By Neva Frecheville, lead policy analyst at CAFOD
When I joined CAFOD in November 2012, the role included co-chairing the Beyond 2015 with my friend and colleague, Mwangi Waituru, and convening advocacy for the Participate initiative, a global network of 18 organisations aiming to bring high quality evidence on the reality of poverty into the post-2015 debate.
Participate was an unusual alliance between an academic institute, grassroots organisations and a campaign of NGOs, meaning that there were often differences in priorities and ways of working. But these differences strengthened the initiative, meaning that academic research influenced live policy debates and that the positions put forwards by Beyond 2015 were based on an academically rigorous evidence-base.
The multiple layers of the partnership were challenging – co-convened by the Institute of Development Studies and Beyond 2015 (in itself a coalition), with multiple partners and networks involved. For example, CAFOD’s contribution to the Participate participatory research group was in conjunction with four of CAFOD’s partners (Unitas in Bolivia, JPDC Soroti in Uganda, the Poverty Reduction Forum in Zimbabwe, and ECOweb in the Philippines). Ensuring that everyone was on the same page and had the right information at the right time was a struggle in itself.
The research gave an incredible insight into how people with direct experience of poverty and marginalization experienced change over the lifetime of the Millennium Development Goals. What people shared was both moving and simple – they wanted to meaningfully take part in decision-making that shaped their lives. It was the how, not the what, of development that mattered to them. They had the knowledge to solve problems – they just needed to be able to participate.
Cracking open the UN system so that it heard these voices was another matter. Carlos Cortez, a research colleague mapped out the ‘hydrology’ of policy, illustrating that most decisions are taken in places where marginalised voices are hardly heard. It was difficult to get UN officials and government representatives to understand Participate’s messages. It wasn’t until after the UN Summit that one key lobby target in a government that will remain unnamed told me, ‘I recently had time to read the full Participate research and I now understand what you were trying to tell me about the how, not the what, of development.’ So frustrating to hear this too late.
One of the most effective ways of increasing the reach of the Participate messages was feeding them into the Beyond 2015 campaign. As well as increasing the advocacy impact of the findings, it gave credibility to the campaign. Early indicators from follow-up research with the same communities show that they feel the SDGs better reflect their realities and priorities – the best testimony that the new goals, while not perfect, are a step forward from the MDGs.
The lessons that I learnt from the experience were:
- Have an honest conversation at the beginning about priorities, resources, capacity and ways of working. It’s better to find out sooner rather than later that you have different expectations.
- Put aside enough time for communication between different actors within the partnership, especially if there are multiple, layered projects and tight timelines.
- Put aside enough time to get to know your partners outside of the working context – it means that when deadlines loom and pressure builds, you’ve got strong relationships that can handle it.
- Take time to think about what will resonate with your lobby targets and how you can shape complex research findings into easily digestible lobby messages without reducing academic integrity.
Being a part of Beyond 2015 and Participate was a wonderful experience. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many incredible people from around the world and to have learnt from their diverse experiences. I’m proud of the policy changes that we made at the UN and hope that implementation of the SDGs includes people on the ground from day 1.
Lead policy analyst at CAFOD