Myworld2015: The challenge of democratic global governance and prioritizing development goals

Myworld2015 asks all of us – that’s right, all of humanity — to vote for the changes that would “make the most difference to our world.” We get to vote online for the priorities that we believe to be most important – they provide us 16 options, and we are asked to select 6. And on our honor, we vote just once. Sometime between now and… 2015.

It’s a crowd-sourcing scheme for defining the “next” set of goals (presumably after we discover how many of the millennium development goals go unmet).

myworld

Good idea for participatory development? Interesting attempt at making all of us citizens in one big global democracy? It’s certainly well intentioned, but maybe not so well-thought-out.

It’s not clear from the website how the votes are going to be tallied or interpreted. At the moment, I see that there are almost 1500 votes from the U.S., and just 208 from Nigeria and 596 from India… let alone 3 from Congo.

What happens when voters from the global North click through that they want to prioritize climate change, gender relations, and freedom from discrimination; and those from the global South want jobs, clean water, and affordable food? Especially if those from the global North with exponentially greater access to the internet dominate voter turnout?

OK, maybe I’m taking this scheme too seriously, but if the UN, ODI, and others are going to make the case that they want to listen to the whole world’s views on such important matters, I hope they are prepared to deal with the messiness that much smaller democracies face. Not only are the world’s priorities likely to be highly heterogeneous, but their scheme is likely to highlight that the rich minority of citizens have quite different policy preferences than the majority poor — even if one assumes that the types who are likely to vote are going to be disproportionately cosmopolitan in outlook in the first place. And if the goal of the exercise is solidarity, one has to wonder if this all might backfire?

And of course if they take the vote and then hide the results because of turnout disparities or polarization of priorities, well, that won’t look very democratic after all.

Meeting (or not) the Millenium Development Goals

I’ve heard that self-help books offering recipes for success tend to highlight the importance of setting goals. (Not that I’ve ready any, of course — this is purely second hand information.) Anyway, I believe it. But does setting goals for reducing poverty for the whole world have any impact on that outcome? Hard to know. We can’t exactly re-run the history of the past decade without the millennium development goals in place. But I suppose one could experiment with invoking the goals and reporting progress on them for some campaigns and not others and see where more is accomplished? Or look at similar instances retrospectively? Perhaps donors would donate more? Or policy-makers would allocate more resources knowing they were being judged?

At the very least, setting goals and measuring progress holds actors to account. Though if the whole world is accountable… and there are no direct consequences for leadership failure, I’m not sure that we can expect too much.  Anyway, I don’t want to be too much of a skeptic, because I really sympathize with the effort, especially with the notion that goal-setting and measurement are likely to positively affect accomplishment. If the choice is between goals and no goals, I say, let them have goals.

Along those lines, I must admit I was happily surprised to read a few stories that some of the targets are actually being met! Most important, the goal to halve the number of people in extreme poverty seems to have been reached. However, given that this figure is driven mostly by China, I’m not sure that the global community can take much credit. Moreover, the goal on access to safe drinking water was actually met five years early! (See articles in the Chicago Tribune and UK Guardian) Progress on sanitation is less advanced.