What are the most important questions for global development?

Written by Jonathan Glennie, research associate at the ODI in London and at the Centro De Pensamiento Estratégico Internacional in Bogotá, and author of The Trouble with Aid: Why Less Could Mean More for Africa on the Guardian’s Global Development Professionals Network.

“The post-2015 decision-making process has taken over the world of international development. Nearly every conference and every research or policy paper must now include the number 2015 in its title, thus making it “relevant”. It is easy to be jaded by it all. Are these discussions really worthwhile? Will they really somehow trickle down into real change? As I have written before, I think this process has been valuable; we are going through a paradigm shift which will have (largely positive) repercussions on policies and budgets.

One of the concerns many people have with regard to the new set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) is that it will resemble a garish Christmas tree, covering too many issues, and thus losing the prioritising role that most agree the millennium development goals (MDGs) played fairly well. The open working group’s preliminary list has somewhat confirmed this suspicion, although attempts are now under way to reduce its 19 thematic areas to a more manageable number with more likelihood of influencing public decision making.

But there is an alternate danger: over-focusing on a select group of priorities could lead the international development community to take its eye off the ball with regard to a range of important issues that didn’t make it on to the final list. Maybe they were too politically provocative. Maybe they weren’t considered as important. For whatever reason, they didn’t win consensus (in one sense goals agreed by all the countries of the world will represent the lowest common denominator). One of the main criticisms of the MDG era is that they did precisely that. While they succeeded in focusing funding and energy on some critical anti-poverty priorities, the other side of that coin was a diminishing concern for issues considered (by the handful of people who wrote the MDGs) less important.

So good luck to the SDGs. May they be bold, unambiguous and few. But they are not the end of the matter. There has to be a way of prioritising some issues politically, without leaving the unchosen issues neglected. Which is why I am pleased to be associated (as an adviser) with what could be an important complementary research project. The Sheffield Institute for International Development (SIID) is leading a process collating not the 10 or so most important development objectives, but the 100 most important international development questions.”

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