Home > Researching ICT4D > How Important Will The Post-2015 Agenda Be For Development Research And Practice?

How Important Will The Post-2015 Agenda Be For Development Research And Practice?

In an earlier post, I outlined the current state of the post-2015 development agenda (PTDA) process.  Later posts will look at the content of that agenda and its implications for development – particularly development informatics – research.

Before getting to that, though, it is appropriate to ask a couple of foundational assumption-checking questions.

Question number 1: “How important will the PTDA be to international development?”.  If it is just going to end up gathering dust on a shelf, or if it is just  a side-show, then there is little point using it to shape our research priorities.  We will not know the answer to that question until something like 2020 at the earliest but we have two current guides.

The first is how important the post-2015 agenda is currently perceived to be.  One set of evidence is the extent of participation in the consultation process.  There have been nearly 100 national, six regional and eleven thematic consultations, with each of these typically involving many hundreds of organisational participants[1] plus thousands of online contributions[2].  It is hard to benchmark this against other activities but it must represent one of the most substantial exercises in global consultation.  Other evidence comes from polling perceptions: for example, of more than 100 civil society organisations surveyed in 27 developing countries, 87% wanted a post-2015 development framework[3].

A second guide is historical: investigating how important the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been to international development, given they are by far the closest historical phenomenon to the PTDA.  There is a generalised assumption about the MDGs’ importance: “the MDGs … have an incontestable strength”[4]; “the Millennium Development Goals … have unified, galvanized, and expanded efforts to help the world’s poorest people”[5].  However, in the complex field of influences that exists within international development, attribution is problematic: “the direct development impact of the MDGs is difficult to determine”[6].

Those who have sought to study this come up with differentiated conclusions depending on the area of influence investigated.  For example:

  • Debate/Discourse: “There is widespread agreement that the MDGs have placed broad-based poverty reduction at the center of the development agenda at least in international discussions and policy discourse”[7]; “There is plenty of evidence of the influence of the MDGs on policy discourse, if this is measured by mention of the goals or their presence in donor policy documents, PRSPs and developing country government goals”[8].
  • Aid Flows: “The MDGs have mobilized government and business leaders to donate tens of billions of dollars”[9]; “We argue that the MDGs may have played a role in increasing aid”[10].
  • Policy: “For better or worse, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have constituted the longest standing paradigm that has ever emerged in development thinking. The goals have been an organising framework for international aid over the last ten years. At the core of countless policy documents, plans and announcements”[11]; “policy statements of major bilateral donors align with the MDG priorities only partially and in varying ways … there is a considerable adoption of MDG priority areas, however there is equal or higher adoption of priorities not in the MDGs”[12].
  • Outcomes: “the most powerful impact of the MDGs appears to have been on aid flows, but the impact of that aid on outcomes is difficult to assess and plausibly muted”[13]; “In some areas, such as vaccination or primary education enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa, the links between the MDGs, the mobilisation and focusing of additional aid, and subsequent impacts seem convincingly close. But in others, the links seem less plausible”[14].
  • Practice: “The research shows that in the organisations studied [small number of faith-based NGOs], the extent of influence of the MDGs has been minimal upon development activities in a direct sense, although some indirect influence due to donor funding requirements has been reported”[15].

Drawing on these sources and others[16], a subjective summary assessment of MDG impact can be drawn up as shown in Figure 1.

MDG Development Influence

Figure 1: Relative Impact of MDGs on Differing Aspects of International Development

Question number 2: “How important will the PTDA be to development research agendas and funding?”.  Again, we can look at current evidence about PTDA activity, plus also historical evidence relating to the MDGs.  At the time of writing, many of the major development research institutes – those with a majority focus on international development and lying at the top of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program rankings[17] – have post-2015 initiatives underway.  This seems much less true of US-based institutes, probably reflecting the lower levels of US engagement with the MDGs and the post-2015 agenda[18]:

  • Center for Global Development: has a number of blog posts on post-2015 and some publications on the MDGs which include thoughts on post-2015, but no main topics or initiatives.
  • Kennedy School Center for International Development: has no apparent research programmes or specific activities related to the post-2015 agenda.
  • International Food Policy Research Institute: has its own 2020 agenda but no major post-2015 research activity.

The picture is very different for development research institutes outside the US.  Listing these in descending TTCSP rank order:

Alongside this snapshot of current activity, we can look at historical impact of the MDGs on research agendas and funding.  Data on the output side is not particularly clear.  A review was undertaken of articles in the three top development studies journals – World Development, Development and Change, and Journal of Development Studies – published during 2008-2013.  This suggested that 1-2% of articles had a specific engagement with the MDGs (mentioned in the title or abstract), and 10-15% mentioned the MDGs somewhere in the main text.  In the absence of other benchmarks, not much can be concluded from this data.

