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Online and On Foot, UN Collects Input On New Development Goals

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, May 10 2013

Screengrab of My World survey results

The United Nations is crowdsourcing input on the global development goals that will shape international policies – and the ebb and flow of billions of dollars in aid money – for up to fifteen years. The new development plan will replace the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015. More than half a million people have participated in the crowdsourcing project.

The new development plan will replace the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015.

The UN has organized conferences in almost 100 countries to discuss the future initiatives, UN Assistant Secretary-General Olav Kjørven writes in a blog post. Individuals have also responded to a survey on a related web platform, World We Want 2015, by SMS and through an interactive voice response system (IVR) that recognizes local languages and dialects. The idea seems to be to reach people in person where technology is not ubiquitous and by mobile phone or Internet where that can reach broader audiences.

The resulting report will be given to the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and other global leaders at the UN general assembly in September 2013, who will take the information into account when finalizing the next global development plan.

The Millennium Development Goals, set in 2000, related to education, gender equality, child and maternal health, HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability and development.

To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, for example, the UN aimed to reduce by half the population that lives on less than $1.25 a day. In 2010 the global poverty rate fell to less than half the rate in 1990, fulfilling that benchmark, but in 2015, if the projections are correct, almost one billion people will still live on less than $1.25 a day. As big NGOs evaluate world governments' progress on development goals, the UN is using a mix of tech-savvy tools and old-fashioned face-to-face meetings to gather input on what its next set of goals should be.

One part of the UN’s crowdsourcing initiative is the My World survey, which asks users to vote for six of 16 general development priorities. Choices include "A good education," "Better healthcare" and "An honest and responsive government." Those are currently the top three priorities worldwide.

After participating, users can see how their six priorities compare to others worldwide, and to specific groups defined by age, gender and the Human Development Index. The survey also asks, “What else is important to you and your family?”

Partial results, collected on March 14, are already presented online in a data visualization. Kjørven has already written a preliminary report on the findings, a paper called the Global Conversation Begins.

The World We Want website also has discussion boards on various topics where participants can theoretically conduct conversations. Taking a quick look at the E-discussion on environmental sustainability, however, it looks less like a discussion than an opportunity for people to post essay-length op-eds. In fact, some users have apparently copied and pasted entire academic essays onto the discussion board, or attached pdfs of studies and papers. Although much of that information could be very useful, the density of the content hinders the “conversation.” Still, participants in that discussion come from many different countries including Uganda, Serbia, the Netherlands, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, and the UK and US, so there is engagement on an international scale.

"To maximise the inclusivity of the process," Kjørven writes, "we are making sure that people without access to the internet and mobile phones can also participate. To that end, we held workshops in the Amazon regions, in Ecuador and Peru, for villages which lack access to communication grids."

In Bangladesh, the Church of Bangladesh took the My World survey, translated into Bangla, to remote villages. According to the My World 2015 blog, villagers were enthusiastic about the survey. The women were “honoured to have the opportunity to voice their needs and concerns to the United Nations and the global high-level panel, hearing that the results of the survey will also be shared with the Secretary-General of the UN.”

In a move that can be interpreted as either a touching gesture or an attention-grabbing publicity stunt, the UN in Thailand, in partnership with Proctor and Gamble, brought 20 specialized ballots out to students at the Ratchaburi Home for the Intellectually Disabled Children. Again written about on the My World blog, “With the aid of hundreds of crayons and huge, color coded paper ballots, teachers ... explained the 16 choices to the children using simple terms.”

While the end result of stunts like that and the usefulness of the online survey might be in doubt, it is an interesting project which engages individuals with fun infographics and difficult prioritizing – filling out the survey I was torn between a number of issues, and still cannot believe better healthcare and phone and Internet access did not make my list of six goals. In the next few years we will see the extent to which citizen involvement plays a part in the development agenda and whether that involvement is sustained after the initial consultation phase.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.