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By Mahmoud Mohieldin, Senior Vice President for the 2030 Development Agenda, UN Relations, and Partnerships

"When words lose their meaning people lose their freedom," Confucius said. Likewise, when development data loses its meaning, people could lose not just their freedom, they could also lose their lives because of inadequate essential services or a lack of good resource management.

We can't just talk about citizens holding their governments accountable. We need more and better data to make it a reality—especially information from citizens who will be affected most.

We need citizen voices to help design and implement successful interventions that can change their lives.  By listening to citizens, we can improve service delivery, transparency, and accountability. We can also improve the way the public and private sector work—and how they work together. This is why Goal 16 of the SDGs to promote just, peaceful, and inclusive societies is so important.

The role of the GPSA in implementing SDG 16

As I mentioned at the recent Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) Steering Committee meeting, I believe SDG 16 speaks to the importance of inclusiveness, the rule of law, and effective governance.  Monitoring this goal will be critical and challenging, particularly its qualitative indicators.  

The GPSA will continue to play an important role in many of these areas. I'm glad the World Bank helped establish the GPSA in 2012 because it both enhances citizens' voice and increases the capacity of governments to respond effectively to their views—and GPSA is already doing this work in 23 countries. 

Building and sharing better data to improve lives

The question is to what extent do we have adequate knowledge and indicators that we can refer to when we're making an assessment or evaluation?  It's not good enough to say that multilateral agencies and global development partners are working together—we have to see real development progress in breaking silos and coordination at the community and country levels. 

We can build better data resources by promoting freedom of information and their legal frameworks, and by empowering the institutions responsible for data and statistics. We can also invest more in technology to collect data, disseminate it, and make it accessible and meaningful for both specialized agencies and the general public. We can't just talk about accountability, but we also have to identify the key stakeholders to ensure they all enjoy a critical minimum of data to make evaluation effective, and facilitate improvements.  

Listening to people in the midst of change

I have some understanding of the challenges people face as their way of life changes. My family came from a village near Cairo, where there were few modern services. When I was young, most people in the village were small farmers growing cotton and wheat. Few roads were paved, they got electricity only the 1970s, and even in the 1990's people waited years to get a fixed phone line.  Things are different now. It's much bigger, people are less dependent on agriculture, many have mobile phones, and more people work in trade and services. But still, people continue to face challenges which cannot be resolved without effective development programs.

We need to listen to people going through these kinds of changes, while seeking a better life for their own families.  If we do, our collaboration with citizens will not only make our work more effective, it will also empower millions of people to lift themselves out poverty.

Mahmoud Mohieldin is the World Bank Group Senior Vice President for the 2030 Development Agenda, UN Relations, and Partnerships.His mandate is to strengthen collaboration between the Bank Group and United Nations; support implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, Paris Agreement, and humanitarian agenda; and strengthen partnerships with the UN system, civil society, academia, and government. 

Sr. VP Mahmoud Mohieldin and GPVP Jan Walliser at the Jan. 28 Round Table, “Sustainable Development Goals: Keeping Citizens at the Center