Monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals from the community-level

by Jo Howard with Tom Thomas

7 Aug 2017

The theme of the 2017 High Level Political Forum (HLPF) is "Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world". We were pleased to be able to attend thanks to the support of the British Academy, since finding more inclusive ways of making governments accountable for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is central to our current project ‘Building Sustainable Inclusion: From Intersecting Inequalities to Accountable Relationships’. It was particularly valuable to bring to the Forum the work which Praxis is carrying out in India with members of the Denotified and Nomadic Tribes, given that India is one of the 44 countries presenting their Voluntary National Reports (1) at the HLPF this year.

 Participatory methods help get beyond national statistics

Thanks to our ongoing partnership with UNICEF, we were invited to be part of a side event discussing perception data as a metric of well-being, as a contribution to the ‘data revolution’ debate. We presented our work on participatory monitoring and building accountability relationships and our recently published policy briefs, which stress i) the importance of data which is generated from the knowledge of people who experience marginalisation, and ii) processes that promote learning and dialogue between these citizens and duty-bearers.  

Unless governments combine qualitative and perception with quantitative data, they will only know who they are reaching but not who they are missing – and why. Knowing who is being excluded from public services, and why, is a non-negotiable if we are serious about “leaving no one behind”.

Praxis provided an example of how, by using participatory methods, it is possible to support marginalised groups to analyse and monitor the SDGs themselves. 

Building from their pioneering work within the Participate initiative, they organised a further Ground Level Panel of people from Denotified and Nomadic Tribes to analyse their own experiences of poverty and discrimination in relation to the SDGs, as well as data and their interpretation of the data, collected from 174 DNT respondents. 

They observed: “there are a lot of beautiful government statistics, but our reality is different”.

Capturing citizens’ views using mobile technology

Mobile technology such as UNICEF’S U Report (a real-time social messaging tool) and the World Food Programme’s Mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping’ (mVAM) were also shared at the event. These provide a breadth of data on citizens’ views on the issues covered by the SDGs and highlight the importance of disaggregating perception data by gender and age.

We found some complementarity between our approaches which seek to engage meaningfully with people living with intersecting inequalities, whose realities are often rendered invisible. Through this work, civil society organisations like Praxis can bring data to the VNRs that governments often do not have the capacity to access.

Closer partnership between governments and civil society organisations needed to ensure realities of people on the margins reflected in VNRs

It was clear to us, through our attendance of side events and formal sessions of the HLPF, that governments are not working enough with their civil society partners to research, monitor and deliver on the SDGs. There needs to be space for civil society both to put the spotlight on the disaggregation of government data, and to illuminate the realities and knowledge of those people who, in the official data, remain invisible.

There is also a role for the United Nations, which needs to push its Member States harder to ensure that there is active civil society engagement in this voluntary reporting process.

When the 2030 Agenda was established in 2015, Member States agreed on regular voluntary reviews of the 2030 Agenda which “will be state-led, involving ministerial and other relevant high-level participants, and provide a platform for partnerships, including through the participation of major groups and other relevant stakeholders.”

As well as meeting this commitment, governments can benefit from working in partnership with civil society organisations (CSOs) in the process of making the SDGs truly relevant to local realities, and monitoring their progress. CSOs that are able to engage in a sustained and meaningful way with highly marginalised groups can work with them to develop community-based monitoring of SDGs, and bring complementary forms of data to the table.

As we move into the third year of the SDGs, it is important to ensure that the space and resources for civil society engagement are protected, at all levels of governance, and especially to support community-based tracking of SDG progress and spaces for marginalised groups to enter into dialogue with duty-bearers. Praxis’ work and our wider project are providing important insights into how and why it is important to go beyond national statistics, and beyond perception data, to create dialogue at local and national levels.

Jo Howard is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Development Studies, and a British Academy Sustainable Development Programme award holder. She thanks Erika Lopez Franco and Emilie Wilson for their reflections and comments that have improved this piece. 

(1) The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development encourages Member States to conduct Voluntary National Reviews which are ‘regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels, which are country-led and country-driven’ (paragraph 79) and are expected to serve as a basis for the regular reviews by the high-level political forum.

The views expressed by our authors on the British Academy blog are not necessarily endorsed by the British Academy, but are commended as contributing to public debate.



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