#54 February 2019 and the dance of life

I have started 2019 with many commitments and one of these commitments is using the Consequences Blog as a portal for a monthly reflection – a month in review. Reflecting on thoughts and experiences that influence both my personal and professional life to often be combined with some form of metaphor. For the month of February, I consider dance as the metaphor – the dance of life. I also include the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) in this reflection as they have a lot in common with the dance of life. In this Consequences Blog #54 I hope to bring the dance of the SDGs closer together.

Any time an SDG aligned article is shared I feel the excitement and February 2019 did not disappoint me. Early in the month a report was directed from the Australian Government which consisted of 18 recommendations to better enable the SDGs in Australia. One of the recommendations espoused that a national SDG implementation plan be overseen by a cross sector consultation group. This is great news and very similar across the globe such as UK coalitions like UKSSD. The response of some obvious partners – The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID); the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), United Nations Association Australia also responded positively:

The SDGS’s provide a framework for collective action to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges such as climate change, poverty, inequality and sustainable growth

I present this Blog with a slight health warning that actually builds on similar concerns raised by some of the responses to these 18 recommendations. Firstly, I need to make it clear that I do not agree with the sentiments about having a cross sector consultation group will create an ‘unnecessary layer of bureaucracy’. My concern is more about groups and the people that make up those groups falling into the trap of ADWAG. ADWAG is an acronym I use to explain the trap of ‘always doing what always got ‘.

To best articulate my concern, I shall bring the dancing metaphor to life – dancing is quite topical for me having recently taken up salsa as a hobby – that is another story in itself. When learning a dance like salsa, you learn a frame of base steps that enable the creativity to follow once the base steps have been mastered. How does this relate to ADWAG and the SDG recommendation well it is more the fact that the recommendation of a consultative group is a great frame but making sure the ‘usual suspects’ or the same groups of the same people don’t end up doing the same thing – and then wondering why things have not changed – this must be avoided! Using the dance metaphor, the base frame moves of salsa are integral to every new routine whereas only doing the same moves simply stifles innovation.

My second ‘health warning’ is directed at any conversation about cross sector coalitions without considering the broad umbrella of the SDG’s is a missed opportunity. The point I am making is such discussions need to be set within a frame that can act locally whilst thinking globally – which of course the SDGs provide – why reinvent something that is working? Just like salsa by being creative with the base steps can lead to a great dance routine.

The SDGs are not predominantly only a concern at an international level and the responsibility for government (and us all) is to uphold the 17 aspirational targets at both an international and national level. There has never been a point in time where there has been a set of aspirational goals and targets that are relevant at both an international and national level. The biggest challenge is that this important shared international and national level of responsibility seems to be one of the best kept secrets. I have written quite extensively about this shared responsibility and find any opportunity to raise this awareness as it is key to our collective uncertain future and more importantly dance of life!

During February I also enjoyed the article where the OECD supported how Impact Investment would benefit from having a universal standard for measurement whilst sighting the SDGs as an important frame to capture such innovative approaches. The piece of the jigsaw I find quite puzzling is why the dialogue extends into creating something new or noting there is a massive void to be filled. Why would any sector require a different standardized way to measure impact when the SDGs provide 17 agreed goals, 169 clear targets with 230 individual indicators that can be selected to assist with monitoring progress towards achieving the targets? Surely this is the measurement mandate that all sectors require? The OECD report in itself was slightly contradictory and by referring back to the dance metaphor it felt a bit like introducing the SDG’s to the figurative measurement dance floor and not letting them dance!

All sustainable development finance actors – and the private sector more broadly – share the responsibility for delivering the 2030 (SDG) agenda, and this means adopting a shared understanding about what we mean when we talk about impact on sustainable development

I bring again the dance metaphor into the topic of measurement because I find it a useful way to help diffuse what I refer to as the 21st century measurement cage or measurement decisions being made based on default dominant mindsets. Yes, here comes another example of ADWAG and in this Blog, I hope to broaden horizons to see that the existing SDG framework is there for the measurement taking and action is needed to break habits of old.  Staying with the dancing metaphor, the counts to music rarely move away from the 8 beat count but the ‘twisting’ of the sixties is not as relevant as the ‘flossing’ of the 20teens. Whilst some movements are maintained others are no longer relevant. In the case of the measurement debate the need to measure has always been a casing point but with heightened needs (mostly due to the rapid pace of life and the uncertainty this brings) measurement must not be about starting from scratch but utilizing existing actions in a way that are ‘fit for purpose’. I accept achieving the SDGs is bigger than putting a new dance routine together, but it does leave us all with the challenge to ensure that the steps we are taking today are embracing the SDGs and not based on irrelevant practice or thinking of old.

As we move into the autumn of 2019 I celebrate with my colleagues and fellow organisations in the Not for profit and charity sector that are recognizing the importance of the sector and how this message for the future is one to be made in collaboration. Our Failure to Plan is a Plan to Fail – the Future of the Charities Sector outlines very clearly the need for the effective development of a blueprint.

Work with the NFP sector to develop a future blueprint for the sector, including extensive consultation; economic modelling of future scenarios; strategies to capitalize on emerging opportunities; and increased capacity to respond to emerging risks and limitations

It is great to see organization boundaries being blurred for a joined-up dialogue around four key principles that need to shape this blueprint. I have added under each principle the rationale for SDGs to be recognized as the existing blueprint with a bonus built-in measurement framework to mobilise these principles from:

  1. Principle one: Enhance what already exists. Add value to the work we all do

The SDGs provide the existing measurement framework which means efforts and capacity can be best placed on adding value rather than creating a blueprint or measurement frame. It is most important that wheels are not re-invented and with nearly only a decade to go (2030) action is needed now.

  • Principle two: Be sector-led and not compromised by a funder agenda

The SDG’s yet again demand an input from all sectors and having a common purpose is key to transforming many of the wicked issues that face society at all levels. In addition, the Not -For -Profit and charity sector play a key role in leading how communities can flourish which most funders are searching to support. Sharing an existing blueprint and measurement framework such as the SDG’s that is ‘end user led ‘already ticks all the boxes

  • Principle three: Build sector capacity and appetite for investing in capacity

The SDG framework is a blueprint that has been in existence since 2015 and thus time is not needed to be wasted on creating a new blueprint. Investments that meet the shared SDG agenda also provide opportunities to build capacity rather than efforts being distracted on creating additional blueprints, frameworks and/or measurement models.

  • Principle four:  Recognise where we are strong and where we are weak

I often use the phrase ‘the ticket’ when considering strengths and weaknesses. If the need to be a part of such discussions is to grow individual organisations then the cause is ‘weak’. Its strength is when ‘the ticket’ into the group is no longer individuals or organization boundary framed but shaped by making a difference for the whole of society – the ecosystem. What better way of evidencing progress through a measurement framework such as the SDGs which already has responsibility for the needs of society – so no-one is left behind.

As I have shaped this Consequences Blog month in review, I am aware how often I refer to the SDGs and make no apology for this. Whether it be the government and their direct responsibility to perform nationally and internationally or whether it be a humanitarian responsibility to leave no one behind or whether it be funding with the greatest impact investment or the most representative group of civic society (not–for profit sector/ charities sector) and discussions of a blueprint – just imagine for one minute if all were dancing from the same routine.

This responsibility of working together ‘dancing the same routine’ does not just sit with others as each one of us in all that we do have a responsibility to ‘do no harm’. As the figurative dance floor is much more crowded than ever before the types of dancing are changing more rapidly so surely dancing to the same routine makes such good sense.

References

United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300

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