Partners for Review and Action for Sustainable Development organized a half-day peer exchange to discuss what makes civil society participation meaningful in SDG follow-up and review processes.
Experiences from Austria, Ghana, and Kenya illustrated good practices in collaboration to prepare for VNRs and produce shadow reports.
The chair said civil society should be part of governments’ VNR presentations, ideally as a part of the official delegation with costs covered by the government.
Partners for Review (P4R) and Action for Sustainable Development (A4SD) organized a half-day peer exchange to discuss what makes civil society participation meaningful in SDG follow-up and review processes. Experiences from Austria, Ghana, and Kenya illustrated good practices in collaboration to prepare for voluntary national reviews (VNRs) and produce shadow reports.
Welcoming participants to the virtual event on 2 June 2021, the organizers and chair said there is no longer a question of whether civil society should be integrated into SDG follow-up processes, as the SDGs cannot be met without civil society’s full involvement, but questions remain about the best way to do so.
Even in undemocratic contexts, shadow reports can be a constructive tool in supporting the government.
A speaker observed at the start of the 2030 Agenda some governments expected civil society engagement to be “hostile” and create constant pressure, but instead civil society has generally engaged in constructive dialogue. He suggested that even in undemocratic contexts, shadow reports can be a constructive tool that supports, rather than embarrasses, the government.
On collaborating with a government on its VNR, speakers suggested starting early, ensuring the report includes concrete next steps on improving stakeholder collaboration in the future, and setting conditions for the collaboration including an “exit strategy” for the civil society partners (for example, ending their collaboration with the government and instead preparing an independent shadow report). It was noted that shadow reporting can be resource-intensive, as experts may need to be engaged on a consulting basis, and workshops or other participatory tools are needed to ensure inclusiveness and ownership. As for the timing of shadow reports, it was suggested that they be available several months before the government finishes the official VNR, to enhance influencing opportunities.
One participant observed that often a country “wakes up for nine months” to produce a great VNR, but no action takes place after the report is presented to the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). It is an important challenge to institutionalize and localize review, to keep governments’ attention on the SDGs, the discussion emphasized.
Other insights from the discussion included:
- Mapping stakeholders and landscapes for civic participation can make it easier to create synergies among CSOs, and help governments with the complex task of reaching out;
- Organized or institutionalized relationships between governments and stakeholders often leads to better SDG implementation, by ensuring action can continue from one administration to another, and providing a central mechanism to discuss follow-up and next steps;
- Countries should create a road map of their national SDG implementation for the next nine years and the VNRs they still plan to conduct;
- A methodology developed by the UN Development Programme suggests three steps for monitoring before VNRs: 1) collect data and develop national indicators; 2) engage stakeholders; and 3) conduct a scorecard exercise to institutionalize monitoring in a way that is accessible to stakeholders.
Closing the event, the chair expressed hope for more formalized involvement between civil society and government, both at national and global levels. He said civil society should be part of governments’ VNR presentations, ideally as a part of the official delegation with costs covered by the government. [Meeting summary]