Statisticians Take up SDG Indicator Development, Data and Capacity Needs
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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Presenting the report of the IAEG-SDGs, Mexico noted that the number of Tier 3 indicators has been reduced, thanks to methodological development work by custodian agencies and countries.

The UN Statistical Commission's 49th session is convening from 6-9 March 2018, in New York, US.

Participants have stressed the "widening need for data" to implement the 2030 Agenda, and exchanged views on the tasks before countries, agencies and the UN in order to refine the indicator set, improve national-global data flows, and address new burdens on countries' statistical systems.

6 March 2018: The 49th session of the UN Statistical Commission began with a lengthy discussion of the report of the UN Inter-Agency and Expert Group on the SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs). Participants stressed the “widening need for data” to implement the 2030 Agenda, and exchanged views on the tasks before countries, agencies and the UN in order to refine the indicator set, improve national-global data flows, and address new burdens on countries’ statistical systems.

The Commission opened its session on 6 March 2018, in New York, US, with the election of Zachary Mwangi, Director General of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, as the chair of the UNSC bureau. Mwangi stressed need for capacity-building in all countries to enable statistical systems to meet widening need for data for the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Liu Zhenmin, head of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), cited the “unprecedented demand” created by the need for timely, disaggregated data as well as for collecting data on new topics, in order to measure progress on the SDGs. Resources for strengthening and modernizing national statistical systems’ capacities have not been adequate for these new responsibilities, he said. Liu added that reforms in DESA will reorient the UN towards SDG implementation and stronger support for Member States.

Mexico’s representative as co-chair of the IAEG-SDGs introduced the Group’s report. He noted that the number of Tier 3 indicators has been reduced, thanks to methodological development work by custodian agencies and countries. As of 1 December 2017, the global indicator framework comprised: 93 indicators in Tier 1; 66 indicators in Tier 2; and 68 indicators in Tier 3. Five additional indicators have components in different tiers. Mexico noted that the background paper on guidelines on data flows and global data reporting for the SDGs provides overarching principles, and the IAEG will continue to work with agencies to develop the document.

In the Commission’s debate on the IAEG report and related papers, many States welcomed the guidelines as a step towards transparency and international comparability of data, as well as toward country ownership of the SDG monitoring process. Some underscored the need for custodian agencies to inform countries of adjustments made to their data, with CARICOM stressing the need also to receive confirmation and approval from the country before submitting the data for global compilation. The EU suggested exploring the potential of a federated system of data hubs. Brazil called for a “collaborative and agile environment” between NSOs and other data producers, as well as between NSOs and custodial agencies. Many also welcomed the creation of a timetable or a calendar to guide data transmission to compile the global indicators, along with a list of contact persons in the custodial agencies and NSOs.

Korea noted an imbalance in monitoring progress toward all 17 Goals, and suggested the use of proxy indicators for those remaining in Tier 3.

Some States commented on the benefits of prioritization. On disaggregation, the EU suggested an exercise to determine which categories are really required by the 2030 Agenda. The Netherlands echoed this plea, citing the need to address feasibility. On monitoring and producing the indicators, Cuba supported a prioritization process at the national level, to select indicators, while Bangladesh said 19 indicators have been chosen for it to generate first.

Among other country-specific initiatives: the Netherlands reported on a consultation with civil society to fill information gaps, which resulted in a “significant increase in the number of indicators for which data are available.” Kyrgyzstan said it is building a national platform for SDG accountability, and Bangladesh announced the establishment of a high-level committee headed by the Prime Minister to oversee SDG implementation and monitoring. In Cuba, the SDGs are a “maximum priority” in the national statistical office, and the government has begun preparing its first national report on SDG implementation using nationally available indicators including information from civil society.

On further development of the indicator set, the Republic of Korea suggested the creation of “tentative indicators” to serve as proxies for Tier 3 indicators while their methodological development is completed. She noted that more than half of the indicators in SDGs 12, 13 and 14 are still classified as Tier 3, which is causing an imbalance in monitoring progress of the 17 Goals. Brazil expressed concern about ensuring that the custodial agencies follow the work plan for methodological development of Tier 3 indicators, asking “who will pressure” them to stick to the timeline. The Netherlands raised the process by which additional indicators would be adopted, and noted its preference to replace current indicators that are vague or hard to quantify.

On alternative sources of data, the Russian Federation said these should be used only on a temporary basis until the national statistical systems have all of the indicators. Switzerland’s representative noted the ongoing negotiations on the global compact for migration, and urged the statistical community to involve itself early, following the good experience with doing so for the 2030 Agenda.

The 49th session will continue until 9 March, in New York, US. The IAEG will convene its next meeting (IAEG-SDGs 7) in April, in Vienna, Austria. The objectives will be to: review the tier classification of the indicators; discuss implementation of the guidelines on data flows/global data reporting; discuss developing a document on best practices in global data reporting; review proposals for additional indicators as part of the 2020 comprehensive review; discuss progress on data disaggregation; and share experiences in monitoring the SDGs, including the development and use of national data platforms. The members-only meeting will take place on 9 April, followed by a plenary session of three days (10-12 April) during which all countries, entities and stakeholders are invited to attend. [Remarks of USG Liu] [UNSC 49 Webpage] [IAEG-SDGs 7 Tentative Agenda] [IAEG-SDGs 7 Webpage] [DESA News]


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