2019 Global Citizenship Review
Students in class

The quality of measurement

Cross-border teams of our lawyers examined all Voluntary National Reviews submitted to the United Nations between 2016 and 2019 to assess whether, and to what extent, Member States reported on their implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 16 and 24 related targets

White & Case is a founding member of the Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies. Created in 2016, when the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (measured by 169 targets), the Global Alliance is a coordinating platform for Member States, UN entities, the private sector and civil society organizations to work together on reporting, measuring and tracking progress on Goal 16, which aims to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

By identifying trends, challenges and reporting gaps, our work allows the Global Alliance and Member States to more effectively direct resources and assistance toward achieving the 2030 Agenda.

Laura Garr, associate, New York

UN Member States report their progress on all 17 SDGs by submitting Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). Since 2016, countries have submitted a total of 158 VNRs, with seven countries reporting for a second time in 2019.

Since 2016, at the request of the Global Alliance, cross-border teams of our lawyers, working pro bono and led by partner Owen Pell and associate Laura Garr in New York, examined the VNRs submitted each year to assess whether, and to what extent, Member States reported on their implementation of SDG 16 and 24 related targets (SDG16+ targets). We also assess how Member States self-report on the reporting and implementation process itself, and the stakeholders and data involved.

“SDG 16 is an umbrella for many of the other SDGs and underpins the 2030 Agenda overall,” said Laura. “No state can achieve a peaceful, just and inclusive society without making significant progress on the other goals, such as reducing inequality, providing quality education or advancing gender equality. Multi-stakeholder action is also critical for SDG progress. This project is important because it identifies trends and gaps in VNR reporting and highlights ongoing challenges that Member States face in implementing and reporting on SDG16+ targets, such as the availability of reliable data and the involvement of civil society, the private sector and marginalized groups in advancing the 2030 Agenda. By identifying trends, challenges and reporting gaps, our work allows the Global Alliance and Member States to more effectively direct resources and assistance toward achieving the 2030 Agenda.”

White & Case assesses:

  • Whether the VNRs reported on the SDG16+ targets
  • The extent of such reporting
  • The sources of data used
  • Whether there is disaggregated and reliable data available for particular targets
  • Whether the VNR was reported to be the result of an inclusive, participatory process
  • Whether the private sector was involved in implementation and reporting
  • Which other stakeholders were included in the reporting and implementation process

In 2019, we also analyzed the role of often marginalized groups, such as women and youth, in reporting and implementing SDG16+ targets. In addition, for Member States that submitted more than one VNR, we compared the 2019 report to that country’s prior submission. We have been able to assess which SDG16+ targets and indicators are most and least reported and compare such reporting trends with prior years. We also determined which Member States have the highest level of SDG16+ targets reporting.

Our review has also found that Member States are increasingly reporting on multi-stakeholder involvement in the reporting process. In 2019, all 47 reporting Member States noted that their VNRs were the result of an inclusive and participatory process with a variety of stakeholders as compared with roughly 60 percent in 2017. The consultations described were often very extensive, took place in several phases and involved a broad range of stakeholders, including from the public sector, civil society, academia, the private sector and other interest groups.

There is also an increase in reporting on the involvement of the private sector, with 46 of the 47 2019 VNRs reporting collaboration or assistance from the private sector versus roughly half in 2017.

The VNRs have also become more comprehensive and detailed over time. Nearly all of the 2018 and 2019 VNRs reported SDG16+ targets to some extent. Many countries provided detailed statistics for at least some of the SDG16+ targets and indicators. A few countries also reported establishing online sites to post their 2030 Agenda statistics.

On the other hand, the VNRs make clear that there are very serious challenges to collecting reliable data required for measuring progress. No country was able to support its analysis of all SDG indicators with data. Some Member States expressly highlighted the lack of statistical data in their VNR, and even countries with data are often reliant on a variety of sources with varying methodologies for collection and reporting.

“The VNR process is young, involves myriad SDG targets requiring many different types of data and includes Member States with significant differences in national resources for collecting and reporting data,” said Owen Pell. “It is not surprising that progress on reporting is developing slowly, or that progress is incremental. But the fact that Member States are reporting and developing a language around SDG 16 is significant. This developing vocabulary will enhance transparency and accountability around the SDG process, and will make it more likely that resources can be directed meaningfully toward progressing the building of just, accountable and inclusive societies.”

Our findings have been presented by Owen, Laura and Head of Global Citizenship Jo Giessler Weiss and informed the dialogue at a number of cross-sectoral venues, including the UN’s 2019 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), the May 2019 conference in preparation for HLPF 2019 hosted by the TAP Network and the International Development Law Organization in Rome, and the 2018 16+ Forum organized by the World Federation of United Nations Associations in Sierra Leone. They are also used in consultative sessions organized by UN entities for countries preparing VNRs, and have informed a number of efforts underway to help countries improve the scope and quality of their data.

Image: // Togo, 2017 © Steve McCurry / Magnum Photos


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