Lessons Learned from the UN’s High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda

Post-2015, Global Development, CIC, Molly Elgin-Cossart

© UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office/Patrick Tsui

Part 1: The Panel’s Composition

This post is part 1 of a 3 part series. CIC Senior Fellow Molly Elgin-Cossart served as chief of staff to the High-level Panel Secretariat. In this series she reflects on her experience, highlighting key lessons learned as the international community heads into two years of intense multilateral negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda.

In May 2013, the High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (HLP) submitted its report to the United Nations Secretary-General. The HLP report is but one step in a complex political process, which will culminate in a summit of Heads of State in September 2015. Between now and then, global leaders will discuss the future of poverty and sustainable development.

Because the deliberations of the HLP provide a preview of the debates to come, reviewing some of the lessons of the Panel’s experience may provide insight into the next two years of negotiations.

Lessons learned on the composition of the High-level Panel

  • Build in diverse perspectives.
    Not only was the Panel itself diverse – hailing from all regions of the globe, from different professions and backgrounds – but it was also the first Panel in history to have as many women as men. The depth, strength, and thoughtfulness the women on the Panel lent to the discussions is representative of what gender parity can bring to the world. It was often the women of the Panel who pushed back against what they saw as the imposition of certain interests; they also played roles in bridging differences, and bringing the group to consensus. Gender equity isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do.

The consultation process ensured that diversity went even further, aiming to ensure the panel’s findings reflected an increasingly diverse and complex world. Panelists listened to people from all over the globe. Such diversity and outreach brought a new level of understanding and depth to conversations, and influenced the decision-making process.

  • Personalities - and relationships - matter.
    People often think that political processes are linear, that one party wanted A and another wanted B and they negotiated and got to C. The reality is much more complicated, and defies straightforward explanation. Personalities matter – good ideas are only as powerful as the coalitions built to support the ideas, and building those coalitions with many different perspectives is challenging. To assume that one’s expertise or position can build a coalition is a mistake. To build coalitions requires a solid understanding of different objectives and constraints, the space to engage in real conversations and to propose innovative solutions.

The respect and trust Panel members developed for each other mattered greatly to their collective success. To create a climate of respect and trust required sustained interactions, especially in less formal settings, to establish and cultivate relationships.

  • Decision-making requires clear leadership.
    The co-Chairs’ leadership was a critical ingredient to the Panel’s success. The co-Chairs were engaged and committed; and they were willing to take responsibility for making tough decisions. When it came to the final days, the co-Chairs made the very last and most difficult decisions regarding the content of the report – based upon the input from Panel members, of course. But the co-Chairs absorbed the responsibility for the thankless task of narrowing a very broad agenda into a simple and cogent message and set of 12 illustrative goals. Demonstrating leadership is not always easy and doesn’t always make everyone happy, but the willingness to stand firm ensured a successful final product.


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Dec 02, 2013