I was attending a symposium in the Bahamas when I heard the following in one of the panels: “We need to teach the silos to dance together.” Clearly, the phrase hadn’t come out of the blue. And it immediately struck a chord with me. The meeting was focused on how the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) can meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
While sitting in one of the most vulnerable countries of the Caribbean I started thinking about the silos, those perfectly designed storage structures. Gigantic and overwhelming as they are, they may have one big flaw. While often there is little distance separating one silo from another there’s no connection between them. Not even a little tiny cable. Nothing. The resemblance to the isolated governance systems of the small island states was striking.
Transforming our world and shifting towards sustainable development requires interaction. The SDGs require and support a spirit of partnership; the key to success is that countries tackle issues together, ranging from eliminating poverty, protecting marine life and life on land, promoting climate action, providing incentives for good health and well-being and for innovation in the development of new infrastructure;. Countries must track and monitor their progress through several indicators, which is challenging both in terms of human effort and institutional capacity.
During the meeting, it was evident that countries needed to solve the problem of government agencies working in silos and not being synchronized with each other. Working toward the SDGs cannot be done in silos. But it seems we often forget or ignore the complex inter-connections that do in fact exist. It is all about systems or processes that cannot or should not be compartmentalized. Hence if your model of governance is silo-based, and if you want to have any hope of achieving development that is sustainable, it is time to teach the silos to tango (or at least to do a little salsa).
But for the silos to dance in harmony they will require:
- A rhythm or set of policies that will incentivize them to work together and encourage the sharing of data;
- Dance shoes, the ITC tools and processes that will facilitate data sharing, data acquisition and statistical analysis.
- Dance partners, in the form of or assistance from civil society, the private sector and academia. (This interaction can sometimes be awkward because of mistrust, misunderstanding or the mistiming of movements.
- Orchestration: governments must lead and maintain the drive towards the attainment of the SDGs, which requires a strong political commitment and a continual engagement at the highest levels.
- Money to pay for the dance, or finance: the steps of the new move towards sustainability will require the harmonization of national budgets with national development plans, which in turn will also require access to new sources of development financing. Some such support is already out there but accessing it and utilizing it in an effective and timely manner will need to be greatly improved.
Above all, if silos are going to dance together, there must be a strong, shared commitment to communications, including the inclusion of information on SDGs into school curricula…so that those who like me, with two left feet, will not be shy about stepping on to the dance floor.