From June 2017-to February 2018, ActionAid piloted a participatory community-led process for ensuring SDG accountability through citizen led monitoring of the delivery of commitments made in seven countries: Bangladesh, Denmark, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia. This project contributed to empowerment of the most vulnerable communities, especially women and young people to present their evidence based data and demands to duty bearers to ensure accountability of governments at all levels against the SDG 5, 8, and 16 commitments. The approach was developed in a collaborative process came to be known as the ‘six policy steps for community-led SDG monitoring’.
While the SDGs hold the promise of improving the lives of poor and marginalized communities worldwide, in practice those most likely to benefit from the SDGs have the least input into how they are implemented.
ActionAid’s Citizen-Led Accountability Project aimed to support marginalised citizens (particularly women and youth) to understand the relevance of the SDGs to their day to day lives and to facilitate them to hold governments accountable for the delivery of the SDG commitments. Specifically, it aimed to ensure that voices of communities on the implementation of the SDGs were heard at local, national and international spaces, and to pilot a citizen-led accountability and monitoring approach geared towards empowering communities to take lead in assessing how delivery of SDG commitments has an impact on the improvement of their livelihoods .
The practice has several distinguishing features. First, the process was ‘bottom-up’ and led by communities themselves – community members facilitated discussions, data collection, convened forums and ran public awareness and sensitization sessions to inform others in their local area about the relevance of the SDGs to their lives. Second, the process linked local to national – with local level ‘citizens’ charters’ being taken up through reports and roundtables at national, and then international level – directly bringing the voices of citizens into spaces that are usually inaccessible to them.
To implement the project, ActionAid partnered with community organizations in each of the seven countries – with over 30 community-based organizations engaged, many were youth-led. The project was directly implemented by these community organizations, working with ActionAid offices in each country. For example, in Kenya the project worked with the Kilifi Citizens’ Forum, a grassroots organization based in Kilifi County, and with the Activista Kuria Youth Group in Migori County, a youth-led organization with over 800 members in the county. Local governments were also key stakeholders in the project, as well as national civil society and particularly national SDG coalitions.
In each country, the project followed a six step methodology:
Step 1 - Policy and country context analysis: ActionAid undertook an analysis of the laws, policies and existing initiatives to implement each of the selected SDGs and worked with community-based organisations to prepare simplified communication materials (in local languages) to share this context analysis with citizens.
Step 2 - Building partnerships: ActionAid offices partnered with local community-based organisations, youth networks, national civil society organisations and others working on SDGs. These partnerships ranged from formal, contracted arrangements to informal networks. Many partners were youth-led organisations.
Step 3 - Community knowledge building and empowerment: Supported by ActionAid, local partners held information sessions and dialogues to build community understanding on the selected SDG goals and targets, and local and national policies to implement them. This was followed by community-led SDG monitoring, using tools like citizens’ report cards and community forums. For example, in Tanzania, the Chamwino community group organised a two-day workshop with 40 farmers, small business owners and local authorities to share information about the SDGs, identify gaps in SDG implementation, and develop a Citizens Charter of Demands with recommendations for implementation of the selected goals.
Step 4 - Building a larger alliance to advocate for the demands: This included building local level alliances (with community groups, farmers networks, youth networks and local government), as well as building and participating in national alliances. For example, in Bangladesh, ActionAid connected with national NGOs, multilateral actors (UNDP, ILO and UNFPA), the national Citizens Platform for the SDGs and the Leave No One Behind coalition. Some communities also organised dialogues with local level government. For example, in Vietnam, partners in six districts organised dialogues with local government to discuss the community’s recommendations for implementation of the target SDGs and agree on plans of action.
Step 5 - Creating spaces for dialogue and advocate for action at national level: ActionAid and partners created spaces at national level to advocate for the policy and practice changes suggested in the community dialogues. This included national roundtables, jointly organised with allies from Step 4, social media campaigns and using national media. For example, in Denmark, ActionAid supported youth groups in several media appearances, including televised dialogues with parliamentary politicians in which young people were able to share their recommendations on the implementation of their right to participate in decision making (SDG 16.7). In Bangladesh, ActionAid collaborated with the Economic Journalist Forum to argue for more media coverage on SDGs and more public resources to deliver public services.
