Experts exchanged views on best practices for governments following their VNR presentations on the 2030 Agenda.
Participants urged using the VNRs as a means to identify further action, rather than as an "end product".
Speakers from Guatemala, Togo, and the UK highlighted their initiatives and lessons learned.
The Transparency, Accountability, and Participation (TAP) Network and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) recently held an online panel discussion on best practices in advancing the 2030 Agenda following a country’s Voluntary National Review (VNR).
The VNRs are a component of the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda. They are carried out voluntarily by national governments, and are intended to track progress in implementing the Agenda and its 17 SDGs at the country level. VNRs are presented during the HLPF sessions convened under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) each year in July.
The panel discussion took place on 10 March 2020, as part of the TAP-UNDP initiative to create a resource for stakeholders involved in post-VNR activities on SDG 16. The resource is expected to be published later in 2020.
Mechanisms established for a country’s VNR process should continue their work following the presentation.
Joern Geisselmann, Partners for Review (P4R), identified trends and country experiences following a VNR presentation. Among the lessons learned, he said VNRs should not only review past implementation, but also agree on next steps. Immediate action should be taken after the VNR as a follow-up step, such as reporting to parliament and/or the media. Geisselmann also suggested institutionalizing any mechanisms established for the VNR process, to continue their work following the presentation to the HLPF.
He reported that in some countries that have conducted VNRs, follow-up activities have included:
- Georgia introduced an SDG architecture, including a multi-stakeholder SDG Council, thematic working groups and an Annual Forum to share and debate experiences related to SDG implementation;
- Germany established an annual Sustainability Forum as a multi-stakeholder dialogue forum organized by the Chancellery;
- Mexico involved the Ministry of Finance in a process to map all applicable budget lines and programs with SDG indicators; and
- Mongolia conducted a systems analysis of drivers, bottlenecks and impacts, and developed short- and long-term actions to tackle air pollution.
Margarita Cano of SEGEPLAN, Guatemala’s State planning body (Secretaría de Planificación y Programación de la Presidencia), discussed her country’s efforts to mainstream and implement SDG 16 and the 2030 Agenda following its first VNR in 2017 and second in 2019. She reported that after the 2017 presentation, the government changed its approach from government-led to whole-of-society, engaging local governments, civil society organizations, the private sector and congress. This enabled the government to collect far more usable data than it had in 2017.
Following its 2019 VNR, the ministry incorporated the results of the review as it developed goals for the next four years.
Peter van Sluijs, Civil Society Platform for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (CSPPS), said the VNRs have been “seen as an end product” rather that a means to determine actions needed for further results. He observed that, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected countries, if a country does not fully utilize its consultative processes to develop its view of progress, the VNR is not being used as a management tool for steering the 2030 Agenda at the national level. He called for meaningful stakeholder inclusion and participation in the follow-up processes to the VNRs.
In February 2020, CSPPS released a publication titled, ‘Reporting for the Future,’ as a report of its Ready for Review project. The report includes an in-depth analysis of implementation and lessons learned that will inform the next stage of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in fragile and conflict-affected countries, and better support the countries that will present VNRs in 2020.
Ameyovi Alice Goza, Founder and President of the International Association of Women and Young Leaders (AIFJL) in Togo, highlighted the importance of engaging young people in post-VNR processes, stressing that youth groups continually achieve positive impacts on the ground. She called for capacity building for the efforts of youth organizations.
Fiona Dawe, UK Office of National Statistics (ONS), reported that since the UK’s VNR in 2019, the ONS is working to make the country’s SDG data more readily accessible to the its government and other interested stakeholders. She explained that the Open SDG National Reporting Platform is a free-to-reuse, open-source SDG reporting and monitoring solution, with completely customizable software. It was developed in collaboration with the US Government and the Center for Open Data for Enterprise. The UK is providing technical support to other countries’ national statistical offices as well as other stakeholders, to create their own platforms for SDG data. To date, approximately 13 countries have replicated the site for their own contexts or are working to do so.
Since 2016, 158 VNRs have been presented by 142 countries at the Forum. In 2020, the following 51 countries are preparing VNRs: first-time presenters – Austria, Barbados, Bolivia, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burundi, Comoros, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Kyrgyz Republic, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Micronesia, Mozambique, North Macedonia, Papua New Guinea, Moldova, Russia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Zambia; second-timer presenters – Argentina, Armenia, Bangladesh, Belize, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Honduras, India, Kenya, Morocco, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Panama, Peru, Samoa, Slovenia, Uganda and Zimbabwe; and third-time presenter Benin.
Ahead of the 2021 HLPF session, six countries have signaled their intention to present a VNR: Bhutan, China, Czech Republic, Germany, Lao, Marshall Islands, Slovakia, Spain, Thailand. [UNDP-TAP project website] [UN webpage on VNRs]