Our Perspectives


When it comes to governance, millions have an opinion

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Indian woman speaknigSomwati Bai is the leader of a local self-government organization in India’s Madhya Pradesh province, where she leads meetings and addresses questions ranging from government entitlements to access to basic amenities. Photo: UNDP India

Recently, the world was gripped by a global corruption scandal, involving alleged bribes and kickbacks across continents and institutions.

In May, ten times as many people tweeted about issues related to transparency, corruption, and ‘good governance’ than about health or food issues. But even before the FIFA scandal broke, ‘honest and responsive government’ was consistently one of the most tweeted development issues.

People care what their governments do, and how politicians and officials manage the budgets entrusted to them. They also care whether they are free to express their views publicly. As we move towards a new global development agenda encapsulated in the sustainable development goals (SDGs), we must find a way to capture ordinary people’s views about those who govern them.

Debates about measuring governance have often been highly technical, among statisticians and experts with numbers and concepts that baffle ordinary people. When the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were decided, a governance goal was not included because it was considered too difficult and controversial to measure.

Yet in the last 15 years, enormous progress has been made in this area. There are now numerous expert assessments of different aspects of governance, and in recent years nationally representative surveys have been carried out in many countries. In Africa, the national statistical offices of nine countries have gathered or are currently gathering official statistics on governance, peace and security, with more to follow. 

We have learned how to ask for people’s views using concepts that they understand and in ways they are happy to provide.  And, importantly, we are starting to talk about what these measurements mean in ways that are more accessible and useful to politicians, policy-makers, and ordinary people.

Today, the renewed UNDP Oslo Governance Centre will be launched by the Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende and UNDP’s Administrator Helen Clark. It is no coincidence that the first of a series of dialogues to be convened by the Centre is how we measure SDG 16, which aims to ‘promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’

We will discuss how to ensure that the measurement of Goal 16 does not just record and track what is happening, but how to make sure the very act of capturing people’s views supports their participation in the governing of their countries, and the accountability of their governments.  

Measuring governance should not be a technical number-collecting exercise left to experts, of little relevance to the rest of us.  It should capture the hopes and aspirations of the millions who tweet about these issues, as well as those who do not. It should be an act that underpins and strengthens democracy itself. 

Sarah Lister Governance and peacebuilding Anti-corruption Conflict prevention Political participation Accountability Rule of law Norway

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