The SDG Dashboards and Index: Getting Started with the SDGs
Photo by IISD/ENB | Pamela Chasek
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Implementation of the SDGs cannot wait until a comprehensive monitoring framework is in place.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the world’s governments in 2015 aim to guide global development for the next 15 years. They are focused on a critical range of global issues – eradicating extreme poverty and diseases, ensuring quality education, gender equality and environmental sustainability, as well as combating the dangers of climate change. In the words of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the SDGs are “our shared vision of humanity and a social contract between the world’s leaders and the people …they are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success.”

Achieving these ambitious Goals will require unprecedented mobilization of stakeholders and focused problem solving, which in turn depend on effective stock-taking of countries’ priorities and monitoring of progress. In March 2016, the UN Statistical Commission agreed on a framework of 231 global indicators for the SDGs, which can contribute to this stocktaking and monitoring. Some of the agreed indicators are already underpinned by comprehensive data, but most require major efforts in data collection. A substantial number need more technical work to develop definitions and launch the process of data collection. It will take time, therefore, before UN Member States can make use of the data to track progress towards the SDGs. Investing in countries’ capacity to monitor the Goals should be an important priority for early action.

Yet, implementation of the SDGs cannot wait until a comprehensive monitoring framework is in place. Countries need to take stock of where they stand today with regards to achieving the SDGs, identify priority areas for early action, and start preparing long-term strategies to meet all 17 Goals by 2030. To support governments, civil society, business, universities, and other stakeholders in getting started with the SDGs, the SDSN and Bertelsmann Stiftung have developed an SDG Index and the SDG Dashboards, which will be officially launched on 20 July 2016 at the UN’s High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. We hope that both tools will help countries in operationalizing the SDGs and starting the process of implementation, as described in the SDSN Guide to Getting Started with the SDGs.

The SDG Dashboards and SDG Index pursue different and complimentary aims. The purpose of the dashboards for individual countries is to consolidate available data for each SDG and compare it visually against performance thresholds, by labelling the respective goals as green, yellow, or red. The resulting dashboards highlight areas where a country needs to make the greatest progress towards achieving the Goals by 2030. So far, it shows that OECD countries face significant challenges in meeting many of the SDGs even though they have achieved prosperity for most of their citizens. Civil society, governments, businesses, and other stakeholders can use the dashboards to discuss priorities for early action and the need to redirect development resources towards different policy areas.

The SDG Index aggregates country data into a composite index for SDG progress, to compare countries’ starting points on the Goals and benchmark them with regional averages. The Index will help attract political attention to the Goals, make them easier to communicate in each country, and encourage countries to measure their performance using a broader metric than gross domestic product (GDP) per capita or even the Human Development Index. We hope the Index will raise awareness of the Goals and support a broad public conversation on the importance of achieving them. Together with the dashboards, it also highlights gaps in the availability of essential SDG data that must be closed quickly.

In developing the SDG Dashboards and Index, we have focused on internationally comparable data that is available for at least 80% of countries with a population greater than 1 million (i.e. 120 countries). Countries with small populations are included if they have data for at least 80% of the selected variables. Data availability remains poor for the vast majority of SDG indicators proposed by the UN Statistical Commission, so we include data from other official and non-official sources.

Given the gaps in currently available data, the SDG Dashboards and Index cannot serve as a monitoring tool for the SDGs. Such monitoring must be undertaken using broader sets of indicators, and requires increased statistical capacity over time to measure important SDG priorities for which data is unavailable today. Instead, the SDGs Dashboards and Index aim to support the process of operationalizing the Goals over the short term, which will require highlighting critical gaps in data availability.

Early reactions to the draft SDG Index and Dashboards (initially made available during public consultation in March 2016) have been encouraging, and show that these tools can help stimulate important debates on how to achieve the SDGs at the country level. At the same time, the limitations in terms of data and approach are obvious, and will require better answers over time. The SDSN will therefore document the methods, data, and findings transparently, so that users can understand the choices and assumptions made, as well as their implications on the results.

The SDSN intends to publish periodic updates to the SDG Index and Dashboards to incorporate lessons learnt and better data. In particular, we hope that additional data can be identified for those countries that are currently excluded from the SDG Index, so the world will soon have a comparable metric across all countries. In this way, every country will be able to take stock of where it stands with regards to achieving the SDGs and benchmark itself with the countries it considers peers.

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