Participation & Governance

Youth in the Post-2015 High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons Report: The signal from the noise

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The High Level Panel on Post-2015 submitted their report on the future development agenda to cautious optimism from civil society. But with over 1.000 written submissions, 5.000 civil society organisations and 600.000 people consulted from around the world, did the panel listen to the priorities of young people? If so, which priorities have been identified? If not, what are the major gaps requiring continued lobbying and action by youth?

Post-2015: The signal from the noise

In May, the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda submitted their report (full report, executive summary, annex) to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to cautious optimism[1] from civil society.

The panel consulted over 5.000 civil society organisations, received over 1.000 written submissions and consulted over 600.000 people from across the world. We have detailed and contextualised the process in our recent post Post-2015 perspectives: included, excluded or diluted?

So, did the High-Level panel listen to young people?

What does the data tell us?

4 out of 5 recommendations have a ‘natural home’

After the High Level panel (HLP) report was launched on May 31st, the youthpolicy team curated 17 consultation documents and undertook a meta-analysis of over 800 recommendations. The full methodology, limitations and data set is available for download. Each recommendation was coded based upon the illustrative goals in the HLP report.

Based on our anaylsis, over 80% of the recommendations can be categorised using the illustrative goals and 75% of the recommendations link directly to the national targets, indicating that broadly, the HLP report has responded to the priorities and concerns of young people.

While a ‘natural home’ doesn’t mean that the specific details of a recommendation are addressed, it is a positive reflection on the report that so many of the themes raised by youth feature in the illustrative goals and national targets.

The overarching priorities

With a single recommendation possibly having multiple themes, they were coded with a primary, secondary and tertiary label. Young people made 804 single recommendations, but this increases to 966 when they are distributed across multiple themes. The table below shows this:

Table 1: Number of Themes covered by the Recommendations

Recommendation has a primary theme Recommendation also has a secondary theme Recommendation also has atertiary theme Total
804 146 16 966

The table below shows the top 5 priority themes identified by young people. It is ordered based upon the ‘Total’ column.

Note that the final row, Inequality, Universal Access and Equal Opportunity (Other than Gender), is not one of the illustrative goals and was added by our team in order to capture the spirit of a large number of recommendations. It represents a major gap in the High Level Panel goals.[2]

Table 2: Top five youth priorities

Primary theme of a recommendation Secondary theme of a recommendation Tertiary theme of a recommendation


Provide Quality Education and Lifelong Learning





Ensure Good Governance and Effective Institutions





Ensure Healthy Lifestyles




Creating Jobs, Sustainable Livelihoods and Equitable Growth





Inequality, Universal Access and Equal Opportunity (Other than Gender)





The graph below visually represents the top 5 youth priorities. As before, the sixth column, Inequality, Universal Access and Equal Opportunity (Other than Gender), is not one of the illustrative goals and was added by our team in order to capture the spirit of a large number of recommendations that were not reflected in the HLP report.

Graph1_Top 5 Universal Goals plus Inequality

The graph shows that while ‘Ensure Good Governance and Effective Institutions’ had the most primary theme recommendations, added with secondary and tertiary, ‘Provide Quality Education and Lifelong Learning’ becomes, by a small margin, the top youth priority.

Other recommendations (beyond inequality, access and equal opportunity, that didn’t have a natural home in the report’s universal goals focused on ‘housing and urban planning’, and ‘labour-capital relationships’. Overall, the analysis shows (1) inequality, (2) non-formal education and (3) minority participation in decision-making to be the main three areas of weakness in the universal goals and national targets from the perspective of young people and the youth movement.

Inequality, Universal Access and Equality of Opportunity

Inequality has been revealed as a major point of tension and disagreement amongst the High-Level Panel and despite its inclusion in the report it is not explicitly mentioned in the illustrative goals and national targets (see table 3 below).

The youth recommendations that focused on aspects of in/equality—among them social justice, anti-discrimination, equity, distribution of resources, minority groups and income inequality—represented 6.5% of all recommendations made. This is more than the recommendations on universal access to water & sanitation and ending poverty combined.

