ICTS and Inclusive Sustainable Development: GIS for Participatory Planning

Inclusive sustainable development requires the utilization of information and  communication technologies (ICTS). ICTS can help support the achievement of the 2030 Agenda to deliver improvement and innovation with health, education, business development, and participatory planning processes. Governments will need to focus planning processes, policies, and strategies to address the implications of rapid urbanization on already marginalized communities. Goal 11 of the SDGs aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. Goal 11 aims is to ensure individual rights in urban centers are fully met, with universal access to basic services, energy, housing, transportation, and more. Collaborative and inclusive urban planning is necessary to ensure future individual rights are not violated. Technological innovations can be used to trace inequities in city planning efforts, such as GIS software, which I argue is a sub-category of the ICT field.

Geographic information systems (GIS) provide software programs that are “designed to capture, manage, analyze, and display all forms of geographically referenced information.” These types of technologies can supplement ArcGIS is a mapping and analytic platform designed by Esri, a global leader in GIS technology. One of the main applications of GIS is urban planning, utilizing spatial databases, and analysis and modeling tools (Arc GIS) Furthermore, GIS planning solutions can be used for sustainable development initiatives such as improving the quality of life and portraying data in a visual context for easier decision making processes.

GIS services offer governments ability to readily access maps and capitalize on preexisting data to streamline knowledge accumulation needed for strategic decision making such as planning urban centers and implementing projects where multistakeholder collaboration is key to success. GIS technologies have also aided in community based planning processes that allow planners and citizens to test alternative development scenarios to determine future impacts. Citizen participation is improved through GIS technologies and provides mechanisms to further communicative planning. Communicative planning emphasizes the importance of multistakeholder dialogues for decentralized planning processes. Patsy Healey (1996) a prominent scholar in the field of communicative planning asserts the importance of decentralized and communicative planning processes:

“Knowledge is not reformulated but is specifically created anew in our communication through exchanging perceptions and understanding and through drawing on the stock of life experience and previously consolidated cultural and moral knowledge available to participants. We cannot, therefore, predefine a set of tasks that planning must address, since these must be specifically discovered, learnt about, and understood through intercommunicative processes.”

Examining potential consequences of urban planning is essential and GIS technologies allow for alternatives to be evaluated before actual implementation. Converging informational communication technology with GIS software can be beneficial for urban planners and bottom-up grassroots approaches for inclusive development.


Multistakeholder Governance and Climate Change

The multistakeholder partnership initiative, was developed at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) contains over 300 public-private partnerships (Backstrand) . The achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will require a multistakeholder approach of varying sectors and actors working in an integrated manner. A multistakeholder partnership can also promote new approaches when they first emerge. Sustainable Development Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, highlights the importance of the multistakeholder partnerships for the exchange of knowledge. The multistakeholder approach has potential to improve current practice, provide entry into new markets, and an integrated exchange of best practices. This approach can help uncover gaps and areas of convergences between various goals, objectives, and evaluation frameworks for inclusive sustainable development.

The multistakeholder approach is essential for achievement of the SDGs and for combatting the effects of climate change. Climate change has no borders, and global cooperation is key to mitigating the impacts. The effects of global warming has disproportionate impacts on marginalized communities and will stand as a major obstacle for universal equality. Climate change is already impacting livelihoods and restraining already scarce resources. All citizens have a role in mitigating their carbon footprints. Privileged individuals must ensure they are doing everything to offset the impacts of their lifestyles. Americans consume more than any other country in the entire world and we must address our consumption patterns. SDG 12, Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, will need to be enforced in the United States if this goal is to be achieved. A multistakeholder approach should be used when addressing consumption and production patterns in the U.S..



SDG Overview and the High-Level Political Forum

The 2030 Agenda consists of 17 interrelated goals, targets, and indicators to ensure sustainable and inclusive development. The 2030 Sustainable Goals (SDGs) recognize the multidimensionality of poverty and builds upon the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to fully realize the human rights of all peoples. The goals also highlight the need to implement and monitor programs regarding climate change. In comparison to the MDGs, the SDGs are intended for universal application in both developing and developed countries. All countries are considered to be developing countries and to achieve the goals set forth, and all stakeholders must work together in implementation and monitoring processes. Eradicating poverty and zero hunger are the first two goals of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Agenda. The 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals aim is to mobilize global efforts and partnerships. The overarching goal is to end all forms of poverty whilst ensuring no one is left behind in development initiatives.

