Beyond budget allocations and datasets: Transparency, accountability, and participation strategies for achieving sustainable development goals

sustainable development goal icons in circle around transparency accountability participation

The Sustainable Development 2030 Agenda—which consists of 17 sustainable development goals, or SDGs—aims to eradicate poverty around the world. Transparency, accountability, and participation (TAP) are essential if SDG stakeholders are to translate this ambitious agenda into reality. Achieving these developmental goals requires transparency around data essential for making and measuring progress. It also requires key local stakeholders to be open to oversight and accountability during the planning and implementation phases. Furthermore, achieving these goals is possible if citizens are given the opportunity to participate in formulating and monitoring localized versions of SDG plans and strategies. Promisingly, there is a broad network of civil society organisations (CSOs)—including the TAP Network—who are working together to ensure that the SDG agenda is implemented in an open, inclusive, and accountable way. 

As much as TAP can help with achieving the global goals, successful development outcomes do not emerge only as a result of TAP but a range of interrelated contextual factors, of which TAP plays a part. For example any well-financed SDG commitment that fails to take into account how to navigate a range of contextual factors such as sectoral systems, incentives, and power dynamics is as ineffective as an insufficiently funded commitment. This means that if we want to see sustainable change happen, TAP work on SDGs need to focus attention on local contextual factors such as problems and politics that play a major role in development outcomes. TAP champions supporting the SDG agenda might do well to strengthen their interventions by adopting problem-driven, learning-centered, adaptive strategies, tailored to the political dynamics of specific contexts and systems, for pursuing sectoral outcomes.  

Despite recognition of the importance of political economy in development outcomes by academics & practitioners, David Booth of the Overseas Development Institute laments in his valedictory lecture the fact that TAP approaches to development remain solution driven instead of problem driven; and the incorporation of politics within development & governance programs remains limited. Therefore in addition to demanding better budgets and data, TAP interventions need to also support development actors’ efforts to design appropriate and useful interventions suitable for the local political dynamics as well as support adapting strategies to changing political dynamics and local incentives. 

So what needs to be done in order to improve TAP strategies so that they are problem-driven, politically savvy, and adaptive to changes in the local context? A starting point could be combining sectoral approaches and local political dynamics at the center of TAP strategies in governance and development. This could mean, for example, as Guerzovich and Gattoni argue, working to break down sectoral silos and mainstreaming a focus on TAP in service delivery projects. What might this mean in practice? Two recent examples are worth reviewing: 

  1. Maria F. Guerzovich, Maria Poli, and Emilie Fokkelman’s “How Does Social Accountability Help Resolve the Learning Crisis?” explores how progress towards SDG 4 on education can be accelerated by applying social accountability as a way of addressing local problems that undermine the achievement of quality sectoral outcomes.
  2. Another good example that highlights the importance of a more targeted and sectoral approach over generic “best-practice” approaches is around effective reform strategies for curbing corruption. Mark Pyman, argues that by disaggregating and designing corruption reforms for a specific sector, successful outcomes are more likely because the solutions are problem driven as well as tailored for the political and domain context of that sector. Publications on Pyman’s Curbing Corruption platform urge CSOs and donors working on developing and monitoring SDG 16.5 national plans for reducing corruption and bribery to start by asking if anti-corruption counter measures are applying sectoral anti-corruption approaches and strategies.  

These are just a few examples of how those working on TAP and SDGs are increasingly moving away from advocating more generally for ‘good’ budgets and data. Instead, they are choosing to focus on concrete problems within sectors and what is politically feasible, with regards to issues that tangibly affect people’s lives, within a given context.  

In summary, making SDGs better resourced or making SDG data available is significant but it is seldom, if ever, enough for solving problems in implementation. Successful development outcomes are the result of approaches, strategies, and tactics that are focused on problems, as well as adaptive to changes in the context. There is opportunity for those TAP practitioners working on SDGs to combine strategies for demanding better budgets and data with strategies for supporting development actors to apply problem-driven, politically smart and adaptive strategies. 

The upcoming Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) Global Partners Forum is a good example of emerging conversations that are moving practitioners toward connecting TAP with development outcomes in light of complex contextual dynamics. The next installment of this blog series will review how participants at the Forum engaged in conversations connecting accountability around development and sector outcomes with complex contextual dynamics of exclusion and asymmetries of power.

Yeukai Mukorombindo
Manager, Research & Learning

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