Creating an‘Inequality, Universal Access and Equality of Opportunity’goal would make it the 5thtop priority theme for young people (as shown above in table 2) with a total of 57 primary theme recommendations, made across 12 of the 17 reports analysed.

The lack of a specific goal on inequality has been the target of much criticism by a range of stakeholders, particularly given its prominent inclusion in a large number of the submissions to the panel.While the commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ in the 5 transformative shifts provides satisfying rhetoric, the absence of an explicit inequality goal or national target is as surprising as it is disappointing to many.And indeed: Unless inequality gains greater prominence within the disaggregated indicators or is established as a universal goal, this youth priority is at risk of being sidelined.

It is equally surprising that the Major Group for Children and Youth and Beyond 2015 Children and Youth Working Group only note its absence, but chose to not include it in their Youth Response to the HLP report and subsequent list of priorities for amendment.

Inclusion of minority groups in governance

‘Ensuring Good Governance and Effective Institutions’ was the highest primary themed youth priority with 17% of all recommendations focusing on the theme. The graph below shows the distribution of youth recommendations made within this theme:

Graph2_Good Governance

The analysis of sub-themes reveals the second highest youth recommendation in this theme to be ‘Involvement of marginal groups in political processes’ - again highlighting the commitment to greater equality in the youth recommendations. However, this theme was not incorporated into the national targets associated with the 10th illustrative goal. 32% of the recommendations associated with good governance as a primary theme, called for greater involvement of marginal groups in political processes.

The technical notes in Annex II on Goal 10 comment that,

“…every person is born free and equal in dignity and rights. This truth is at the very heart of a people-centered agenda, and reminds us how high we can reach, if we reaffirm the value of every person on this planet.” [3]

The spirit of the wording in the report captures the centrality of human dignity, freedom, equality and the importance of ensuring these building blocks of society are reached. But over time, can we trust that the ‘essence of the text’ will be of equal priority as the universal goals, national targets and indicators?

Women, people with disabilities, LGBTQI, indigenous people, migrants, people living with HIV, the unemployed and youth were all mentioned in youth recommendations but barely feature in the text and goals. Indeed, the names of minority social groups are all but absent in the main report (See table 3 below).

Goal 2 rightly focuses on the empowerment and equality of women and girls and on combined themes ranks joint 5th in youth recommendations. However, the national targets associated with Goal 10 do not fully reflect the priorities expressed by young people in global consultations.From this starting point, civil society must focus upon the disaggregated indicators to ensure targets reflect the wider aspirations of young people on involvement of marginal groups.

Non-formal education

While the focus in the MDG 2 was on attendance and universal primary education, the Post-2015 goal places quality and lifelong learning at the centre. 165 recommendations were made by young people on ‘Providing Quality Education and Lifelong Learning’. In contrast to the HLP report’s focus on formal education and vocational learning, young people have prioritised non-formal education, citizenship education, peer education and global youth work.

Graph3_High Quality Education

These top priorities within ‘High Quality Education’ were key recommendations by young people but were not included in the final report. The words ‘non-formal education’ and ‘youth work’ are not mentioned at all.

The emphasis upon alternative forms of education with a global focus and youth work experiences and opportunities have strong resonance and are powerful tools in supporting the holistic development of young people. Sustainable development and sexual & reproductive health education were specifically noted as requiring non-formal techniques and are often mentioned by teachers who are unable to deliver more sensitive topics - particularly those of a sexual nature - in the classroom.

The Youth Response to the HLP report twice notes its absence and calls for non-formal education to be ‘explicitly included in a target under this goal.’

Meaningful words?

The HLP report splits into a main section with two major annexes covering the illustrative goals and the third annex detailing agreed terminology and understanding. Annex IV is the ‘Summary of Outreach efforts’ which arguably contains some of the most interesting insights into the priorities and workings of the panel. Taking the youth issues that do not feature prominently in the goals, a simple key word search reveals that where the language is present, it is often not in the place young people were hoping to find it.

