Global

  • UN unveils SDG indicators for dissection

    Lyndal Rowlands

    12/08/15

Speed read

  • More than 300 provisional indicators compiled to monitor goals

  • Consultation asks for suggestions on how best to measure them

  • Expert group due to draw up final set of proposed indicators by March

A consultation on the indicators to measure the success of the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was started yesterday by the UN Statistical Commission.

Governments, international agencies, civil society, academia and the private sector are asked to suggest which indicators are best suited to measure progress on the goals.

The consultation is being overseen by the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators, which comprises national statistical offices. After the consultation closes on 4 September, the expert group is due to draw up a final set of proposed indicators by March 2016.

“It’s going to be incredibly challenging for all countries to provide data on all 300 indicators.”

Thomas Wheeler, Safer World

In June 2014, the UN’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals proposed 17 SDGs and 169 related targets.

Unlike the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which had eight goals, 21 targets and 48 indicators, the SDGs cover a broader range of issues, including peace, oceans and climate change. The final list of SDGs is to be decided next month during a UN conference in New York.
 
And 304 provisional indicators to monitor these goals and targets have now been compiled from submissions by experts at international agencies sent in by March 2015.

The indicators, such as the proportion of people living below a national poverty line and homicide and conflict-related deaths per 100,000 people, were initially rated for their feasibility, suitability and relevance during an earlier drafting process.

But the potential use of around 300 indicators could be problematic.

“It’s going to be incredibly challenging for all countries to provide data on all 300 indicators using official data providers alone,” says Thomas Wheeler, a conflict advisor with Saferworld, an NGO that aims to prevent conflicts in developing countries.

Wheeler believes that measuring over 300 indicators will take time, rather than happen overnight in January 2016, when the SDG go live. He says that countries should see data collection on development as a “global public good”.

But Wheeler is concerned that developing countries in particular lack the data in the proposed areas, and that information gathered to measure some proposed goals, for example Goal 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies, may not be accurate.

Terence Wood, a research fellow at Australian think-tank the Development Policy Centre, tells SciDev.Net that innovative forms of data could be used to complement and fill gaps in existing information.

“You can use satellite imagery to see just how much light [countries] emit at night and use that as a proxy for wealth or population density,” Wood says. “[But] in some ways, it’s only a complement to running good household surveys and traditional data gathering means — it’s not a substitute.” Wood believes the SDGs can be used to hold governments to account but that having hundreds of indicators will make this harder. But he is generally positive about the UN’s attempt to gather more information on its development efforts.

“If we didn’t gather any development-related data, we’d have no reliable way of knowing what’s changing in the world and whether our aid work is assisting in any way,” he says.