New voices to build Costa Rica’s future

BY Alice H Shackelford | April 26, 2017|Comments 0

We at the UN in Costa Rica are designing our  next UN common plan for 2018-2022 to support the Government in its efforts to achieve the Global Goals by 2030. To do that, we are following the crowdsourcing spirit of the new development agenda. We are trying to adapt our decision making  so that our new UN Development Assistance Framework is developed with the full wisdom of the crowd.

An outreach strategy to leave no one behind

To transform the national and UN planning we worked  with a clear objective: engaging those who are often left out of  mainstream development and public policy discussions.

In Costa Rica, these communities are often indigenous people, people with disabilities, people of African descent , youth, LGBTI population, migrants, refugees, women (domestic workers and migrants), and children and adolescents.

Our intention was to get to know their needs and demands, to know more about their perceptions in terms of development, and, most importantly, to build on what they know to make them part of the solutions.

For this participatory journey, we partnered with the University of Costa Rica, specifically the School of Communications, to find the best methods to build a consultation strategy. This partnership helped us identify some of the building blocks for our outreach strategy:

  1. People-centered: The way we engage people will be customized to each of the groups that we will approach, i.e., language, accessibility, etc.
  2. Action oriented: When we do consultations as the UN, we must have a purpose beyond collecting the demands, needs and solutions; it should invite to action and “engage” people on promoting the 2030 Agenda.
  3. Complementary methods: Combine quantitative and qualitative to tell the story behind the data.
  4. Expanding reach: We need to combine two types of consultation: virtual tools which can expand the consultation to many people and collect data in an innovative way, and other more traditional techniques to reach the most excluded communities.
  5. Less is more: The online platform should be concrete, with a minimalist design that will allow users to swiftly engage in the consultation process. Messages should be short, concise and clear.

With these blocks in mind, we moved to develop and implement our strategy to involve those communities that are commonly left behind.

And our journey begins

As a start we invited people, mainly individuals who had not participated in this type of consultation, to participatory meetings, where they could discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a creative and interactive way.

We consulted 400 women and me from traditionally excluded groups such as: people of African descent, indigenous peoples, LGTBI population, migrants, women (domestic workers and migrants),  young people, persons with disabilities, refugees, children and adolescents. We travelled to various regions in the country (San José, Caribbean South, Limón center and the indigenous area of Térraba) to reach these communities or otherwise they wouldn’t be able to engage in these dialogues.


The kind of questions we ask are: What are your group’s demands regarding development? Do the Global Goals encompass your demands? Which SDG should be accelerated in the country and why? What are concrete actions that could be taken to achieve these SDGs? Who can we work with to achieve them?

The people we talked to reflected on their experiences, shared their perspectives on SDGs and posed possible solutions to the identified problems.

What did we learn?

During the consultations, each group had their own specific priorities, but there was a common refrain: People in Costa Rica that we spoke to understand their rights and are ready to claim their fulfillment.


Here are some great quotes from people we spoke to during these sessions acknowledging and demanding their rights:

  • “Because of our geographical situation there is little access to specialized educational centers, barely a school, so in order to have an education we have to travel long distances or leave the community, and this is not always easy … it is a lie that we have access [to education].” Young indigenous person from the Térraba territory.
  • “The labour market leaves out a very vulnerable part of the population… us young people… We do not have work and we cannot find a job … we end up taking whatever work we can get”. Young person during our consultation.
  • “I know many women who want to work, and are hardworking, but they either don’t get a job, they get paid scraps, or the salary is unfair for the job they do.” Migrant person present at our consultation reflecting on SDG 1, No poverty.
  • “Access to justice is not real… the stigma for being Afro still exists and when it comes to imparting justice there is a tendency to blame the Afro because of discrimination…” Afrodescendant from the southern Caribbean region.

We hear these experiences and value them as important data.

In order to gather more inputs during our consultation process, we also set up a web platform to share information about the 2030 Agenda and its goals, asking the people of Costa Rica to have their say in the priorities. We currently have collected more than 250 responses on the platform.



This crowd-sourcing process has impacted how we formed our development priorities. For the first time, the fulfillment of the rights of most excluded populations in Costa Rica, was made explicit in our UN strategic plan as one of the three objectives for the UN and partners to achieve in the next four years (2018-2022):

  • Support to the Government of Costa Rica to implement the national agreement for the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Strengthening Costa Rica’s public sector management
  • Support most excluded populations towards the fulfillment of their rights

To keep ourselves accountable, we are now thinking about how to share back with the communities the impact that their voices had on our planning process and how they will transform our future work for the country. Meanwhile we are already working on a monitoring framework for our plan.

Towards public accountability

The monitoring and evaluation framework is part of any UN strategic plan design phase. So, we decided to be in touch with these communities and other actors engaged in our programmes to check up on whether or not we are delivering on our promises. For that, we thought about upgrading our web platform and use it to monitor the UN programme in Costa Rica.


When we shared our plans with the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Policy, their enthusiasm with the idea was such that they proposed to change the scope of the platform and use it as a tool to measure the Costa Rican government’s accountability towards the achievement of the SDGs.

Costa Rica is the first country in the world to sign a national pact with its people to deliver on the Global Goals in the 2030 Agenda.  And they are inviting people to have their say. Check it out.


Alice H Shackelford Alice is the UN Resident Coordinator for Costa Rica. You can follow her on Twitter.

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