Metrics of MDGs progress: a human rights critique and alternative

Fukuda-Parr, Sakiko, and Joshua Greenstein (2011). "Metrics of MDGs progress: a human rights critique and alternative" Paper presented at the 8th annual conference of the HDCA, 6-8 September 2011, the Hague, the Netherlands.

MDGs are global goals and are powerful tools of international policy because they create a framework of accountability by going beyond stating general objectives and set quantitative, time bound targets against which performance can be measured. This paper challenges the methodology conventionally used to monitor MDG implementation that ask whether the 2015 targets are likely to be met by extrapolating trends since 1990 or 2000, then categorizing countries as on or off track. This methodology has three drawbacks: bias against countries with lowest starting points; judging country performance on the basis of targets that cannot be justified as sound economic strategy; and interpretation of MDGs as national planning targets rather than global norms. We argue that MDGs arose from a norm-setting process and should be interpreted as benchmarks for monitoring government performance against normative commitments made to end poverty. We draw on the human rights approach to evaluating government performance in honoring normative commitments and propose an alternative methodology that asks how fast is the country progressing towards the goals. The results of the alternative methodology and criteria lead to findings that diverge in important ways from the conventional methodology. The paper aims to two broader questions: to demonstrate the relevance of human rights concepts to development policy; and to clarify normative development goals as instruments of international policy.
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