Step 6 - Connection with international level advocacy: ActionAid produced an international report We know more than you think we do: raising voices of marginalised communities on the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals , pulling together the demands and recommendations across the communities in seven countries. The report was launched at a roundtable on the sidelines of HLPF, jointly convened by several NGOs, member states and the UN Special Envoy on Youth, and co-chaired by ActionAid’s youth partner from Zambia.
A key result from the project was the engagement of over 3,000 people (with strong representation of young people) across seven countries in the process of monitoring implementation of the SDGs at local level. Through engaging in the six-step process, citizens in each country built awareness of the SDGs and the relevance of the goals to their daily lives, as well as building skills and confidence to continue following up their local governments. Media engagement also contributed to broader public awareness of the SDGs and their implementation.
The project also bridged the gap between marginalized citizens and government on the SDGs. In each country, ActionAid and partners worked with groups that traditionally have low access to decision-making processes, focusing on rural or low income women and young people. Several countries worked with other specific disadvantaged groups – for example, ActionAid Denmark worked with young people living in ‘ghetto’ areas of Copenhagen while in Vietnam, ActionAid worked primarily with ethnic minorities. The project brought representatives of these groups to meet with local and/or national government officials.
The project also strengthened youth leadership, with young people taking the lead on advocacy and awareness-raising. In Zambia, for example, 29 young people presented to the Ministry of Justice on the Public Order Act regarding youth participation in decision making processes. Moreover, a youth led organisation, Alliance for Accountability Advocates, developed their own localised tool to be used for monitoring SDGs. In Bangladesh, young people facilitated social accountability initiatives in four communities advocating for public health and education services. As part of this, young people from Bagerhat District also collaborated with the Government Department of Youth to disseminate information about the services they supposed to provide - resulting in the authorities setting up information charts in 18 locations in the District .At country-level, there were also specific results from the community-led advocacy processes.
For example: In Vietnam, two local communities developed joint action plans, agreed by community representatives and local governments, for tangible activities to implement SDG 5. These included training programs for men on childcare, vocational training opportunities for women, building water tanks (to reduce women’s time collecting water) and upgrading health facilities.
In Nigeria, the Women Rising initiative saw 700 women march to the National Assembly to hand over a collated Charter of Demands, drawing together the recommendations from 1080 women who had participated in local accountability cells. This initiative has opened up an ongoing dialogue on women’s rights between citizens and government which continues to take place.
In Zambia, over 200 community members in Chainda Community in Lusaka and Sesheke District in rural western part of Zambia presented their Charters of Demand to their local leaders and area councillors, who agreed to take the submission to the full council meeting for consideration.
In Bangladesh, the youth advocacy process detailed above resulted in development of a specific action plan, developed by the respective service provider and community collectively, to address the issues raised by the young people - including follow up mechanisms.
Some of the enabling factors that allowed the project to succeed included:
Bottom-up approach: the project deliberately started from the community level, and then based the national and international interventions on what came out at community level. While this made developing an international report challenging, it resulted in tangible outcomes for communities at the local level (such as local agreements or progress on resolution of local issues).
Availability of existing relationships and networks: ActionAid offices worked with communities with whom they had an existing relationship. This allowed ActionAid to work with existing community-based and community-led structures for accountability on the SDGs, many of whom had some experience in using participatory research tools for accountability.
Financial support: the project had financial support from DANIDA which covered some of the costs of travel, field research time, and in some cases, expert support (for example, to undertake the policy analysis). This resourcing was important for linking local to national and international. DANIDA support was also used to bring ActionAid and community representatives to HLPF in New York.
Collaboration with government and community leaders was essential to the success of this project. For example, ActionAid Zambia worked with young members of political parties, who were able to access closed policymaking spaces.
Mobilisation of young people: Young people were mobilized as agents of change on the SDGs. For example, ActionAid Bangladesh developed a group of young SDG facilitators, based in a Youth Platform. Facilitators mobilised young people from grassroots, national and international level.