The United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) was established at the Rio+20 Conference of Sustainable Development. The HLPF is responsible for the review and follow-up of the 2030 Agenda. Each year, the HLPF decides on goals to focus on. In 2019, the HLPF will focus on empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality. This encapsulates Goal 4, 8, 10, 13, 16, and 17. All 17 goals have convergences and opportunities to build off each other. Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality requires the voices of marginalized communities to be amplified. Active participation is further needed. The United Nations recognizes this need and formalized nine sectors of society whose participation is essential for UN related activities. The Major Groups represent women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, civil society, local authorities, workers and trade unions, business and industry, and the scientific and technological community.

CRPD and the New Urban Agenda

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) reflects upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone is entitled to the same rights and freedoms (Preamble B). The CRPD highlights the unequal impacts of poverty on persons with disabilities The CRPD defines disability as “those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others (Article 1, CRPD). Article 28 of the CRPD calls for States to “recognize the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions, and shall take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realization of this right without discrimination on the basis of disability” (CRPD, Article 28, 2009).

The New Urban Agenda plays an integral role in ensuring that these rights are realized. Cities will play an integral role in achieving the goals set forth in this agenda. Therefore, the New Urban Agenda will require an urban paradigm shift and requires cities to:

“Readdress the way we plan, finance, develop, govern and manage cities and human settlements, recognizing sustainable urban and territorial development as essential to the achievement of sustainable development and prosperity for all.” (Article 15, New Urban Agenda)

While rapid urbanization has many challenges, it also provides many paths for inclusion. The New Urban agenda can also help propel the SDGs.  In order to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals of eradicating poverty and zero hunger, the voices and perspectives of the world’s most marginalized people must be included at every stage of development. All segments of society must co-adopt the responsibility to bring transformation changes to all citizens. Therefore, a disability perspective towards development is fundamental to transformation and for the achievement of the SDGs and New Urban Agenda.

ICTs and Sustainable Development

We live in an interconnected globalized world where information and communication are key components to development. However, not everyone has equal access to these communications resources and therefore there are communities around the world that get left out of global progress. Reports such as “The Missing Link” and “Falling through the Net” shed light on this issue, but what can be done to provide equal access to communications technologies to all?

There are several components to this issue, one of which lies in who is responsible for providing the ICTs. The two main actors at play are the public and private sectors. In situations where the public sector provides the good, it allows for the resource to be easily accessible to the entire population and generally offers low prices that are more affordable to the masses. However, for this to work, you need a stable democratic institute because in situations where this isn’t the case, the government often operates as a monopoly on the good and manipulates prices to fund other, inequitable projects such as war financing or personal profits. In the case where the private sector provides the resource, it can be provided efficiently and at the highest quality, but due to the profit seeking nature of private institutions, they will only provide the resource in areas that minimize costs and maximize benefits, leaving rural communities uncovered.

Other issues are more technical in nature, such as the physical cost of extending the ICT networks and laying down sufficient wire to cover the entire population. The technology is still relatively expensive, but with research and development in ICTs, this technology can quickly evolve and become less expensive. Currently, CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg is investing in solar drones that would fly around the world in fleets permanently, providing internet access to 4 billion people worldwide who are in the dark.

Although there are still many obstacles to providing ICTs to the global population, technology improves at exponential rates and I believe that as this technology evolves, finding ways to bridge this gap will become easier.

The Role of The HLPF in International Development

If we look at important landmarks in international development, we must first look at how defining the Sustainable Development Goals impacted the global community. Before the SDGs, there were already preexisting global developmental frameworks that operated similarly to the SDGs and that defined some of the grand challenges of today. However, the SDGs not only redefined what these grand challenges were, but also set a mission statement to be accomplished before the year 2030. By having a deadline of when these goals need to be achieved was a first major step towards resolving some of the issues. Knowing what the issues are and setting a goal for when they should be met is an essential first part of international development, but the most important component is finding ways to implement the different practices to meet the goals. How then can you enforce developmental practices in countries around the world to unanimously contribute to meeting these objectives? In 2012, the United Nations created the High Level Political Forum along with the SDGs as a way for all of the different actors involved in international development to discuss how the SDGs will be met and how to implement its strategies. The key role of the HLPF in this is that it uses soft power to encourage nations to adapt sustainable practices and also leverages international reputation of countries that do not implement sustainable development policies. There is much debate over the efficiency of said soft power, but altogether there is significant progress in achieving many of the goals set out by the SDGs.

The HLPF and the SDGs however do have certain criticisms, especially in regards to its multistakeholder aspects. The HLPF meets annually and is open to both state and non-state actors, but for non-state actors to take part in the meetings, they must first overcome a series of bureaucratic hurdles and become ECOSOC accredited in order to do this. For non-profit organizations that work towards helping local communities develop, not only would it be particularly difficult to overcome some of the hurdles, but it would also be extremely costly to participate in these conferences. Other issues with the HLPF pertain to the Major Grous framework and its division into nine inclusive categories. Although these categories cover a majority of the target population, they also leave out certain groups that are equally in need of development practices and representation.

