Lessons from the past suggest the shift that's needed might be much larger and in unexpected areas.  

Fifteen years on and the world will come together again in September at the United Nations General Assembly to agree on new development goals. This time the goals are bolder - eradicating poverty instead of halving it - and broader-based. And, above all: they recognize that human progress is possible only when it respects and invests in sustaining the world we live in. 

In 2000, the MDGs focused on a couple of sectors that were important no doubt. But even when achieved, they were not sufficient to lift people out of poverty. That has changed with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 goals cover many different sectors and aspects of development, set out 169 targets to deepen the goals, and aim for inclusion and equality as well as sustainability. The other thing that's new - comparing the SDGs with the MDGs - is the inclusive consultation process that brought many more stakeholders into the discussion than was the case previously. 

At the same time: the sectors and issues are not totally new. Many development agencies have worked on some of them for years if not decades. The World Bank Group has been engaged with its client countries in many, if not all of the sectors and themes. That also means that IEG has evaluated interventions in these areas and generated valuable insights relevant to implementing the SDGs over the coming fifteen years. Our publication Transforming Our World - Aiming to Sustain Development sums up lessons across the spectrum. 

Stepping back and looking at the evidence we have about the World Bank Group's engagement with the MDGs over the last fifteen years, and the results achieved in education, health, water supply, sanitation, road safety, early childhood development, access to electricity, and financial services, we can see some larger patterns that are important to ensure the ambitious aspirations are turned into achievements.

Internalizing the Agenda. The World Bank Group is well positioned to work across the spectrum from supporting data collection through providing analytical work and intellectual leadership and agreeing with client countries on strategic priorities and their implementation. At each of these stages, IEG evaluations found examples of important contributions and great performance. However, joining up the different stages is where the biggest problems lie: understanding the root causes of poverty does not automatically lead to solutions, or solutions that are accepted or owned by stakeholders who matter whether they are in countries or in institutions. The commitment to evidence-based decision-making and greater statistical capacity to generate the evidence are important pieces for the achievement of the SDGs. And so is the commitment of countries. 

Engaging Collectively. Achieving the SDGs requires engaging stakeholders well beyond the traditional development partners.  IEG evaluations demonstrated that partnerships can be very effective, provided they meet certain criteria such as having a clear and shared understanding of the results that partners aim to achieve. But, too often transaction costs are high and do not necessarily create expected value-addition and synergies. The enthusiasm at the Fin4Dev conference in Addis Ababa suggests that the SDGs will follow suit from the MDGs with the rise of new trust-funded partnership agreements.

As suggested in my Fin4Dev blog, optimizing money by learning from the past: An evaluator’s take on Addis, effective partnerships are characterized by a number of traits, including mutual agreement on goals, clear governance arrangements, and clarity in relation to respective responsibilities.

MDGs: Education, Health, Water Supply and Sanitation. The 2014 Results and Performance report highlights how the World Bank Group performed in these three sectors directly related to the MDGs, which generally was in line with projects in other sectors. Perhaps more importantly, the report flagged the risk to sustaining development outcomes, which was largely due to shortcomings in institutions and finance; a finding that underpins the importance of linking sector interventions with investments in public sector reforms to improve domestic resource mobilization and expenditure. 

Towards SDG Results. The review of select evaluations that speak to specific SDGs brought out similar messages. Many of them, even when apparently focused on one sector, were dependent on a more integrated, multisector approach in order to succeed. In many cases spanning examples as far apart as road safety and early childhood development, multi-sector and multi-stakeholder coordination is impeded by the lack of an accountable institution. In some instances, creating a body that is accountable for coordination is the suggested solution, in others it is recommended to develop strategies to ensure all stakeholders understand overall directions and their roles and contributions. The complexity of the SDGs can be expected to result in an even heavier demand on finding new institutional arrangements. 

My earlier blog Evaluation Beyond 2015: Implications of the SDGs for Evaluation discusses other related issues that will be challenging for policy-makers, development practitioners, other stakeholders and evaluators alike. 


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