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Building Sustainable Inclusion: from Intersecting Inequalities to Accountable Relationships

Building Sustainable Inclusion: from Intersecting Inequalities to Accountable Relationships

Principal Investigator: Ms Joanna Howard, Institute of Development Studies

This project focuses on the need to consider and address intersecting inequalities – the spatial, economic and identity-based drivers of poverty and inequality - if the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to be successful. Building inclusive governance that enables the engagement of marginalised groups is central to the SDGs and the global call to ‘leave no one behind’. Our previous research indicates that SDG 16 - building accountable and inclusive institutions - is also an important gateway to reach other goals. Yet these goals cannot be achieved without addressing intersecting inequalities. Failure to do so risks leaving the most marginalised behind.

August 2017

Monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals from the community-level

The theme of the 2017 High Level Political Forum (HLPF) is "Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world". We were pleased to be able to attend thanks to the support of the British Academy, since finding more inclusive ways of making governments accountable for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is central to our current project ‘Building Sustainable Inclusion: From Intersecting Inequalities to Accountable Relationships’. It was particularly valuable to bring to the Forum the work which Praxis is carrying out in India with members of the Denotified and Nomadic Tribes, given that India is one of the 44 countries presenting their Voluntary National Reports[i] at the HLPF this year.

Participatory methods help get beyond national statistics

Thanks to our ongoing partnership with UNICEF, we were invited to be part of a side event discussing perception data as a metric of well-being, as a contribution to the ‘data revolution’ debate. We presented our work on participatory monitoring and building accountability relationships and our recently published policy briefs, which stress i) the importance of data which is generated from the knowledge of people who experience marginalisation, and ii) processes that promote learning and dialogue between these citizens and duty-bearers. 

Unless governments combine qualitative and perception with quantitative data, they will only know who they are reaching but not who they are missing – and why. Knowing who is being excluded from public services, and why, is a non-negotiable if we are serious about “leaving no one behind”.

Praxis provided an example of how, by using participatory methods, it is possible to support marginalised groups to analyse and monitor the SDGs themselves.

Building from their pioneering work within the Participate initiative, they organised a further Ground Level Panel of people from Denotified and Nomadic Tribes to analyse their own experiences of poverty and discrimination in relation to the SDGs, as well as data and their interpretation of the data, collected from 174 DNT respondents.

They observed: “there are a lot of beautiful government statistics, but our reality is different”.


Capturing citizens’ views using mobile technology

Mobile technology such as UNICEF’S U Report (a real-time social messaging tool) and the World Food Programme’s Mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping’ (mVAM) were also shared at the event. These provide a breadth of data on citizens’ views on the issues covered by the SDGs and highlight the importance of disaggregating perception data by gender and age.

We found some complementarity between our approaches which seek to engage meaningfully with people living with intersecting inequalities, whose realities are often rendered invisible. Through this work, civil society organisations like Praxis can bring data to the VNRs that governments often do not have the capacity to access.

Closer partnership between governments and civil society organisations needed to ensure realities of people on the margins reflected in VNRs

It was clear to us, through our attendance of side events and formal sessions of the HLPF, that governments are not working enough with their civil society partners to research, monitor and deliver on the SDGs. There needs to be space for civil society both to put the spotlight on the disaggregation of government data, and to illuminate the realities and knowledge of those people who, in the official data, remain invisible.

There is also a role for the United Nations, which needs to push its Member States harder to ensure that there is active civil society engagement in this voluntary reporting process.

When the 2030 Agenda was established in 2015, Member States agreed on regular voluntary reviews of the 2030 Agenda which “will be state-led, involving ministerial and other relevant high-level participants, and provide a platform for partnerships, including through the participation of major groups and other relevant stakeholders.”

As well as meeting this commitment, governments can benefit from working in partnership with civil society organisations (CSOs) in the process of making the SDGs truly relevant to local realities, and monitoring their progress. CSOs that are able to engage in a sustained and meaningful way with highly marginalised groups can work with them to develop community-based monitoring of SDGs, and bring complementary forms of data to the table.

