Getting to 2030: Tracking SDG Indicators for Evidence of Implementation Progress
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As international organizations, governments and practitioners around the world focus their workplans and agendas on the 2030 Agenda, data are being collected, reported on and organized in visualizations that can begin to tell the story of where we are vis-à-vis our 2030 ambitions.

The centerpiece for global assessments is the annual report that the UN Secretary-General is mandated to produce.

National governments are the keepers of official statistics for their country and seek to ensure that indicator methodologies and data collection processes will result in robust, reliable datasets.

Data collection at the local level is particularly important for this global agenda that seeks to “leave no one behind”.

During the first two years of SDG implementation, it has been hard not to ask “Are we there yet?” or at least, “Are we getting there?” with the hope that evidence of global progress could be detected. Indeed, our review of the most-read stories on the SDG Knowledge Hub in 2017 revealed that readers are eager for assessments and measurements of SDG implementation.

The SDG framework, as adopted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015, includes 17 headline Goals and 169 targets to be implemented by 2030. A key component for this agenda is the use of a set of indicators in order to measure global progress on the Goals and targets. While the Goals and targets were adopted in 2015, the indicators for the SDG framework were adopted in 2017, following the selection of over 200 indicators in a process overseen by the UN Statistical Commission.

But even with the valuable tool that the global indicator framework provides, monitoring progress on the 2030 Agenda, which is to be implemented universally and in a way that ensures that no one is left behind, remains a daunting task. For several indicators, for example, assessment methods still must be defined. In addition, all countries must determine the indicators for which they currently track data, and where they need to concentrate resources on developing new data sets.

As international organizations, governments and practitioners around the world focus their work plans and strategies on the 2030 Agenda, data are being collected, reported on and organized in visualizations that can begin to tell the story of where we stand vis-à-vis our 2030 ambitions. This policy brief introduces the monitoring tools that international organizations, national governments and local-level stakeholders are developing to assess SDG implementation. As our readers’ preferences indicate, the data-driven approach is viewed as an essential component for keeping us accountable and on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030, and identifying the available data to conduct this tracking is an important step in this process.

Global Assessments

The centerpiece for global assessments is the annual report that the UN Secretary-General is mandated to produce. In 2017, the most-read SDG Knowledge Hub news story was a summary of this global assessment – the UN Secretary-General’s ‘Progress Report towards the SDGs.’ This report was released in June, prior to the meeting of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF 2017), and provided a global overview of the situation with regard to the Goals. The report was released shortly after the indicator set was recommended for adoption and used existing data compiled by the UN. As indicator development and data collection improve over the coming years, this annual report will be well placed to provide the official, overall assessment of progress.

In addition to this annual document, the UN Statistics Division released an ‘SDGs Report’ during the Ministerial segments of the HLPF in 2016 and 2017, reviewing progress towards the 17 Goals and based on the latest available data (first SDGs Report and second SDGs Report). The data from the 2017 SDGs Report were presented as inputs during the HLPF’s discussions on specific indicators.

Apart from these two reports from the UN Secretariat, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and Bertelsmann Stiftung have used internationally comparable data to produce the SDG Index and the SDG Dashboards, which were released in 2016 and 2017. They plan to release a related overview of implementation in 2018. This contribution to the assessment of progress has ranked countries according to their performance on the SDGs, in an effort to spur a conversation about leadership on specific Goals and where greater effort is most needed.

The custodians of individual indicators are also providing global assessment data for the specific indicator(s) they have been tasked with overseeing, and many of these organizations have created portals for the SDG-relevant data they maintain. Earlier this month, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) launched an online platform for reporting on the status and trends of the world’s forest resources, for example. The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) has created an online tool that will capture data on achieving the targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The World Bank’s dashboards present data from the World Development Indicators (WDI) that help to monitor the SDGs, and provide visualizations that permit comparisons among countries.

Efforts to bring together information on all of the indicators for a single Goal are also underway. In preparation for the July 2018 HLPF’s assessment of SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), UN-Water has coordinated the development of the ‘SDG 6 Synthesis Report 2018 on Water and Sanitation.’ This report is being prepared by the custodian agencies for the SDG 6 indicators, and will include baseline data and updates on data availability for each of the SDG 6 indicators. The preparation of this report was discussed at the 27th and 28th meetings of UN-Water.

Civil society organizations have also set up data portals. For example, the Global Reporting Initiative runs the Target 12.6 Live Tracker, which shows progress on sustainability reporting around the world.

In the midst of this growing number of portals and reports on specific indicators, targets and Goals, the SDG-Tracker project, which was launched in March 2018, brings together the data from many of the portals noted above, in addition to other sources. This project extracts the data from sources including the UN, World Bank, World Health Organization and FAO, and is updated as its sources release new data.

National Indicator Tracking

National governments are the keepers of official statistics for their country, and seek to ensure that indicator methodologies and data collection processes will result in robust, reliable datasets. The custodian agencies for the SDG indicators rely on the official statistics of each country to develop their data sets. A number of countries have developed monitoring and reporting mechanisms to report on their relevant official statistics, and identify indicators for which they do not currently collect data.

For example, the US recently updated the platform that it launched in 2017. This platform reports data for 82 indicators, with measures being improved for an additional 84 indicators, and data being explored for another 80 indicators. This site was built as an open source tool, and the US reports that it is collaborating with the UK and Ghana on national reporting platforms. Australia has just released the ‘SDG Baseline for Australia,’ as it prepares its first Voluntary National Review for the 2018 HLPF.

At the end of 2017, the European Union released a report titled, ‘Sustainable Development in the European Union: Monitoring report on progress towards the SDGs in an EU context,’ which is based on a set of 100 indicators developed by the EU for this process. In mid-2017, the Government of Sri Lanka launched a report and website for reporting on the status of its SDG indicators at the national level. The publication identified 46 SDG indicators for which data is already available, and 29 indicators for which data could be compiled.

In January, DESA hosted a meeting on national platforms, where officials from national statistical systems and experts discussed how standardized national-level repositories could make global assessments more consistent.

Community Indicator Systems

Data collection at the local level is particularly important for this global agenda that seeks to “leave no one behind.” In many ways, local communities are the best placed to identify what should be counted and what is not currently being counted. The process of collecting this data can also prove to be an important project in itself, with local participation serving to educate and engage the community in the stories that the data can tell.

Community indicator systems offer a way for actors to track well-being at the local level. These efforts can also support the global assessment efforts by helping to make differentiated data available, to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s objective of leaving no one behind. During a recent webinar on localizing the SDGs in the North American context, sub-national efforts in British Columbia, Hawai’i, Winnipeg and Baltimore were revealed to all involve the use of community-level dashboards as one way to engage actors in sustainable development implementation.

Data Processing on the Road to 2030

As with SDG implementation itself, each of these levels of assessment feeds into and draws from the others. Global assessments offer an overall snapshot of where the international community is collectively moving. National governments can see how their contributions fit into the global picture, and consider where they can demonstrate leadership, or are falling short, compared to their peers. Local indicator systems can be tailored to specific challenges and opportunities in specific communities, drawing on and contributing to national level data.

Each iteration of this implied conversation contributes to the continuous learning that is required to implement the 2030 Agenda, as interlinkages among the targets are leveraged and success and failures are identified, and then incorporated into further action. And these data sources and lessons learned do not yet consider what big data sources might be able to add to this conversation.

For our part, we will continue to report on the new platforms and monitoring and evaluation projects that are being developed, as we help our readers answer whether we are “there” yet on the road towards 2030.

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