Project constraints included:
Low level of understanding and knowledge on SDGs, among citizens and governments in rural or disadvantaged communities. In most cases, local governments did not have plans relating to the SDGs or a strong understanding of what would be required to implement them and most citizens ActionAid and partners interacted with were unaware of the SDGs. This meant that the early stages of the project (community sensitization) took significant time and required training for both community partners, the local community and, in some cases, local government before the community could discuss how they wanted to see the SDGs implemented. ActionAid and partners overcame this by taking the time to prepare a detailed policy analysis (Step 1 of the 6 steps) and to translate this analysis into a format that would be understandable and useful for communities. Without this first step, it would not have been possible to have a useful or meaningful dialogue on SDG implementation.
Civil society space also posed a project constraint in some of the contexts in which we worked. For example, electoral instability hampered engagement with national governments in some contexts, while in others, local accountability exercises required permission and oversight from government authorities to go ahead. In each case, local partners and ActionAid worked within the available constraints and allowed each country to determine the best way to implement the six-step methodology to align with the civil society space and context.
Sustainability of the practice has been ensured through:
Formation or strengthening of local community accountability mechanisms. For example, in Nigeria, local ‘accountability cells’ were established in three local government areas in each of five states (15 total). Citizens in these cells built their understanding of the SDGs through this project, and also built skills in using accountability tools like citizens report cards. These cells continue to be active, and are receiving ongoing support from ActionAid Nigeria to continue community accountability on the SDGs.
Linkages between communities and national coalitions: for example, in Kenya, the project brought together youth activists from across Nairobi and Laikipia and linked them with the national SDG Kenya Forum as well as with each other. This has facilitated ongoing networking and local-national linkages; in Bangladesh, the project connected with the Bangladesh Citizen Platform on SDGs.
Continuous learning: over the course of the project, ActionAid organized three international skill-sharing meetings for project teams from participating countries to come together to share lessons and seek advice from each other on implementation of the six steps. This allowed for the development of an informal community of practice around the SDGs, and built the capacity of each of the participating countries in working on the SDGs. As a result, countries are now engaged in a range of other work on the SDGs. For example, ActionAid Vietnam used the increased knowledge and capacity staff had developed through this project to coordinate NGO engagement in Vietnam’s 2018 Voluntary National Review.
Development of a replicable methodology: at the international skill-sharing sessions discussed above, staff also developed a detailed guidance note on the six-step methodology which is being published on the Networked Toolbox (www.networkedtoolbox.com) – a web database for accountability tools and methods. This will allow ActionAid staff and partners, and broader civil society, to replicate this accountability process in future.
The SDGs aim to leave no one behind, reaching those furthest behind first. For this to happen, people who are marginalised – including women, young people, people with disabilities and people from ethnic and religious minorities – must participate. They are best placed to know what their problems are and what might be workable solutions. Moreover, the process of participation can itself create solidarity and get people into a position where they can start to make the changes they want. Participation is fundamental to the SDGs – for example, Goal 16.7 commits states to “ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”.
Despite this, engagement of citizens in the SDGs is so far happening in only a very patchy way, and mostly not reaching the most marginalised people. Although some governments have put in place laudable initiatives to engage citizens, including involving citizens in national SDG implementation mechanisms or conducting national consultations, these do not go far enough to meet the goal of ‘leaving no one behind’. Instead, citizens’ voices expressed through this project highlight that marginalised groups struggle to access the public services they need, that citizens lack information on policies and budgets, and that citizens want to be more involved in SDG implementation.
ActionAid’s ‘six step’ project for citizen engagement in the SDGs put the principle of participation into practice – taking SDGs to the most local level and supporting citizens to undertake the monitoring of the SDGs themselves. This process highlighted that citizens know what needs to be done in their local area to make the SDGs a reality – they have concrete proposals and ideas for implementation as well as a clear sense of where the gaps are in implementation. More needs to be done at all levels to scale up initiatives like this – to recognize the voices of ordinary citizens in SDG monitoring and data collection, and to empower local communities to understand, implement and monitor the goals.
International Report: We know more than you think we do: raising voices of marginalised communities on the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (2018), ActionAid International.
More photos: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1hNSNJe4AL7iMtO872HhirEQiWFaqUyKw