Civil society needs to get involved in SDG monitoring: Business as usual is not an option

Monitoring is a key element of the 2030 Agenda -- and lies at the heart of the data revolution. Debates around the data revolution and SDG monitoring often focus on the need for more and better data, and for capacity building in developing countries. This focus is justified, given the large gaps in data availability and data use. However, the international debate about the data revolution and SDG monitoring should not neglect the situation in high income countries. One obvious reason is that the 2030 Agenda is a challenge for all countries, and this paradigm shift should also be reflected in monitoring. A less obvious reason is that the challenges and responsibilities of high income countries are quite specific, and the indicators of the UN Statistical Commission do not always reflect these specific responsibilities.

For example, for SDG 3.3 one official indicator agreed by the UN Statistical Commission is "malaria incidence per 1000 population". But there is no indicator for this SDG related to patent rights and the efforts of high income countries to facilitate the production of low cost medicines. Similarly, the UN Statistical Commission has agreed the indicator "number of seized small arms" to measure SDG 16.4 (illicit arms flows), but no indicator on weapons exports violating the EU Code of Conduct on weapons export or similar agreements. For the same SDG, the official indicator is the volume of illicit financial flows, but there is no indicator for the lack of financial transparency in high income countries facilitating illicit financial flows.

Obviously, there was a real challenge to limit the overall number indicators, while at the same time to do justice to differences between countries. But each country is also supposed to develop its national monitoring process -- and at this level, regional diversity is a much smaller challenge. Yet even at a national level, the choice of indicators is a highly political undertaking, and will reflect the priorities of national governments. There is a risk that governments will shy away from some indicators considered “too critical” or those which have highly ambitious target values.

Take the example of Germany: Germany is often cited as a model country because of its existing mechanisms and institutions to implement the 2030 Agenda. Germany has a national sustainability council comprising eminent personalities from civil society and science, a sustainability commission in parliament, a high-level inter-ministerial body for sustainability, and a national sustainability strategy since 2003. All very well. In May 2016, the German government published its new draft sustainability strategy, which is supposed to be the key document for the implementation of the SDGs. But this draft strategy has been heavily criticised by many civil society organisations, including the sustainability council, as not being ambitious enough. The indicators proposed in this strategy only cover 42 of the 169 targets; the number of indicators added since the last indicator report in 2014 was 18, bringing the overall number of indicators to 58. Beyond the number there are many gaps in the indicators. It is no surprise that the German government has not included indicators on patent rights, weapon exports or on financial secrecy. Unfortunately, the draft strategy does not include any target values and but there are concerns in civil society organisations about target values being too low.

So what can we do? What is the role of civil society in this situation? For us at the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, the answer is, that civil society in high income countries should join forces to hold our governments to account. And if our governments are not willing to choose ambitious indicators, we in civil society should step up to the challenge!

Based on this conviction, we have worked for the last 15 months on a prototype for SDG monitoring in high income countries -- 2030 Watch. The online tool is far from perfect, but it is a proof of concept and we are very happy to present the English version of the tool now.

The tool has five key elements:

  1. The tool focuses only on high income countries and policy areas where there is need for increased efforts by these countries.

  2. To do this, we complement official indicators with unofficial indicators, that are appropriate to measure the SDG targets

  3. We use data from official sources, like Eurostat and the OECD, and data from civil society organisations; as much as the licences allow, we make the data downloadable.

  4. We collaborate with civil society organisations and research institutes who “adopt” indicators and propose appropriate optimum values to assess the performance of countries. For example, the international Tax Justice Network is our data partner for the secrecy of financial markets using their own index. The German Association of LGBTI people is data partner for inclusive rights, using the Rainbow Europe Index of the European LGBTI association ILGA. And our data partner Unfair Tobacco has adopted the official SDG indicator of the UN Statistics commission, which they measure with WHO data.

  5. The tool offers country comparisons across indicators to provide users with an insight into which countries are really champions and in which areas even champions need to make a lot of progress.

2030 Watch is still a prototype which has been developed with scarce resources and a lot of voluntary work. We are well aware of “hiccups” in the tool and the data, and will continue to make improvements. Despite the remaining challenges, we feel that 2030 Watch already demonstrates that civil society monitoring is possible.

2030Watch is open source, and as much as possible we enable the download of data for all indicators. So you can use 2030Watch to find how your country is doing in the implementation of the global sustainability agenda -- though there are still some data gaps for the US! You can also join the effort by becoming a data partner for individual indicators and make 2030 Watch a credible monitoring site. And you can also help us with your feedback or by sharing the tool in your networks. We'd love to work with you to ensure that business as usual is no longer an option!

This guest post was written by Claudia Schwegmann of Open Knowledge Foundation Germany.

Image: SDGs Twitter @GlobalGoals17

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