We the people: Insights from post-2015 Moldova

08 Apr 2015

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The sustainable development goals have yet to be adopted; however, the first signs of changes in the way we work are already there.

Here are five reflections on what we’ve learned so far in Moldova:

1. It’s the complexity, stupid

If ever we needed a powerful jolt to remind us about the pitfalls of thinking and working in silos, the post-2015 consultations were it.

Time and again, horizontal issues such as jobs, inequality, and governance topped citizens’ concerns.

In Moldova, we saw how governance and the rural-urban divide impact development in the country. This helped us to adapt our perspective on how we observe the progress on MDG implementation.

As we become increasingly context- and connectedness-aware, we start treating development phenomena more holistically: TB treatment is not just a matter of taking one’s pills, and providing access to energy in a resource-poor country is not just a matter of laying the pipeline.

2. Smarter, not bigger government

Trust in public institutions in Moldova has reached new lows, but government is still seen as the main actor for improving people’s livelihoods.

How do we address this conundrum?

Society faces complex challenges such as rapid technological change and a general democratization of political space.

In many parts of the world these changes have not come unnoticed by government; however, the future of government itself remains an open question.

Given our key organizational strength in governance, I believe the better we can assist governments in co-developing solutions with citizens, the more relevant those solutions will be.

3. Is it a time for a ‘whole-of-society’?

Let’s face it, robust response to post-2015 consultations – and a very strong up-take in some national consultations – showed that it is still ‘We the people’ who have a say in public policy and development aspirations.

While not a panacea by far, civic engagement has become a must for many public policy and development processes, not least because it may bring fitter solutions and popular ownership.

This trend may also result in the transformation of government from solution provider to enabler.

No less important, because, to quote Owen Barder (by way of Duncan Green):

“The goal of civic engagement is not to ensure that everyone gets what they want all the time, but to change the power relationship to some fairer form of reconciliation of competing claims.”

The global UN-led discussion on the post-2015 development agenda, and the rising use of crowdsourcing by many UNDP country offices is a testament to this.

So, how we can help advance ‘whole-of-society’?

4. In the praise of “lab” mentality

The previous points make it abundantly clear that we face an increasing amount of unknowns, alongside a web of disparate factors and actors. Many of the challenges we face are completely new.

This makes it very difficult to know what will and won’t work in different contexts.

While this has implications for the way government and development agencies operate, what I find much more intriguing is what changes it requires in our mentality.

We need to (metaphorically) kill the development planners in us and become more humble experimenters – working with hypotheses not with dogmas.

This will make us more open about what we do, and more adaptive to failing hypotheses (this has the added benefit of also making us more empathic human beings).

Ultimately, taking on a ‘lab mentality’ will help us make better use of new approaches, thereby increasing the relevance of our work.

5. The process that has changed us?

Going out and discussing future development goals has given a huge boost to opening up policy development space, and increasing popular ownership of this future agenda.

However, one of the less-realized consequences was the similar effect this had over us – the development organizations that facilitated these consultations.

We have started changing how we work.

Our toolbox for civic engagement was enormously enriched, meaning our relevance to partner governments and future tech-savvy generations is now all the more vivid.

Most importantly, the response from the people has been overwhelmingly positive – and with engaged and excited partners like this, the sky is the limit.

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