The Smartest Thing I’ve Heard About the “Post-2015 Agenda”

I am a very minor voice in the post-2015 debate through my (minor) work on the Learning Metrics Task Force. The video at the bottom really stood out to me and challenged my own thinking. It’s by Duncan Green, formerly head of Oxfam research and author of their From Poverty to Power blog. He’s raising two very important issues about the Post-2015 Agenda:

  • Can we please stop with the “Christmas Tree” style of everyone adding their favorite issue, like an ornament on a tree, and demanding that it be heard or addressed? I’m guilty of this too, in fact. I’m in the process of writing a conference abstract arguing that EFA Goal Three wasn’t inclusive enough towards non-formal education programs. People around my office want shadow education issues reflected in the Post-2015 goals somehow. A set of educational development goals that references both private tutoring and farmer field schools is an almost perfect example of a committee designing a horse and coming up with a camel
  • What do we want from the internationally agreed goals? Broadly speaking, most of us want the goals to have impact. Goals have impact insomuch as they influence government policy. So why not pick goals and accompanying metrics that we know will influence policy the most?

He goes on to suggests the gender dimension of the MDGs likely had the most impact because it was the easiest one to orient legal reforms around. Legally discriminating against women became much more difficult after the MDGs (I’d like to see evidence, and perhaps re-watch the clip to make sure I’m understanding his point). We could say the same thing for EFA Goal 2 – universal primary education was something that was remedial through government policy more than the others. On a very basic level, it’s “just” an issue of budgeting to build more schools and hire more teachers. Building schools and enrolling kids is easier to achieve through legislation than cutting adult literacy by half (Goal 4).

Second – and something I intuitively don’t like – is that he suggests league tables are probably the best path to take if we want impact. Governments are competitive with their regional neighbors. Bangladesh beating India in specific (or a set of?) development metrics is likely the kind of thing that fosters demand for change. So the idea is why not design goals explicitly to set off just such a competition?

I agree with him in that I see how much governments are paying attention to PISA and easy-to-measure metrics like Net Enrollment Rate. But I intuitively don’t like league tables because of Campbell’s Law (and/or Goodhart’s Law). I’ll write later how I think Campbell’s Law directly impacted EFA and the MDG universal primary education goal, which is something I wrote about in our Commonwealth report on EFA progress and trends.

Anyways, smarts ideas. Probably the smartest I’ve seen so far on this debate. Enjoy, share, and tell me what you think:

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