A stronger sense of the importance of the MDGs comes from the input side; from analysis of funder research strategies.  For this activity, analysis was undertaken of the research strategies of three key development research funders – Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) – during the period 2002-2012.  This suggested a continuum of MDG influence as summarised in Figure 2:

  • IDRC: research strategy documents have just one or two passing references to the MDGs, and the MDGs do not frame research strategy.  For example: “Although not explicit nor an underpinning of IDRC’s health programming, there is an implicit interest in the health-related Millennium Development Goals”[19].
  • SIDA: the MDGs are one among a number of components that have shaped research strategy.  For example, a core overview[20] lists three foci for research: matters of relevance to low-income countries; research issues arising from international commitments as defined by the MDGs and UN conventions; and cooperative arrangements that identify new research of relevance to developing countries.
  • DFID: “The current effort is … using the Millennium Development Goals as the main framework for determining research strategies and priorities”[21].  “All DFID’s efforts are directed towards achieving the targets set by the world community in the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. They are the basis for choosing research topics”[22].  “The purpose of DFID’s research is to make faster progress in fighting poverty and achieving the MDGs”[23].

MDG Development Research Influence

Figure 2: MDG Influence on Development Research Strategies

Taking together all of the evidence, it seems reasonable to conclude that – whatever its absolute strength and with acknowledgement to local variations – the post-2015 development agenda will be the single most important force shaping the future of development and of development research.  It is certainly of sufficient importance to take very seriously in the planning of future development-related research agendas.  If our own future research is in synch with post-2015, at the least we can use that to boost the credibility and perceived relevance of our research; at the most, we will gain greater funding and a wider audience for our research.  Future posts will explore this further.


[1] e.g. TWWW (2013a) Global Thematic Consultation on Governance and the Post-2015 Development Framework,The World We Want http://www.worldwewant2015.org/governance/finalreport; and TWWW (2013b) Health in the Post-2015 Agenda, The World We Want http://www.worldwewant2015.org/health

[3] Pollard, A., Sumner, A., Polato-Lopes, M. & de Mauroy, A. (2011) 100 Voices, CAFOD, London http://www.cafod.org.uk/Media/Files/Resources/Policy/100-Voices

[4] Prammer, E. & Martinuzzi, A. (2013) The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Post-2015 Debate, Case Study no.13, European Sustainable Development Network, Vienna

[5] McArthur, J. (2013) Own the goals: what the millennium development goals have accomplished, Foreign Affairs, March/April http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/2013/02/21-millennium-dev-goals-mcarthur

[6] Higgins, K. (2013) Reflecting on the MDGs and Making Sense of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, The North-South Institute, Ottawa, ON

[7] Kenny, C. & Sumner, A. (2011) More Money or More Development: What Have the MDGs Achieved?, Working Paper 278, Center for Global Development, Washington, DC http://international.cgdev.org/files/1425806_file_Kenny_Sumner_MDGs_FINAL.pdf

[8] Lockwood, M. (2012) What have the MDGs achieved?  We don’t really know, From Poverty to Power, 31 Aug http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=11498

[9] McArthur 2013

[10] Kenny & Sumner 2011

[11] Pollard et al. 2011

[12] Kenny & Sumner 2011

[13] Kenny & Sumner 2011

[14] Lockwood 2012

[15] Dore, M. (2011) Keeping Faith with the MDGs, MSc Dissertation, University of Edinburgh

[16] e.g. Gore, C. (2009) The Global Development Cycle, MDGs and the Future of Poverty Reduction, European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes, Bonn http://www.eadi.org/fileadmin/MDG_2015_Publications/Gore_PAPER.pdf; and Manning, R. (2010) The impact and design of the MDGs: some reflections, IDS Bulletin, 41(1), 7-14 http://www.humanitarianforum.org/data/files/impactanddesignofmdg.pdf

[17] McGann, J.G. (2013) 2012 Global Go To Think Tanks Report and Policy Advice, Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA http://gotothinktank.com/dev1/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/2012_Global_Go_To_Think_Tank_Report_-_FINAL-1.28.13.pdf

[18] e.g. Hulme, D. (2009) The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): A Short History of the World’s Biggest Promise, BWPI Working Paper 100, Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester, UK http://www.bwpi.manchester.ac.uk/resources/Working-Papers/bwpi-wp-10009.pdf

[19] IDRC (2009) Innovating for Development Strategic Framework 2010-2015, IDRC, Ottawa http://www.idrc.ca/EN/AboutUs/WhatWeDo/Documents/12614275681Strategic_framework_2010-2015.pdf

[20] Regeringskansliet (2010) Research for Development, Regeringskansliet, Stockholm http://www.government.se/content/1/c6/14/60/03/eab96d0b.pdf

[21] Surr, M., Barnett, A., Duncan, A., Speight, M., Bradley, D., Rew, A. & Toye, J. (2002) Research for Poverty Reduction: DFID Research Policy Paper, DFID, London http://www.idee.ceu.es/Portals/0/Actividades/Doc_Reduccion_Pobreza.pdf

[22] DFID (2004) DFID Research Funding Framework 2005-2007, DFID, London http://globalgrn.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/dvidresearch-framework-2005.pdf

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  1. 30 January 2014 at 11:10 am

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