Leave No One Invisible: Data for SDG Accountability


24 Aug, 2016

By Trinanjan Radhakrishnan

In September 2015, at the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Summit, 193 countries unanimously adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now that the initial fanfare has died down, the real work towards their realisation can begin.

The foundation of the SDGs architecture- targets and indicators, frameworks for national implementation plans, monitoring and evaluation of efforts, mechanisms for SDG accountability- rests on open, timely and comparable data. Indeed, data will be one of the fundamental elements of the accountability framework for the SDGs. In order to assess progress of these goals, they have to be measured but measurement is only possible when there are indicators that capture change, either quantitatively or qualitatively. What gets measured gets done.

"Sound data must be at the core of our efforts...enable countries to contribute more reliable information to the regional and global measurement of gains and gaps alike", UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said in a recent statement referring to the SDGs.

The gargantuan challenge that confronts the SDGs- 169 targets and their corresponding indicators across 193 countries- has brought the importance of data into the limelight with all its potentials and pitfalls. Governments and national statistical organisations (NSOs) have traditionally been the guardians of local data. While their roles will not diminish any time soon, they will have to change and scale up their capabilities to handle the deluge of information, especially in today’s digital age.

At present, and especially in developing countries of the global South, the data landscape is patchy; data is often grouped and does not reflect the layered complexities of the societies they represent, it is also usually delayed and seldom reusable. Despite their efforts to modernise, NSOs will not be able to provide the entire length and breadth of data needed for the SDGs programme and will be bound by their capacity and resource constraints.

This is an opportunity for civil society organisations (CSOs) to complement and fill in gaps that exist in official datasets. New and diverse methodologies of data creation and collection, going beyond the traditional frameworks used by NSOs, will have to be employed. Citizen-generated data, geospatial data, qualitative and experiential surveys are some of the new data sources that will not only present a more holistic state of affairs but also contribute to the accountability mechanisms of the SDGs.

The SDGs framework, built on lessons from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), marks a significant departure by including civil society as an important stakeholder in monitoring, evaluation and accountability of global goals. The onus is on civil society for evidence-based research to hold their respective governments to account for the latter’s international development and human rights commitments. If the United Nation’s SDGs motto- “leave no one behind”- is to be realised, then we must ensure that we leave no one invisible.