Putting access to information at the center of post-2015

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in Devex.

Information is accessed through community-based Maarifa (Knowledge) Centers in Kenya, where people can get information about small-scale sustainable agriculture, climate change adaptation and other issues that could help improve people’s lives. Access to information should be central to the post-2015 development agenda. Photo by Gates Foundation / CC BY-NC-ND

A data analyst, a librarian, a lawyer and a journalist walk into the United Nations bar discussing ways to ensure the success of any new sustainable development goals. The data analyst says “We need to make information more accessible and timely.” The librarian says “We need to help citizens use the information.” The lawyer says “We need to guarantee the public’s right to this information.” And the journalist wonders how he can write a 600 word article about a lawyer, a librarian and a data analyst without losing all his readers.

Journalistic challenges aside, if the post-2015 development agenda is proving one thing, it’s that coming up with a new set of goals is a concern for a much broader force than the usual suspects. Too often shared interests and expertise have been siloed by separate processes whether through a focus on certain sectors, as in the World Summit on the Information Society; by impacting only some countries, as in the G8 Summit; or operating at a national level, like in the Open Government Partnership national action plans. The post-2015 process offers the opportunity to combine multiple expertise and to do something different.

All of us reading this (whether you’re a development practitioner, librarian, lawyer, data analyst, journalist, CSO or a policy maker) understand the importance of information. It can empower us to exercise our political and socio-economic rights, be economically active, learn new skills; and hold our governments to account. In the context of development programs, access to information is a prerequisite that cuts across all sectors and at all levels.

Yet, aside from indicators buried deep in MDG 8 on Internet and phone access, the importance of information — and the wasted money and poor decision-making that its absence can cause – is largely overlooked. If the post-2015 process has any chance of moving past top-down service delivery and deliver sustainable development it must focus on ensuring that governments, communities, and individuals have the right to the essential information needed to solve problems and make better decisions. Doing the same again and expecting a better outcome is, well, insanity.

That’s why when the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (the committee of 70 nations that is due to produce the last formal set of sustainable development goal recommendations before full intergovernmental negotiations start in September 2014) meets this week for the sixth time to discuss the topics of means of implementation and the global partnership, in a united cross-sector call for access to information to be central to the post-2015 development agenda.

Not only that, the range of expertise involved means that the Open Working Group will be presented with detailed examples of how to include and measure progress on access to information. For example:

  • Using civil society’s experience of how to measure effective participation and civic engagement, as developed in the OGP process and the CIVICUS Civil Society Enabling Environment Index.
  • The legal community’s work on how to effectively implement right to information legislation.
  • The knowledge of open data specialists on how to make Government data publicly available in timely manner, applying learning from the International Aid Transparency Initiative.
  • The media’s and libraries’ experience of how to measure improvements in the skills and information literacy of citizens, as developed through the World Summit on the Information Society process.

With its multitude of parallel, overlapping processes, consultations and reports, the post-2015 development agenda has been can sometimes be criticised for being too all encompassing. But this very weakness offers to be our greatest strength. The chance to break out of our development silo, to work with others, to share ideas and expertise and to ensure that come 1 January, 2016 we have a development agenda that will empower all citizens to tackle the problems we face in our everyday lives.

On 9 December 2013, Article 19, Beyond Access, CIVICUS, Development Initiatives and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions will host a discussion with leaders in the field to explore how to integrate access to information into the post-2015 development agenda. If you’re an organisation, institution, business, parliamentarian, journalist or just an active individual who is interested in making sure the access to information post-2015 process, we would like to hear from you. You can follow the discussion on Twitter using the following #post2015.