Partners for Review (P4R) has released a report comprising conclusions from a comparative analysis of Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) submitted to the July 2019 session of the UN High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development (HLPF). The report calls for strengthening systematic assessments and reviews of progress from one VNR to the next, and ensuring continuity between reports, in cases when a country reports to the HLPF more than once.

VNRs are a component of the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda, and are carried out voluntarily by national governments to track progress in implementing the Agenda and its SDGs at the country level. VNRs are presented during the annual HLPF sessions convened under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Since 2016, 158 VNRs have been presented by 142 countries at the Forum. The P4R report focuses on the 47 countries that conducted a VNR process and reported to the 2019 HLPF. 

About half of VNR second-timers indicated that stakeholder engagement had expanded since their first VNR.

The report titled, ‘Voluntary National Reviews submitted to the 2019 High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development – a Comparative Analysis,’ includes sections discussing: general VNR features, including their reference to the UN Secretary-General’s Voluntary Common Reporting Guidelines for VNRs; institutional mechanisms for the review process; mainstreaming and policy coherence; stakeholder engagement; statistics and data; and lessons learned, reflections and progress made by second time VNR countries.

The report finds that the reviewing countries have taken ownership of their VNR processes, and their reports detail efforts made and approaches used in the VNR process and their SDG implementation. At the institutional level, the report finds that, inter alia:

  • most of the 2019 VNRs emphasized facilitating a coherent SDG implementation process comprising both a “whole-of-government” and a “whole-of-society” approach;
  • comprehensive reporting on the role of a country’s parliament and, to some degree, its supreme audit institution (SAI), indicates the growing role that parliaments and audit institutions play in both the VNR process and SDG implementation efforts;
  • while some countries reported on new constitutional provisions aimed at regulating the implementation of the SDGs, only a few countries reported having established specific legally binding instruments;
  • the SDGs are increasingly incorporated into national budgets, but cost analyses of the SDGs only feature in a few VNR reports;
  • there are few SDG monitoring and evaluation mechanisms and standardized procedures for national follow-up and review; and
  • self-assessment and concrete feedback on the quality and effectiveness of the SDG institutional arrangements is limited.

On mainstreaming and policy coherence, the report finds significant progress on integrating the SDGs into national development plans, but notes that comprehensive approaches aimed at strengthening integrated and cross-sectoral strategies are still in the early stages of the SDG implementation processes. The report further finds that there is “considerable room” to scale up SDG localization efforts, but points to several good practices, such as integrating the SDGs into local plans, involving local stakeholders in institutional and coordination mechanisms, awareness raising, local data collection and monitoring. It also states that the majority of countries express a commitment to the principle of leaving no one behind, but only a few concrete examples describe how the principle is approached comprehensively.
On stakeholder engagement, the publication finds that countries demonstrate a strong commitment to engaging stakeholders across society. However, mechanisms to engage stakeholders in the VNR process are rarely described in detail, and the lack of awareness of the SDGs is an ongoing challenge.

According to the report, statistics and data for SDG monitoring and review is a work in progress. Most countries expressed a need to: strengthen the national statistical systems; scale up the availability of data; bridge data gaps; develop, identify and align indicators with national priorities; and disaggregate data and standardize methodologies and data collection efforts. The report also notes progress on SDG monitoring and review efforts at the local level.

On the seven countries that reported to the HLPF for the second time in 2019 (Azerbaijan, Chile, Guatemala, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sierra Leone and Turkey), the report indicates that follow-up action, experiences and impact from the first VNR process feature in many of the reports. It adds that progress since the first report was mainly reported in thematic areas and, in some cases, on monitoring and reviewing activities, and about half of VNR second-timers indicated that stakeholder engagement had improved and expanded since their first VNR.

Among other recommendations, the report points to the need for:

  • continued work to build on the interlinkages of the SDGs, including the trade-offs;
  • focus more on actions, partnerships and implementation efforts that respond to multi-sectoral sustainable development challenges, including in addressing the principle of leaving no one behind;
  • reporting on institutionalized mechanisms and the establishment of stakeholder engagement plans, including how different groups are engaged;
  • increasing systematic and strategic communication and outreach approaches to increase public knowledge on the SDGs; 
  • developing, identifying and aligning indicators with national priorities and standardizing methodologies and data collection efforts across government, including at the local level; and
  • strengthening systematic assessments and reviews of progress from one VNR to the next, and ensuring continuity between reports, for example by including a chapter in the VNR report that captures progress, lessons learned, challenges and impact from a previous VNR reporting process to the following one.

P4R is a network for government representatives and stakeholders involved in processes to review and monitor action by countries around the world to achieve the SDGs. P4R is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, after being initiated in 2016 by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU). The network held its seventh meeting in Hanoi, Viet Nam, from from 11-13 November 2019. [Publication: Voluntary National Reviews submitted to the 2019 High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development – a Comparative Analysis] [P4R Website] [UN Website on VNRs