24 January 2024
A Regional Approach to Reporting: The Voluntary Regional Review
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Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, may be a suitable region for a VRR given its geographic isolation, economic constraints, and strong regional identity.

Analyzing 32 SDG progress reports and interviewing a diverse set of Vancouver Island interest holders yielded the following six recommendations for effective regional reporting.

By Theodore Koen, Matt Walker, Keira Wortman, MBA Capstone Project (2023), University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada  

Sustainable development reporting has gained global momentum as countries and cities track progress towards the SDGs through Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) and Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs), respectively. A proposed middle-ground approach is the Voluntary Regional Review (VRR) which may define a region based on geographical, economic, and social factors, highlighting unique regional issues.

For example, Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, may be a suitable region for a VRR given its geographic isolation, economic constraints, and strong regional identity. Overarching best practices from VLRs and VNRs apply, such as the Sustainable Development Goals Handbook for Canadian Communities, but additional considerations may be required to generate value from regional reporting. Analyzing 32 SDG progress reports and interviewing a diverse set of Vancouver Island interest holders yielded the following six recommendations for effective regional reporting.

1. A VRR should be performed and owned by a non-governmental entity, but should also secure government buy-in.

One unique aspect of a VRR is the lack of a centralized governmental entity to oversee the initiative. To address this, one or more non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should spearhead VRR efforts. Clarity on roles, responsibilities, funding arrangements, and participation is paramount for successfully driving such an initiative. Since a VRR will likely not be a government-led initiative, support from governments is nevertheless critical for funding opportunities, interest-holder engagement, and policy support for report outcomes.

2. Engage with interest-holder groups early and purposefully, particularly Indigenous communities, marginalized communities, and academic entities to ensure a comprehensive and informed approach for the VRR.

A VRR must ensure it accurately reflects the region’s communities and pays specific attention to voices often marginalized or underrepresented. Interest-holder groups should be engaged at the outset of the initiative to guide the reporting direction and ensure their active involvement. Early and thoughtful engagement fosters meaningful collaboration, enhancing ownership and commitment to the VRR process and the SDGs. Special attention must be paid to engaging Indigenous communities and should align with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Additionally, academic entities can have valuable contributions. Los Angeles’ successful engagement of student task forces in their 2021 VLR demonstrated that collaboration with universities can play a pivotal role in report development.

3. Leverage and complement existing initiatives to maximize efficiency and add value.

Before undertaking a VRR, it is important to understand the regional landscape to see what sustainable development tracking and reporting is being done to avoid duplicating efforts. Assessing existing VLRs, economic development plans, Vital Signs reports (such as the 2023 Greater Victoria Vital Signs Report), and other reports could reveal gaps a VRR could fill or help identify datasets and indicators that a VRR could leverage. Additionally, understanding the regional initiatives and organizations could inform effective approaches for data collection and interest-holder engagement by tapping into existing networks built throughout the region.

4. Have a clear, robust methodology for collecting, analyzing, and reporting on data focusing on key differentiators of a regional focus.

Data collection, analysis, and reporting for a regional context must identify regional datasets with the right level of data disaggregation. Datasets at a regional scale are at risk of being influenced more heavily by areas with higher populations, resulting in the underrepresentation of less populated areas. Understanding the sub-regional areas that make up the broader region is vital to ensure that the data best suit the needs of the interest-holders. It is important to identify meaningful indicators for the regional context to accurately tell the story of the region.

5. Clearly outline the purpose of the VRR to ensure that the report is of the correct scope, is tailored to the regional issues, and is in a format that the end users can leverage for their efforts.

A VRR should have a clearly outlined purpose tailored to the issues most pressing for the region. By tailoring a VRR to pressing issues, the report could be of value to organizations by providing information to support their resource allocation, decision making, and program offerings by highlighting community needs. To focus the report, an SDG prioritization approach could be used, similar to the VLR from the Province of Córdoba, Argentina. Engagement with groups across the region before designing a VRR approach should be completed to identify the region’s major challenges and a reporting format that works for everyone.

6. Advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through education and transparent methodology.

A VRR can help advance the 2030 Agenda by offering unique opportunities for public engagement and education that include rural communities who may not have had the opportunity to partake in monitoring the progress towards the SDGs in the past. Additionally, outlining and sharing the methodology used for a VRR can encourage more widespread adoption of regional reporting in different parts of the world and standardizing approaches for better comparisons among regions reporting on the SDGs. Transparent methods, as exemplified by the 2021 report titled, ‘SDG Localisation and Multi-level Governance: Lessons from the Basque Country,’ help others learn from mistakes and promote global sustainable development reporting best practices.

In conclusion, VRRs offer an intriguing possibility for a reporting scale that is not just defined by administrative boundaries but rather regional characteristics that could help tell different stories. By following the available best practices and by keeping these recommendations in mind, a VRR has the potential to help communities see a better tomorrow.


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