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MDGS: a framework for social accountability
by Jerry Spiegel
MDGS: a framework for social accountability
by Jerry Spiegel

March 1, 2005
How can development progress be achieved in an essentially unaccountable global order?

Adopting and recognizing even the most appropriate set of goals, targets and indicators is necessary but still insufficient to produce positive change. Whether the Millennium Development Goal process will ultimately be ”hitting the target or missing the point“ – to borrow the words of the International Institute for Environment and Development – thus depends not only on the nature of the selected measures (do they appropriately correspond to development?), but on how well the MDG process facilitates the implementation of policies and interventions that lead to the desired outcomes (are key effective actions being triggered?).

Above all, the ”MDG process“ screams for an unprecedented accountability. The consensus achieved by the unanimous adoption of the MDGs at the United Nations in 2000 provides a far more appropriate framework for assessing accountability than did the economic growth measures that had previously served as proxies for development while masking marked disparities. The danger remains that an inappropriately selected indicator can draw attention away from equally deserving needs, so this is something that must be carefully monitored by researchers, policy-makers and communities in open and transparent processes.

A more fundamental danger in concentrating on outcome measures as set out in the MDGs is that we may be drawn to ignore necessary systemic preconditions for sustainably producing results. The recent ministerial Mexico Summit on Health Research drew muchneeded attention to the role of strengthened national and local health systems in contributing to the achievement of the health-related MDGs. When this isn’t done, targeted efforts actually undermine overall capacities by drawing away scarce resources.

Canada, especially through its universities and colleges, has an important role to play in achieving MDGs by building capacity in low- and medium-income countries as well as ensuring accountability, especially of high-income countries. A recent review by Labonte and colleagues condemns the pronounced failure of the powerful G7 and G8 countries in following through on their expressed commitments to development. MDG Goal 8 explicitly calls for effective partnerships to be built. In doing this, we must recognize that the legacy of global relationships has weakened local governance capacity in low-and middle-income countries though years of ”structural adjustment“ policies and a decline in the levels of Official Development Assistance.

Recent throne speeches have called on Canada to play a leadership role in promoting international development. The MDG challenge is central to this if we are to merit the term ”global citizenship“ that our rhetoric increasingly embraces. We must be prepared to use concrete measures such as the MDGs to scrutinize whether we are living up to the task – and, if not, to provoke change in our national and institutional policies and actions.

Dr. Spiegel is director, Global Health, Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia. He also chairs the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research and is a UPCD Tier 1 project director for the ”Sustainably Managing Environmental Health Risks in Ecuador“ project.

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