Effective follow-up and review (FUR) is instrumental to guiding and strengthening effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. By evaluating progress towards implementation, it endeavours to improve accountability, enhance peer learning through exchange of good practices, and mobilize support.
Member States have the primary responsibility for follow-up and review, at the national, regional and global levels, in relation to the progress made in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and related targets. A systematic follow-up and review framework will be robust, voluntary, effective, highly participatory, transparent, integrated and will consider national priorities and capacities.
The 2030 Agenda outlines a set of guiding principles, which include:
- Voluntary & country led reporting to track progress on implementing the SDGs coupled with rigorous, robust, data driven, evidence based evaluations;
- Long-term orientation, and identification of challenges, gaps and critical success and failure factors;
- Ensuring an open, inclusive, participatory, and transparent process; and
- Building on existing platforms and processes that respond to national circumstance, capacities, needs and priorities.
To reinforce national accountability and ownership, the outcomes of the FUR processes held at national level lay the foundations for the FUR at regional and global levels. The latter processes, in fact, rely primarily on national data sources.
The proposed follow-up and review architecture emphasizes a multi-layered structure with the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the global level, supported by peer review mechanisms at the regional and subregional level, such as the annual Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD), and strong national level accountability processes. Given the highly inclusive and transparent process through which the SDGs are being defined, the global architecture must also ensure space exists for meaningful inclusion of non-state actors.
Foundations for the architecture of follow-up and review:
At the national level:
FUR processes centre on accountability. National policies are evaluated to measure progress. Engaging with a broad range of stakeholders, including representatives of civil society (CSO), indigenous people, and the private sector, is encouraged to ensure transparency.
At the regional level:
Drawing on national reviews, FUR processes emphasize peer learning and the exchange of good practices, providing an opportunity to discuss challenges and opportunities in the regional context. Outcomes contribute to shape FUR process at the global level.
Regional support to follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda is one of the agreed functions of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD), an inter-governmental mechanism convened by ESCAP on an annual basis. In fact, APFSD is now a fully recognised part of the SDG follow-up and review process and institutionalised as part of the ESCAP commission structure. The APFSD supports the region in preparation for the global level HLPF by enhancing capacity, capturing and sharing regional perspectives and supporting the review of progress toward implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
The APFSD Forum supports the FUR process at the regional level through:
- assessing progress and providing opportunities for peer learning related to the theme and goals that will be reviewed at the High-level Political Forum;
- supporting the presentation of Voluntary National Reviews; and
- undertaking periodic review of progress of the road map for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific.
At the global level:
FUR at global level takes place at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), which meets every year to reviews progress towards the 2030 Agenda through the lens of a specific theme, including an in-depth review of a subset of goals. The means of implementation and global partnerships are under review each year. The HLPF also includes voluntary national reviews (VNRs) that give individual countries the opportunity to present their progress towards the 2030 Agenda and constitute the main instruments for national reporting at the HLPF.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development devotes 18 paragraphs on the importance of a systematic follow-up and review of the implementation of the Agenda, its roles, objectives, and guiding principles. It should be noted that such a framework was not present in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), making the process of establishing an institutional mechanism for follow-up and review for the SDGs an unprecedented task for national governments.
Follow-up and review is both a management process as well as an accountability exercise. It ensures that implementation efforts are effective, that they are well founded, that strategies are appropriate and tackle the right issues, that the right institutions and stakeholders are involved and act, and that appropriate resources are provided for this effort. Review and follow-up are strictly interconnected and shall be regarded as a continuum: the one provides the diagnostics on the progress, and the other accounts for responses, ensuring that action is taken in return.
Review is a process in which the stakeholders are engaged to consider the findings of the monitoring effort and to discuss questions such as (A) does the picture of progress presented represent reality? (B) what are the underlying reasons for the picture of progress presented; (C) what are some of the most urgent needs and opportunities for boosting progress or taking remedial action? (D) what are the emerging issues?
Follow-up ensures that there is a response to the recommendations of the monitoring and review processes, and is at the heart of effective follow-up and review. It provides for action to accelerate progress. This component includes formulation of response to the findings of the monitoring and review process, including allocation of resources and identification of investment needs, adjustments in implementation plans, or change during implementation. Follow-up may involve defining new indicators that should be tracked through monitoring efforts.
SDG National Reporting Initiative
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set an ambitious agenda for countries around the world, and data is essential to help fulfill that agenda. SDG reporting can be a tool to help countries define and achieve their goals. SDG reporting refers to the act of publishing and disseminating data and statistics on the SDG indicators for key stakeholders, including UN custodian agencies, government policymakers, businesses, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and research institutions, and the general public.
