getting a call for improvements on that agenda”.
  • The second message is about sustainable development. “There is a clear message calling for the full incorporation of the three strands of sustainability — the social, the economic and the environmental — into the design, implementation and evaluation of public policies.

These messages hold important lessons for development professionals. “One big challenge, when it comes to the post-2015 agenda, is to think of a way to link up these different goals so that they can help foster more integrated action,” adds Kjørven.

Lessons to learn

“We could draw huge lessons from what we’re doing here in terms of developing new approaches to building the social contract, to strengthen cohesion and foster collaboration in societies around development and public policy,” he continues. 

Another important factor in facilitating greater citizen involvement in policymaking is the tremendous drop in the cost of communications and the power that social media has created. This enables governments to be more accountable or even potentially force those governments to be more accountable.

“The first line in the UN chart from 1945 is, ‘We the People of the United Nations’,” points out Kjørven. It’s now possible, for the first time, for the UN to also have that connection to people around the world, and this helps ensure that the UN will continue to be relevant and vibrant for the future.”