After the Millennium Development Goals: Where Do We Go From Here?

Feb 19, 2013 | Updated Apr 21, 2013

As the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) draws near, debates about the contours of a new post-2015 development agenda that will best meet the needs of the world's poor are accelerating. (For a breakdown of the MDGs and post-2015 processes, see previous Question of the Week and Emerging Voices posts.)

There are multiple initiatives afoot to inform this effort, including 50 country-level consultations; a UN System Task Team, which is compiling recommendations from experts at UN agencies and international organizations; thematic consultations on critical -- but sometimes neglected -- issues, such as inequality and energy; and a high-level panel, appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, whose recommendations will be presented before the UN General Assembly in 2013. Civil society organizations, such as Beyond 2015, are also working to have their opinions heard.

Human rights and good governance are critical aspects of global development. A significant body of research over the past fifteen years has decisively demonstrated that good institutions are a critical ingredient in eradicating poverty and creating equitable, sustainable, and inclusive growth. Fundamental to human freedom, these objectives are both an end in themselves and a means to an end.

Despite the emerging global consensus that human rights and good governance are central to development, it has so far proven difficult to translate aspirational rhetoric into an actionable framework of global goals that can guide policy priorities and mobilize engagement. The key challenges in this regard have been the political difficulty of prioritizing and selecting among a wide array of possible goals, many of which are normatively compelling, and some of which are viewed by some states as challenging sovereign prerogatives; and the concern that adequate and objective measurement of progress towards governance and human rights goals, using appropriate targets and indicators, is not technically feasible. Yet it is technically feasible, politically possible, and normatively imperative to include governance and human rights in the emerging post-2015 global development agenda.

There are a number of important criteria relevant to the selection of goals and indicators for a post-2015 development framework. In general, global development goals should meet one or more of four objectives: embody a normative and ideational objective, both reflecting and building a global consensus around a shared development vision; be actionable; be global in nature and universally applicable to all countries while taking into account different national realities; and/or strengthen accountability for delivering on global promises. Governance goals can be implemented as stand-alone goals or they can be mainstreamed as they can fulfill different global development objectives.

As for targets and indicators, there are two potential types: cross-nationally comparable indicators and regional or country-owned indicators, both of which are useful for different purposes. Cross-nationally comparable indicators allow for uniformity. They are easier to communicate and provide concrete measurements that can be used to hold governments more accountable for meeting development goals. Regional or country-owned indicators are also important. They encourage country ownership and reflect regional and country-specific contexts and national priorities, which can better ensure that targets and indicators meet the real policy needs of each country.

This is the first post in a series that will explore criteria for selecting goals, targets, and indicators for governance and human rights. The series will examine specific goals and indicators, and offer concrete recommendations for how to include human rights and governance in the post-2015 global development framework.

This post is part one of an eight-part series the author is writing on post-2015 Millennium Development Goals.

This piece originally appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations Development Channel.