Generally, there are three approaches to SDG reporting: (1) Adding a module within an existing platform; (2) Building a new platform dedicated to SDG reporting; and (3) Leveraging a regional platform. Some countries, such as Belgium or the Philippines, have added a new section to existing statistical websites or data platforms to report data on the SDGs alongside other national data and statistics. In several cases, countries are repurposing platforms used to report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Other countries are developing entirely new platforms to provide data on the SDGs. And some countries are providing data through regional platforms, such as the Africa Information Highway.
According to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, SDG reporting is led by governments and conducted in compliance with the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics. These principles are considered a basic framework that national statistical offices and other statistical organizations must follow in recognizing official statistics as a public good.
Why SDG reporting matters
SDG reporting can be a valuable tool to help governments achieve their goals by enabling policymakers to understand where their country stands in relation to the SDG targets, and how far they still need to go. Government officials can use the data to adjust their country’s development strategies, inform redistribution of resources, and engage stakeholders around specific goals. SDG reporting can also help identify data gaps, improve access to official national and subnational data and statistics, and consolidate reporting efforts to minimize national reporting burdens. Non-governmental stakeholders, such as NGOs, businesses, civil society, and others, also stand to benefit from SDG reporting. They can use benchmark data and historical data to focus their work and advocacy on persistent challenges. Valid, consistent, and transparent reporting also provides a direct mechanism for these stakeholders to hold their governments and policymakers accountable for making progress toward realizing the SDGs. A UN expert group on data for sustainable development has referred to data as “the lifeblood of decision-making,” and data can help answer many questions that are essential to decision-making in areas covered by the SDGs. For example, how many currently live in poverty? How many girls attend school? What proportion of schools have access to electricity? How many people currently have access to a bank account? The data that can answer these questions and others framed by the SDGs present a baseline level of knowledge for policymakers and other stakeholders.
Approaches to SDG reporting
To date, countries have adopted one of three approaches for reporting on the SDGs. Some countries are incorporating SDG reporting within an existing national platform. Others have developed entirely new platforms dedicated to providing data on the SDGs. And still other countries are providing their data to a regionally-maintained platform.
Adding an SDG module within an existing platform
Some countries have chosen to leverage their existing platforms to provide data on the SDG indicators as an additional module. These SDG modules are typically added to a country’s existing national statistical office (NSO) website or national open data platform. This approach often requires fewer resources than creating a new platform for SDG reporting and can be implemented quickly but can be limited by the existing features on the NSO website. Countries that have adopted this approach to SDG reporting include: Belgium, France, and the Philippines.
Building a new platform dedicated to SDG reporting
Several countries are using centralized national reporting platforms (NRPs) to report on their progress. NRPs can be understood as a means “to report and disseminate national statistics including SDG indicators and descriptive metadata [...] in an easily accessible way to reach all target users. Target users may encompass government officials and policymakers, members of academia, non-governmental organizations and nonprofits, international organizations, media and other information providers, business community, as well as individual users.” A standalone reporting platform for the SDGs can make it easier for a country’s government to coordinate data across different ministries, departments, and subnational bodies, and allow users to find all data related to the SDG indicators in one place. Countries that have adopted this approach include the United Kingdom, United States, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, and others.
Leveraging a regional platform
Several regional bodies have developed platforms allowing countries to provide and display data on the SDGs, and in some cases compare their progress to other countries in the region. The platforms provide a number of features, such as visualizations, to help users explore the data and because the development and implementation of the platforms is done by the regional bodies, countries have to dedicate fewer resources to reporting and developing NRPs. Examples of regional platforms include the Africa Information Highway and the Asia-Pacific SDG Partnership.
The SDG National Reporting Initiative, which is being led by the Center for Open Data Enterprise (CODE), developed an overview of SDG reporting as well as demos of NRP platforms, a webinar on SDG reporting, and an inventory of NRPs and related documents.
The SDG Monitoring and Reporting Toolkit for UN Country Teams is a resource designed to support national governments in the monitoring and reporting on the SDGs.
The Open SDG Platform is an open-source platform that is free to use and is being implemented in a number of countries. Visit the Quick Start guide and the GitHub page to learn more. Visit the translations page to help add multilingual capacity and use the translations for your own SDG website.
Voluntary Local Review
Voluntary Local Review (VLR) is an initiative in which the local government voluntarily reviews the status of its efforts on the Agenda 2030 and its SDGs and publishes the results as a report in the format of the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) report. This aims to facilitate the sharing of experiences, including actual steps, successes, challenges and lessons learnt, among local and regional governments, as well as to mobilise local stakeholder support to these efforts. It intends to complement the VNR process by reporting the local progress on and obstacles related to the implementation of SDGs and data collection.
VLR Lab enhances local governments’ ability to disseminate information and findings globally, and to do so more smoothly. It does so by serving as an online centralized information hub for VLRs by sub-national and local governments, as they provide details such as location, size and important goals, in addition to actual cases from the model local governments. In this way, local governments can use VLR Lab as an open space for peer-learning.