Bangladesh has made significant advances in the reduction of child mortality, increases in births attended by a skilled birth attendant, immunisation coverage, and increases in child school enrolment and completion rates. These are important successes, and are integral components of the country’s move from a ‘least developed country’ to a ‘lower middle income country’.
However, since the MDGs were measured based on high-level national statistics, Bangladesh’s large pockets of extreme poverty are hidden in these figures, unseen through the lens of aggregated numbers and national averages. In a country with a population the size of Bangladesh, relatively ‘small’ percentages of extreme poverty may add up to many millions of people, and dramatic disparity persists.
The quantitative data used to measure the MDGs demonstrates that the population has benefited from increased coverage of services; however, increased coverage does not necessarily translate to consistent access and quality for all. While national statistics are important, in the absence of complementary qualitative data that reflects grassroots perspectives, many Bangladeshis struggle to understand and relate to the high-level progress the country has achieved against the MDGs.
Looking forward to the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, Bangladesh now needs to go beyond coverage to focus on developing meaningful, high quality services, fully available to the most poor and marginalised.
This is difficult to measure with large-scale data alone, and presents a challenge for capturing information that tells the story of vulnerable people. In Bangladesh, the Global Goals present an opportunity to shift the focus of how global indicators are measured and how progress against them is understood. What Bangladesh needs is a way of comparing national level quantitative data against more qualitative information, and comparing data generated by service providers and power holders against information produced by service users, especially the poor.
Citizen-generated data, participatory feedback, and dialogue on the quality of service delivery, can contribute to broadening our understanding of progress against the Global Goals.
CARE has used tools such as Community Score Cards, social audits, and Citizens’ Charters, to help citizens, and in particular the poor, to organise their feedback on the services they receive, and use their feedback to structure meaningful dialogue with power-holders.
In Bangladesh, CARE has learned that social accountability tools are necessary for crafting citizen feedback into clear, intelligible, and cumulative messages for government and service providers, particularly around issues of service quality. CARE has learned how to ensure that women and the most poor and marginalised can participate in these social accountability mechanisms, using vulnerability mapping, political economy analysis, and sophisticated targeting, to understand power dynamics and enable those without power to participate.
In the context of the Global Goals, these social accountability tools could be adapted to measure progress in Bangladesh, serving several critical objectives:
- To develop a database of citizen-generated data that can be compared with data reported by power-holders and service providers, engendering more accountability to citizens within data collection and building in a means of triangulating information from power-holders with information from those who tend to be less powerful.
- To collect more qualitative and quality-focused data, providing context and depth to complement, challenge, and help interpret large-scale quantitative statistics.
- To lend greater credibility to global indicators and to the Global Goals process itself, modelling the kind of inclusivity and participation that the Global Goals promote.
- To increase the likelihood of actually reaching the Global Goals, as social accountability and meaningful citizen feedback mechanisms have been shown to have a positive impact on service delivery.