All in all, we still have 13 years before the deadline of the SDGs is up, and although there are many challenges that seem out of reach in this timeframe, much progress has been made in the 5 years since their implementation and with efforts from the HLPF, states, and non-state actors working together, progress will come.

Inclusive Education

If we look at SDG 4, it focuses on “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Education, and more importantly equal access to quality education, is a fundamental element of development and plays a key role in advancing the development agenda. Paulo Freire, Brazilian instructor and philosopher, wrote a dissertation “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” where he addressed the importance of education for ensuring quality development for all populations. In his work, he focuses on providing basic education to grown adults who had never gone through the schooling process. The main goal that Freire sought was to not just teach his students fundamental education, but to teach them the ability to think critically. By thinking critically, it gives individuals the ability to not just learn material, but to find the answers to their questions themselves. The ability to think critically is fundamental because it gives individuals freedom. Once they started thinking for themselves, they quickly started to learn how unjust the societal system was and how oppressed they had been. Most of the individuals in his classes worked low tier minimum wage jobs and assumed that there was nothing else that they could do, that this lifestyle was the only thing available to them. However, once they started learning, they realized that learning and education were a significant part of what kept them in a loop of poverty and inequality. Freire takes a very marxist approach to education in that he believes that providing people with the ability to think critically will allow them to revolt against the unjust system that kept them uneducated. By becoming more educated, individuals can become a part of the conversation and advocate for their rights, furthering the development of poor and marginalized regions.  In creating an education system that provides the oppressed with the necessary learning to become fully active citizens in society and fight for their rights, it needs to be inclusive, not just to adults and children, but to persons with disabilities, women, immigrants, and all other groups that do not have equal access to education.  Education is a pillar to meeting the SDGs because it is the tool that individuals use to solve problems, great and small. It is a way to give marginalized people the freedom to develop themselves as they see fit, and fight against the system that oppresses them, instead of having others fight for their rights.


Intersectionality is the concept that diverse people and institutions are interconnected. This could be the identification of individual people such as race, religion, disabled, etc. or it could be the variety of discourses and theories such as feminism, social inclusion, etc. All these topics and theories are interconnected in the work towards sustainable development. We must understand each identity and each group in order to understand the root of societal problems and how to address them. For example, inclusive education is not just a subject that includes education systems. This topic must involve persons with disabilities, women, people of color, communities, policy makers, etc. in order to address the issues and move toward more inclusive programming. This concept is very similar to a multistakeholder approach in that various groups must come together in order to meet the goals set by the United Nations.

Inclusive Education

Inclusive education is an all-encompassing term that refers to the inclusive of people with physical and mental disabilities along with all other marginalized groups such as women to name one. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities specifically addresses the need for education to be inclusive to those person with disabilities. This group represents about 1 billion people within the population and not providing them with targeted, effective education that works with their needs is not only morally incorrect but economically unsound. It is important to note that not only programs that are only for people with disabilities are needed but also educational systems that integrate these persons with the general population of the school in order to reduce stigmas and allow for a truly inclusive education system. Sen also mentions the need for all persons to have access to quality education as a key factor in development. This means that a country with a higher percentage of education persons will further the development of that country and allow for increased economic opportunities in the future. Inclusive education should absolutely be talked about in conjunction with ICTs and closing the gap on the digital divide. Using innovative technologies to improve inclusivity in the classroom is already being done today and shows tremendous promise across the globe.

Frameworks – MDGs

One global framework that we can analyze in intense detail is the Millennium Development Goals. These 8 goals were put in place by the United Nations in 2000 and were set to be achieved by the year 2015. These goals were groundbreaking in that they called attention to nations largest challenges and gave not only countries but NGOs, business, and political leaders clear goals to work towards. The 15 year time frame was also an extremely important factor in that it was long enough to make achieving the goals somewhat feasible while still being short enough to keep the world leaders interests for their respected time in office. However, the MGDs were not met by 2015 as they lacked certain qualities that I believe the SDGs improve upon. The MDGs lacked specific targets and indicators that countries could universally use to determine their progress. It is also important to note that the SDGs expanded to 17 goals in order to encompass a wider range of detailed societal issues our global is facing today. One of the biggest limitation with these type of overarching strategies is that applying lofty goals to diverse regions and countries posses problems, along with the ever facing issue of the UN is that there is no penalty for not meeting these goals.