Table 3: key word search of different sections of the report

Key words No. of times included in the whole report No. of times included in the main report (Chapters 1-5) No. of times included in Annex 1 - universal goals and national targets No. of times included in Annex 2 Evidence of Impact and explanation of illustrative goals No. of times included in Annex IV
Young people 30 14 1 10 2
Youth 21 7 0 2 10
Inequality 24 19 0 2 4
Income inequality 3 3 0 0 0
Equality 18 6 1 9 0
Disabled 2 0 0 0 2
Disability 12 4 0 3 4
Minorities 3 0 0 1 2
LGBTQI 2 0 0 0 2
LGBT 1 0 0 0 1
Non-formal education 0 0 0 0 0
Alternative education 0 0 0 0 0

The words of youth, inequality and disability are there, but not in the universal goals and national targets. Words associated with minorities are nearly always in Annex IV and non-formal or alternative education are not mentioned.

While great language can be included in in the report, if it doesn’t make it into the goals, targets and indicators, it has little hope of being realised. There is a risk that the welcomed words in the body of the report give the illusion of inclusion when the truth is of relegation to distant annexes. The values and principles affirmed in the Millennium Declaration make inspirational reading, but the driving force has been the goals and targets housed within.


80% of the 804 recommendations made by 17 reports from across the global youth movement can be categorised using the HLP report illustrative goals and 75% of the recommendations relate directly to the proposed national targets. This should be celebrated and welcomed by the youth sector. The youth movement deserves credit for significantly raising the issue and voices of youth with the High Level Panel and through other development agenda tracks. The report is likely better than it would have been without such a concerted youth presence.

However, the issues of inequality within the national goals and targets, minority participation (including youth), and non-formal education are missing, with references in the main text rather than inclusion in goals and targets. The High-Level panel has made some bold choices but the youth agenda is more easily recognised in Annex IV than the goals and main report.

The creation of an inequality-focused goal would ensure that 6.5% of the recommendations, which currently have no place in the report, would be represented making it the 5th highest priority for young people. Good governance and political processes is in the text but as yet fails to recognise the priority young people give to minority social groups over many of the included targets, though this may be a feature of the proposals for data disaggregation.

The emphasis on a ‘data revolution’ is seen as the answer to crosscutting issue concerns and the disaggregation of data by quintile and social groups has been championed as the mechanism for integrating minority groups into all the goals and tackling inequality. But it relies heavily upon disaggregated data sets guiding the development agenda and policy makers understanding and actioning what the data reveals.

A data revolution will be useful, however does this data even exist? And where it does, does it accurately reflect peoples’ experiences of inequality and discrimination? Whether the emphasis on data can guarantee and fill the void of specific issues - such as minority groups participation - is uncertain at best.

The youth movement’s next steps

While quick responses are needed in our news driven world, from the research presented, greater consideration must now given by the main youth actors for their demands and strategies leading up to the UN General Assembly and beyond.

Many organisations have welcomed the HLP report as a good starting point for the development agenda discussion. But what if everyone’s ‘take away’ from the report is the same? What if civil society groups are happy with the same elements and universally ignore the absence of so many of the previously championed issues?

The analysis shows the three key issues absent and two of those issues - inequality and minorities participation - were barely mentioned in the youth responses to the HLP report. If issues haven’t been included in the universal goals and national targets, no matter how pleased the movement can be with the overall language and select overtures to youth, it will be meaningless come 2020, when our efforts have failed to adequately address the needs and aspirations of young people.

What is the youth movement prepared to give up on? What is it going to fight for?


[1] - See this excellent summary of initial reactions by David Steven. []

[2] - And one that has been commented upon alright, here by Oxfam, fumingly, and here by Dan Smith, more subtly. []

[3] - See Annex II in the Full High-Level Panel Report (pdf, 3.3 MB): page 50. []

Team credits

Written and researched by Alex Farrow and John Muir, edited by Andreas Karsten.

Image credits

Featured image originally by Wychi on Deviantart, slightly modified by Andreas.


Spanish translation by Espolea.