As we move into the third year of the SDGs, it is important to ensure that the space and resources for civil society engagement are protected, at all levels of governance, and especially to support community-based tracking of SDG progress and spaces for marginalised groups to enter into dialogue with duty-bearers. Praxis’ work and our wider project are providing important insights into how and why it is important to go beyond national statistics, and beyond perception data, to create dialogue at local and national levels.

Thanks to Erika Lopez Franco and Emilie Wilson for their reflections and comments that have improved this piece.

[i] The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development encourages Member States to conduct Voluntary National Reviews which are ‘regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels, which are country-led and country-driven’ (paragraph 79) and are expected to serve as a basis for the regular reviews by the high-level political forum.



This research represents a new phase of the Participate Initiative, a participatory research programme which generated high quality evidence on the reality of poverty, and brought marginalised perspectives into the post-2015 debate. In this project, IDS is working with five partners of the Participate network, to:

  • Use participatory learning to explore the experiences of intersectionality of highly marginalised groups in India, Uganda, South Africa, Ghana and Egypt
  • Foster on-going dialogue between these groups, duty bearers and other stakeholders to generate theoretical and practical knowledge on how to develop accountable relationships in reality
  • Provide evidence and insight for policy makers about effective pathways to inclusive and responsive governance, and make a timely input to knowledge on the role of participatory processes in increasing sustainable impact during SDG implementation.






 Project activities and partners

Our five partners are working on a range of research processes as follows: 

  • Denotified and Nomadic Tribes (DNT) in IndiaPraxis is facilitating action research with these hidden and stigmatised communities. Praxis works with community volunteers in five states to gather participatory statistics and collect stories on SDG targets and to analyse these in ‘Ground Level Panels’.
  • People living with disabilities and people living with HIV/Aids in North-Eastern Uganda: Socajapic (Soroti Catholic Justice and Peace Commission) is using action learning to build capacities of these neglected groups in their wider marginalised communities in NE Uganda, to engage with decentralized local government planning, monitoring and accountability mechanisms using formal and informal methods (e.g. citizen charters, Barazas, radio talk shows, community forum theatres).
  • Young people and community activists living in extreme urban insecurity in South Africa: Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation (SLF)’s research process is building on piloted participatory visual research outputs and linking them to a social media campaign to generate evidence and leverage spaces for accountability on citizen-based monitoring of policing.
  • Landless women labourers in GhanaRadio Ada will work with the Songor Women’s Collective to develop their voice through community radio and strengthen accountability of the newly elected national government.
  • Children and adults living with HIV/Aids in EgyptCenter for Development Services (CDS) will use visual methods (digital stories, collective video) to work with these groups and develop collaborative solutions with NGOs and government actors in Cairo and Alexandria.

Key Insights

We held our inception workshop in Cape Town in March 2017, at which we shared and peer reviewed detailed project plans, and piloted a participatory tool for researching intersectionality. The pilot included the five civil society organisations and some South African grassroots activists. Reflections emerged about the methodological challenge:

“How can we effectively communicate the meaning of such an unfamiliar and academic term (intersecting inequalities) so that it can be analysed by people at ground level?”

“How is this concept different from talking about dimensions of power, which we are all familiar and comfortable with using?”

“How can it benefit us, and the grassroots activists we accompany, to understand this concept; how can they appropriate it and why would it be useful for advancing their cause?”Two of the participants from the Delft Safety Group discussing hand-mapping (a method being piloted during the workshop, as a way of researching intersectionality)






 We discussed how intersectionality might be approached from an appreciative angle rather than the usual focus on intersecting excluded identities, in order to be more empowering and lead to action and change.

As the research progresses in each country, we are grappling with how to link greater awareness of excluded identities to sustainable accountability relationships. For instance, the process in Uganda brings together different marginalised groups (women, the elderly, people with disabilities, people living with HIV & AIDS) and through a participatory workshop they have begun to build solidarities across these groups. The groups will work within their constituencies and then come together to engage with local government decision-makers. Here a test will be, if people are more aware of the interconnected inequalities that they and others experience, can this build solidarities so that they can hold duty bearers to account more effectively? And when duty bearers are more aware of the layers of exclusion that many citizens experience, will they be more responsive?#

Further details about this project can be found on the Together 2030 Blog. 

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