By Naiara Costa, Beyond 2015 Advocacy Director
Reviewing the advocacy work of a campaign such as Beyond 2015 is not an easy task. As expressed in the campaign’s external evaluation: “The legacy of any advocacy campaign goes well beyond words. Having said so, UN officials and representatives of Member States seem to have genuinely welcomed and thoroughly considered the inputs of the campaign”.
In our analysis of the Agenda 2030 outcome document, we could see how messages promoted by the Campaign were finally embraced by the collective of Member States at the United Nations and translated into ambitious commitments.
Beyond 2015 was one of the most active voices in the post-2015 intergovernmental process, bringing together a plethora of organisations covering a broad range of themes, countries and constituencies. Coordinating this diversity was a complex endeavour, especially considering the very small secretariat structure. Several lessons can be drawn from the Beyond 2015 experience. I would like to flag a few:
- Agreeing on principles, balancing perspectives – Beyond 2015 established its “Vision, Purpose, Values and Criteria” (VPVC) for the post-2015 agenda, prior to its engagement in the intergovernmental negotiations. Those principles served as the main guidance for drafting advocacy proposals and balancing diverse views. The setting up of Red Flags was also a good way of summarising key “asks” uniting the Campaign.
- Learning to listen before speaking – This was critical. Sometimes, we, advocates, are so eager to share our ideas and pass on our messages that we forget to listen to those that we are trying to influence. Attending the post-2015 negotiation sessions, meeting and listening to delegates and setting up relationships with decision makers allowed the Campaign to better understand the challenges and opportunities ahead.
- Setting up open, transparent and predictable processes for the drafting of positions – Planning was a challenge for those engaging in the post-2015 process. Things would change monthly (or weekly/daily!) and it was not always possible to predict what governments would actually discuss. To deal with that, we set up specific structures – Task Forces and Working Groups – that were responsible for drafting the Campaign’s positions on specific themes/sessions. We made sure to open the groups and task forces to all organisations participating in the Campaign, and to set up clear working processes for joint work within set timelines, with clear objectives and expectations at all times.
- Preparing messages for the audience you want to influence – This may appear obvious but it was not uncommon to see proposals from civil society and stakeholders that were disconnected from the intergovernmental process or did not use appropriate “UN language”. Needless to say, as delegates were overwhelmed by the negotiations and huge amount of daily inputs sent to them, those “disconnected” proposals were simply ignored. At Beyond 2015, we aimed to provide position papers that were both aligned with the discussions, as concise and focused as possible, and in an easy format for delegates to consider and use.
- Sharing messages broadly and in a timely manner, using different channels – This means planning the distribution of messages strategically to ensure they reach target audiences at an appropriate time. The Beyond 2015 Task Forces worked extremely hard to finalise the Campaign’s positions prior to each intergovernmental negotiations, and those positions were shared via different channels – emails, websites, social media, hard copies.
We also faced some important challenges – which we understand were not exclusive to Beyond 2015. A few of these were highlighted in the external evaluation. I would call the attention to the following:
- The time challenge – Responding in a timely manner to the post-2015 intergovernmental process implied working with tight deadlines. Big commitments were needed from participating organizations to prepare proposals very quickly and then input them to the Campaign’s draft position papers. Smaller organisations struggled to keep up with the pace of the Campaign and negotiations.
- The language challenge – English was the dominant language of the whole process. Draft negotiation documents were issued in English and several were never translated This made it hard for governments from non-English speaking countries to engage in the process, but even more so for non-Anglophone civil society organizations. At Beyond 2015, we undertook all efforts possible to translate as much material and information as we could, and also allowed colleagues to add contributions in Spanish, French and Portuguese during the drafting of our position papers
- Staying true to the campaign’s diversity – This demanded a high level of solidarity amongst participating organisations as it was always challenging to fully reflect their diverse views in our documents. However, as we evolved, members demonstrated their capacity to channel streamline their own demands and, more importantly, listen to other proposals and identify overlaps.
- Differing capacity within civil society – The external evaluation shows that Beyond 2015 facilitated the engagement of the most vulnerable and marginalised in the post-2015 process, in addition to supporting the participation of organisations based in the global South, some with very limited capacity. However, this support was far from enough and future initiatives will need to find solutions to increase the inclusion and participation of the global South.
Finally, the Beyond 2015 experience shows that it is possible for civil society to actively and effectively engage in intergovernmental negotiations, bringing inputs and concerns into an arena that is mainly led by government officials. Not only is such an engagement possible; it is absolutely necessary for all multilateral processes.
Beyond 2015 Advocacy DirectorNaiara Costa is an International Relations analyst currently serving as Beyond 2015’s Advocacy Director. She previously worked for the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom in New York as well as for DFID in Brazil. She has served the UN for more than a decade and has served the government of Brazil in different capacities.