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SDG Indicators: Building the Missing Piece of the 2030 Agenda

When the UN General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015, it handed a monumental task to the UN Statistical Commission: to create a set of indicators (specific ways of measuring) progress toward the 17 goals. This piece of the development agenda is absolutely critical, because we live in a data-driven era; development project leaders and funders are loathe to undertake a project unless they have numerical evidence of the problem it will address and a viable plan for collecting data that will demonstrate its impact on that problem. We are therefore unlikely to address any issues about which, or needs of any populations on whom, we lack data.

After many months of negotiations with Member States and some input from civil society, the Statistical Commission and a group of experts from various UN agencies (IAEG) were able to reach general agreement on a set of 232 indicators. They then met this March to finalize their recommendation to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the General Assembly. They recommended that ECOSOC adopt the indicators and plan for collecting data on them that was developed by the IAEG. This “indicator framework” (available only in English at this time) is to be voluntary and country-led, which means no Member State will be legally bound to collect data on the recommended indicators, that national statistics offices will lead the data collection effort, States will be consulted on all models used to estimate data on their status when data is unavailable, and that States will be the owners of the data collected on their own populations and territories. The Statistical Commission also proposed that it would undertake an annual refinement of the chosen indicators and perform a full review of their effectiveness every five years. Finally, the SC called on States, UN agencies, and international partners to increase their logistical and monetary support for data collection efforts and upon the UN Secretary-General to uphold transparency in the SDG monitoring process by maintaining a public database on the agreed upon SDG indicators whose contents can be included in an annual progress report on the SDGs.

The next step for the SC’s indicator framework is discussion and refinement by the political delegations of the ECOSOC between April and July 2017. It will then move forward for implementation by the GA. Only then will this critical operative piece of the SDG machinery be in place and the 2030 Agenda made whole and fully functional. (Top illustration source: New York Times)