Areas for Research, Engagement and National Agendas

What is the project about?

 ARENA project organized three dialogues for Developing Framework for Political Parties: Chapter in the Bangladesh Constitution as one of its many activities. Photo - UNDP

Bangladesh has made significant progress on reaching development, growth and industrial targets with a gross domestic product growth rate of 6 percent in 2013 and a steady decline in the poverty headcount ratio. In line with Bangladesh’s commitment to an economic model focused on poverty reduction, pro-poor allocations within the national budget expanded to 3.6 percent of gross domestic product. It also remains on-track to attain most of the targets set in the millennium development goals and aims to reach middle-income status by 2021. At policy level, the post-2015 development agenda reflects the government’s commitment to inclusive, sustainable development based on the principles of equity, sustainability and human rights.

Whilst progress has been considerable in these areas there have remained challenges to consolidating policymaking platforms that can be weakened by the absence of wider discussion, understanding and debate in public life. Responding to this context the initiation plan Areas for Research, Engagement and National Agendas (ARENA) creates a more conducive environment for stakeholders to participate in inclusive public policy dialogue about national on big society issues. It improves the capacity of civil society to set agendas to frame public policy in evidence based research, provides a number of different spaces of engagement to develop these policies and it works to anchor these issues in public demand. By creating an environment of policy dialogue around key issues of national importance it develops platforms for actors to build an overlapping consensus on common issues. The ARENA was approved in September 2014 and is funded by TRAC and from the European Union/ UNDP BCPR annual action programme crisis preparedness component of the instrument for stability and peace.

What have we accomplished so far?

• Developing Governance Indicator Framework – the project is supporting the government in developing an indigenous governance indicator framework based on the country socio-economic and political culture. This initiative is to assist the government to measure their own work in ensuring governance in the country and identify areas where more intervention is required. The upcoming global targets SDGs also require each country to set their own mechanism to address the goals stipulated in the SDGs. This framework will assist in monitoring their progress in this regard. A workshop was conducted to conceptualize the ides among key actors including Prime Minister’s Office, ERD, BBS, Information Commission and a working group was formed to steer the implementation. The Governance Innovation Unit (GIU) submitted a proposal to the government for formal approval.

• Evidence based research – we have commissioned a research on “Challenges of Political Development and Sustainable Growth - a mixed-method study on costs and consequences of political conflict in Bangladesh” – to collect evidence and generate public discussion around that. Endemic political conflict entail specific economic costs and unless redressed may be putting economic growth prospects at risk and by extension the prospects of accelerated poverty reduction. At the same time while political conflict is a staple of the national discourse, there are outstanding knowledge gaps on the costs and consequences of political conflict as well as how such costs and consequences manifest themselves at macro, meso and micro levels. Available literature on political conflict is fragmentary at best with a one-sided pre-occupation with causality without shedding much light on costs and consequences. There is also a major knowledge gap on the dynamics of local-level political institutions that exacerbate the endemic nature of the political conflict. Such a study can be a useful knowledge platform to enable a catalytic stakeholder discourse that can serve to identify promising entry points for addressing the concern on political conflict as well as how such entry points should be meaningfully pursued.

• Development of research database: ARENA Project contains a number of 450 relevant documents. The objective is to put the relevant researches, reports and other knowledge products into a structured and systematic way in a user-friendly manner which will be continuously updated to be used as a pool of knowledge and reliable source of information for future references and programmatic intervention.

• Consultation on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 – The post 2015 global development agenda will be centered on SDGs. SDGs build on the foundation laid by the MDGs, seek to complete the unfinished business of the MDGs, and respond to new challenges. To identify the challenges and the opportunities the ARENA pursues to collect evidence from the people at the grass root level. Under the broad outcome of the project and three underlying objectives ARENA seeks to support ground work towards the achievement of SDGs by providing evidence-based information about the opportunities and challenges of the country in its way of achieving SDGs through research, analysis, stakeholder consultation, mapping available information. In this regard the project is holding series of consultations at 5 different places of the country – Rajshahi, Khulna, Sylhet, Chittagong and Bandarban. The outcome/findings of these consultations will be shared at the national level with key policy makers and CSOs to identify areas where more government initiatives are required and how UNDP can assist forming better policy decisions.  

• Promoting Community Engagement and Leadership– it is widely recognized that community is the best friend of community. Citizens of a particular community are the best group of people to identify the socio-economical problems facing by them and similarly the best group of people to address them using the opportunities that they have within the community. In Bangladesh the community engagement is not a common scenario in many places. Particularly the engagements of educational institutions are very much missing at the community level. The project promotes the idea of community engagement and help people understand their own capacity to address their own challenges. The project is working to encourage participation of students to engage with community members, non-governmental and community-based organizations, and local government to jointly identify and implement activities that improve quality of life within their communities.

• Developing Constitutional and legal framework for political parties – One of the main objectives of the project is to create a platform for engagement with different stakeholders of the country. Political parties are one of the key stakeholders considering their role in government. These political parties operate under a vague definition in the constitution. However, being the most critical stakeholder a clear but broad definition should be within the constitution. People from different walk of life recently agreed that all parties should maintain a minimum standard dealing with politics in any circumstances. The project capitalizing the demand consulting with different stakeholders about a more specific legal framework for political parties to be incorporated within the constitution. The project has also hold dialogues with media and CSOs, business community and also the Awami League, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and leftist political parties. These discussions will gradually engage all parties into the process.   

• ARENA Project has developed an Integrated Data Assessment and Mapping System (IDAMS) - a tool for evidence-based political analysis that helps build a baseline and a regular tracker of political and social events, which combined with other valuable observations, will aim to lead to a stronger understanding of the political environment in the country. The IDAMS will track and regularly map out incidents that happen daily in the social, economic and political sphere in Bangladesh, and which are likely to influence the political stability in the country. The system allows long-term trends to be mapped out more systemically with the goal of informing UNDP and its partners in evidence-based decision-making in both operational management and individual programming levels. 

• The ARENA Project regular produce Daily Morning Briefs. The Morning Brief is a snapshot of the political environment in Bangladesh as reported by daily newspapers in the English and Bengali language. The brief covers content from the following Newspapers: New Age, Dhaka Tribune, the Daily Star, Prothom Alo, Daily Inqilab, Daily Ittefaq. The brief also covers content from online media such as www.BDnews24.com and UNBNews.org. 

• ARENA produces the Profile of Media in Bangladesh, Newspapers in Print and Online report. The profiled 26 newspapers, provided data analytics in terms of their audience and outreach, link and nodal analysis in terms of their perceived political affiliations, and expert commentary on their narratives and agendas. ARENA also delivered a data snapshot and mapping of the political violence and consequences from 05 January - 30 March 2015.

• ARENA project has produced a background Paper for the ‘7th Five Year Plan of the Government of Bangladesh: Governance and Justice’ in order to track government performance and actions under the 6th Five Year Plan. The paper offered a set of governance results indicators and proposed three areas which is largely neglected in the 6th FYP need to address in the 7th FYP: 1) Justice, 2) Building Government administrative capacity, 3) Representation, Participation and Accountability.

Who finances it?



Donor Amount 
UNDP $ 786,971.22 

Delivery in previous fiscal years

Year Amount
2015  $ 446,053
2014   $ 76,110.20

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