There is increasing focus on data and its transformational power in today’s world. As the global community works toward the ambitious 17 Sustainable Development Goals, it is essential to use the power of numbers to track progress toward the 169 associated targets. Tracking and communication of statistical follow-up can enable evidence-based decision making and create the necessary transparency for non-governmental stakeholders to meaningfully engage and hold leaders to account.
At the national level, the task involves combined efforts of various government entities – from planning ministries working to match indicators of global commitments with national priorities, to statistics offices analysing the data and crunching the numbers, to local representatives knocking door-to-door notepad in hand, sending surveys or sitting on the ground in villages attempting to collect the voices necessary to ensure ‘no one is left behind’ by Agenda 2030.
From Tanzania to Colombia, Indonesia to Armenia, representatives of planning ministries and statistical agencies arrived in Stockholm in mid-May to discuss the important challenge of aligning the international development goals with national action plans and existing reporting systems. Together with representatives from South Africa, Namibia, Tunisia, and also Sweden, the group totaled eight countries.
The group shared experiences and lessons across their countries of diverse size and statistical resources. With a focus on finding solutions, the representatives struggle with many of the same questions and shared insights about their approaches to important data crutching questions.
‘Departments report only once on the Integrated Indicators Framework so there will be one clear estimate in the public domain,’ said Mr Sieraag de Klerk of Statistics South Africa. South Africa has developed a framework that integrates indicators of all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Africa Union Agenda 2063, and their national plans. ‘The Statistician General works with ministries to fill information gaps by working with departments, introducing new collections or closing down duplicate collections.’
Tanzania has also worked to integrate and streamline Agenda 2030 and five-year national plans, shared Dr Lorah Madete, Tanzania’s Principal Economist from Ministry of Finance and Planning. ‘This allows for better alignment of development interventions and a data roadmap brings Tanzania’s other regional agreements into coherence with the plans.’
In some instances, the SDGs provided a challenge in coordination and the need to develop new standards and benchmarks. Sweden shared that the figures necessary for reporting on the SDGs is a much bigger mandate than Statistics Sweden currently has in data collection. Currently, 27 Swedish governmental agencies are responsible for the SDGs and different types of reporting. In order to fulfil Sweden’s ambitions in reporting for the vast and ambitious Global Goals, explained Cecilia Chroona, Coordinator for Agenda 2030 at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs ‘Statistics Sweden was tasked to propose a system of analysis and national targets’. Sara Frankl, SDG Coordinator at Statistics Sweden, described how Sweden is experiencing many of the same challenges as the other countries in identifying the reporting structure and national integrated indicators that weighs in several dimensions of sustainable development.
Indonesia’s Ministry of National Planning and the statistics office work together closely on 85 national indicators. Sharing their experience with Sweden and others, Dr. Amalia Adininggar Widyasanti, Senior Adviser to the Minister for Economic Affairs of Indonesia explained that 76 additional proxy indicators are being updated to match global indicators for Agenda 2030 in Indonesia.
Armenia created a Roadmap to nationalise Agenda 2030 with participatory working groups. Ms Anahit Safyan, Head of International Statistical Cooperation of Statistical Committee of Armenia presented that the Armenian statistical council within an inter-agency commission is creating national indicators through partnerships with the United Nations, civil society and government ministries. This inclusive process was important to other nations as well and emphasised by Hanna Nelson of the Swedish delegation for the 2030 Agenda. ‘Stakeholders from around Sweden, including youth, are involved in monitoring as well as communicating about the Sustainable Development Goals.’
Dr Isak Neema of the Namibian Statistics Agency explained that, ‘Quality assurance is not one point in review and therefore Namibia is developing a multi-step process in order to produce validated data for the SDGs.’ Data quality and availability were key issues raised in the discussions by all countries throughout the peer learning event. It is an issue that will be important for national and international effort to track toward the Global Goals and communicate progress to the public.
Digital SDG portals
During the past two years, the Colombian government has embarked on an ambitious process to set up structures for the implementation of the SDGs. Adriana Castro Gonzalez, Department of National Planning and the Technical Secretariat of the Colombian SDG Commission, explained the various steps taken, including the recent launch of a digital SDG portal to track and communicate the implementation of the SDGs. The portal has been developed by Colombia’s National Department of Planning and National Statistics Office in collaboration with Data Act Lab, through a project funded by the Swedish Government.
Such digital platforms that visualise the national progress on the SDGs can serve several purposes. By communicating government priorities and data to underpin evidence of progress (and lack thereof). Digital platforms can increase awareness and buy-in among a wider audience, stimulate debate and efforts to hold governments to account, and incentivise all responsible parties to improve their efforts on reaching the goals. While political commitment and availability of data sets are necessary when developing a tracking platform, the process itself can also be a driver for further commitments and data collection.
Based on the lessons learnt and the technology from the Colombia portal Data Act Lab, supported by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, is developing the digital SDG platform Goal Tracker. It will enable countries and their citizens to visually track implementation of the SDGs and the countries’ related policies using the latest technologies. Designed to be country-led and user-friendly, the online platform is open-access and can be tailored to any specific country, translating complex data on development priorities into innovative and accessible information.
Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation welcomed the opportunity to bring together Armenia, Colombia, Indonesia, Namibia, Tanzania, Tunisia, South Africa, and Sweden to share their experiences through peer learning. It hopes to continue to support the effort toward accessible data that provides public knowledge and enables evidence-based action by individuals and governments.
Adriana Castro Gonzalez from the Department of National Planning in Colombia talks about their ground-breaking Sustainable Development Goals data platform.