Sustainable Development Goals is a set of international development goals from 2015 to 2030, which was adopted by the UN Sustainable Development Summit held in September 2015 building on the success of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They (SDGs) are universal goals applicable, not only to developing countries but also developed countries, and pledge to “Leave no one behind” through the implementation process.

They define global sustainable development priorities and aspirations for 2030 and seek to mobilize global efforts around a common set of goals and targets. The SDGs call for worldwide action among stakeholders such as the Governments, UN Agencies, Private sector, Business and Civil Society to end poverty and create a life of dignity and opportunity for all, within the boundaries of the planet.

The Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development’s fundamental principle of “leave no one behind” calls for inclusiveness in the implementation follow up and review of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Governments are obliged to respect this principle by ensuring that community members particularly the vulnerable and marginalized groups in the society including women, youth and people with disabilities are actively engaged into national development planning and implementation frameworks for the benefit of the country.

In an effort to make participatory planning a reality, the Tanzanian Government through the President’s Office Regional Administration and Local Government (PO-RALG) introduced the Improved Opportunities and Obstacles to development (O & OD) approach in October 2019. This was a result of gaps observed in the convectional (former) Opportunities and Obstacle to Development (O &OD) approach including  failure to materialize the government aspirations to realise bottom-up planning and budgeting with maximum community participation due to several shortfalls such as people’s participation fatigue, lack of people’s ownership and people’s dependency on Government support. The convectional approach was rolled out in 105 out of 132 LGAs by 2010.

The improved O and OD approach is a methodology that supports collaborative interactions between Local Government Authorities (LGAs) and the community for better service delivery and local development by empowering communities and promoting community initiatives.

The most important difference between Conventional and Improved O&OD approach is that the conventional focused on just participatory planning and budgeting methodology while the Improved O&OD is a more inclusive methodology with an objective of establishing a collaborative interactions between the Government and the communities. Further, the improved O and OD approach strengthens LGA’s capacity in identifying and encouraging community initiatives as well as empowering communities to implement and complete community initiatives.

In ensuring the knowledge of the improved O and OD approach reaching stakeholders involved in its implementation, the Local Government Training Institute (LGTI) is mandated to facilitate training on the improved O and OD approach.

However, with Covid19 effects, the LGTI has until March 2020; successfully trained the O and OD approach to ten (10) regions and one hundred and sixteen (116) Local Government Authorities across the country, remaining with 16 and 69 respectively. Given the nature and design of the O and OD approach, it is true that the approach is essential in enhancing community engagement in the implementation, monitoring and review of SDGs in Tanzania.

The improved O and OD approach promotes citizens engagement including the vulnerable and marginalized groups such as youth, elders, women and people with disabilities. This is very important to ensure that SDG implementation is inclusive and leaves no one behind. For example, through village assembly which is conducted at a village level, community members regardless their socio-economic status, have an opportunity to contribute their inputs in the planning processes in a collaborative manner with their local leaders. 

It also leverages citizens’ voices through reliable data to strengthen national, regional and global review processes of the SDGs and to facilitate policy change. Since the O and OD approach derives information directly from the community members themselves during village assembly where they discuss their key development agenda.

Most importantly, it contributes to evidence based policies. The improved O and OD approach provides an opportunity for community members to share their inputs during the village assembly before being taken to further stages. This process can later contribute to evidence based policies as it would reflect community’s concerns taken during the village assembly.

On the same spirit of ensuring citizens are at the forefront in contributing to their planning processes and sustainable development UNA Tanzania is working to influence policy change by emphasizing citizen generated data for ensuring effective and meaningful SDGs implementation, follow up and review particularly to the developing countries such as Tanzania where most provided data are aggregated at national and regional levels thus may not reflect the true picture at the local levels.

Through Citizen Report Programme (CRP) which is designed to monitor the implementation of the SDGs in Africa through citizen generated data, UNA Tanzania has directly reached a total number of 254 (128 females and 126 males) including women, youth and people with disabilities by involving them in data collection process and community hearing workshops, and then documented their opinions towards the progress of Sustainable Development Goals 1 (End Poverty), 4 (Quality Education), 5 (Gender Equality and Women Empowerment), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 10 (Reduce Inequalities) and 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) for policy engagements.

During the implementation of CRP, one of the approaches used was the “Citizen Hearing Approach”, as an integrated approach that entails a citizen’s sharing their lived experiences in their own words, with the aim of ensuring that ordinary people’s voices, realities and experiences are expressed and documented.

The Citizen Hearing approach cements the improved O and OD approach which also uses local platforms such as village assembly as a tool to share citizens’ concerns with Local Government Authorities in a collaborative manner.

It is undisputed fact that many Governments are facing challenges in ensuring that majority of their citizens are adequately included in the national planning processes, yet the improved O and OD approach can be an essential tool for accelerating an inclusive and participatory planning processes in the society. However, it is a responsibility and an opportunity to all stakeholders particularly Civil Society Organizations to take initiatives to educate the society about this approach considering its huge importance for sustainable development which reflects society’s reality especially in developing countries such as Tanzania where most provided data are aggregated at national and regional levels thus may not reflect the true picture at the local levels.

Goodluck Willy is a development professional currently working with United Nations Association of Tanzania (UNA Tanzania) on areas of Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights issues.