Fewer Declarations: More Accountability and Action Needed
Reflections from ICFP 2013
Jessica Brinton, Working Group Program Coordinator, APHRC
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of joining thousands of family planning and SRH experts – ranging from prime ministers and ministers of health to youth leaders and program implementers – at the 2013 International Conference on Family Planning in Addis, Ababa. It was impossible not to feel empowered and excited by the enthusiasm of the people participating. When Melinda Gates gave an inspiring speech on progress of the FP movement, when youth leaders shared their stories of impact, or when Kate Gilmore of UNFPA said that when trying to reach youth “there is a need to put sex back into family planning” and that we as development experts, “have to get out of our comfort zones [when talking about SRH issues] because it is about saving lives.” The energy was palpable in the giant assembly hall at the African Union headquarters and the inspiring rhetoric seemed to cause the discussions following those speeches to be more earnest and impassioned.
But it was back at the APHRC exhibition booth sitting in the rain that I had a profound conversation with a youth leader from Zimbabwe. He expressed to me the same questions and concerns, which had been creeping up on me over the last 6 months at the numerous development conferences I have attended: why are we having more and more conferences when we aren’t holding countries accountable to the commitments they have already made, or tracking policy implementation on the ground? How can donors commit funding when there is no real idea of the funding gaps or the amounts needed and where? Where is the impact? How do we help countries do a better job of measuring their own progress? Or do we create an independent system that measures it for them?
I kept waiting for a presentation in the plenary session on tracking progress –but it never came. I realized that there is a serious need to develop a mechanism or model for tracking policy implementation progress on SRH in countries – not just vocal commitments at conferences, but real evidence-based policy and program tracking and monitoring. I think most development practitioners agree that the MDGs were developed in part to try to be a rudimentary accountability mechanism on a global scale, but I am not sure the MDGs or what is likely to follow post-2015 is the type of useful tangible tool policymakers want and need.
If we are to get more feedback from the country level policy implementers, we need policy dialogues where these mid-level policymakers (the technocrats who actually do the work and implement policies) can provide feedback to the development community including donors and partners on what they need to measure and track what’s happening in their countries. This type of mid-level engagement does work, for example through the policy dialogues APHRC has held over the last two years at the Partners in Population and Development meetings in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Beijing, China, and our side meeting at ICFP I have seen moments of greatness where policymakers and influencers learn from each other and from the evidence to come up with innovative solutions to development challenges. Perhaps the question of monitoring and tracking is something we need to poise to this type of group.
One new solution to the policy implementation tracking and monitoring problem may be to develop regional or country level independent task forces made up of development and policy experts who work together to map country progress on SRH policies, develop cost analyses for the implementation of those policies where there are gaps in implementation, and then provide countries with a way forward to get the work done (including matching those countries with funders who are interested in helping to be gap-fillers). The FP2020 Performance, Monitoring & Accountability Working Group, which will be meeting for the first time in the coming weeks, may be uniquely poised to step in and further develop the idea of regional tasks forces or similar accountability and tracking mechanisms. Since their mandate is to “monitor and evaluate progress towards the goal of ensuring that girls’ and women’s rights to voluntary contraception are respected and promoted; and to strengthen accountability for implementing financial, policy, and programming commitments made by country governments, donors, the UN, civil society and others.” But there may be other similar groups that could be the leading force in this effort, and I urge you to step forward to take up this initiative.
Conferences can be both rousing and exasperating events yet they do play a critical role in keeping Family Planning on the development agenda. ICFP 2013 has been a great opportunity to share ideas and new research that provides the evidence that can help to do the critical monitoring and tracking the implementation of policies I have mentioned above. But it is time to go one step further and urge the type of global leadership that leads these mega conferences to use funding to develop a mechanism that identifies gaps and ensures progress on SRH on the ground so we will see more lives saved and greater faster progress made while our youth leaders are still young.
Do you know of a combined model where policy mapping and implementation gap analysis has worked? Please share your experiences with us!