Policy Advocacy

To #ShiftThePower from top-down, donor-driven projects to community-led development is a major systems change. To guide us in this work, we have found the 6-elements of FSG’s Water of Systems Change framework to be enormously useful. Advocates like us often pay attention only to the tip of the iceberg – the policies, practices and budget flows – and fail to fully understand the relationships, power dynamics and “mental model” (mindset) that give rise to the policies.

Click here for more details on our approach.

Our vision, our “Mental Model” is – in the words of Mahatma Gandhi – to restore those in extreme poverty to control over their own lives and destiny. That is not the prevailing mindset of most highly-centralized national governments. To change this, we will need to establish relationships of mutual respect with those in power, who can guide us through the power dynamics.

Like the campaigns in the 19th and 20th centuries to ensure women could vote, this will be a long-term systems change process — yet, it can be done!

Top-10 Policy Changes to #ShiftThePower

Back in 2013, in the run-up to the Sustainable Development Goals, our co-founder John Coonrod published a top-10 list of required policy changes:

  1. Invest in grassroots civil society. Women, youth and small-scale farmers in general need an organized voice to demand the resources that too-rarely reach them. Local associations are also critical for mobilizing the “people power” that can overcome local challenges.
  2. Have a serious roll-out strategy. The UN has been brilliant in reaching out to individuals in creating the Post-2015 Agenda – it must be equally brilliant in getting local governments on board. Government, the UN System and civil society must work together to ensure that every village council engages with the goals and plans to achieve them.
  3. Guarantee women’s voices. No country has achieved significant representation of women in government without establishing systems of quotas.
  4. Guarantee revenues. In countries where poverty persists, local government may spend as little as two percent of public resources, a far cry from the 20% typical of developed countries as reported in the 1993 UN Human Development Report.
  5. Guarantee transparency and social accountability. There must be mechanisms that ensure that local governments hold public forums at which they report to the people, and hear people’s priorities. Many governments have legal mandates for such public assemblies, yet they are rarely implemented.
  6. Devolve service delivery. Higher tiers of government often control health and education services with no local accountability, resulting in schools with absent teachers and health centers with absent nurses. The level of government closest to the people needs either direct control or regulatory oversight of local services in order to ensure they are accountable to local people.
  7. Invest in capacity building. Local representatives are elected, but lack access to the basic information on how to fulfill their responsibilities. For example, if the UN system would produce a simple language Post-2015 handbook for local governments, it would be well received.
  8. Localize targets. Communities need to know how they are doing. Mortality-based targets such as the maternal mortality rate are not statistically meaningful at the local level. The Post-2015 framework should create locally meaningful targets, such as pre-natal visits and attended births, which can be directly tied to local awareness, behavior change and action.
  9. Aggregating data is even better than disaggregating. The High-Level Panel has called for a “data revolution” and also for disaggregated progress data. With near universal access now to mobile technology, Post-2015 data should be universally and directly collected locally at points of service, and aggregated upward, rather than basing it only on top-down household surveys.
  10. Facilitate bottom-up planning and budgeting. Local government must be able to do multi-stakeholder long-term planning, and many lack the in-house skills. Brazil, Kerala and other areas have “gone to scale” to mobilize facilitators for effective planning processes, and all local government should have access to this kind of support.