The recent South Asian Conference on Sanitation, with participation from eight South Asian countries provided an opportunity to look at, and get more closely involved in how these declarations emerge. This is in addition to recent participation in negotiating a loan agreement with the World Bank.
These declarations are nuanced documents. Being multi-partner, and multi-organisational, these naturally have to accommodate the interests of all. This means that the Declaration will not include anything, even if one party does not agree to it. Inclusion of varied interests leads to multiple issues getting clubbed in the Declaration. Given the complexity of issues involved, and the necessity of taking together everyone; this may perhaps be necessary as well. The Declaration is a document that has to emerge at the end of a few day- few week deliberations. These are keenly looked forward to, by everyone, including the media, since there has to be an “outcome” document. The document is supposed to be a guiding / aspirational statement (s) for the partners.
So what are the processes and content that go in these Declarations. How does the basic draft emerge ? There is usually a draft that emerges from earlier Declarations. Continuity may demand this. Drafting also requires time and energies, and since Governmental representatives may be short of time, their involvement begins, usually, after a draft is produced. An enthusiastic person/ organisational may take it upon himself/ herself the task of “coordinating” the process. And he/ she is best poised to produce the basic framework, within which then most of the discussions happen.
This means that there may not be an opportunity and time to look at the Declaration afresh – given that days prior to Declaration are packed with numerous other engagements. This also means that culling out the most important features and approaches – may not get due importance and place in the Declaration, although everyone in the audience has been enthused by the same over the deliberations preceding the Declaration. The existing draft gives space for little inclusions, tampering here and there, but not an overhaul. And we talk of ‘transformative development!’ Incremental Declarations can produce incremental development only.
There are so many issues in the declaration – to satisfy every quarter. The more important ones are more generic. There are many that satisfy ‘organisational outcomes’, which may be different from ’cause outcomes’. The real ones may get lost amongst many.
The effectivity and outcome of a Declaration may depend on saying fewer but bolder things. If you say one thing, you say one thing. If you say three things, you say nothing !
Also, a Declaration, at the end of the day, is only one outcome of a conference. The more important outcome is learning and cross sharing from diverse experiences, and feeling of belonging to a collective bigger team.