Building a GPS for the SDGs: The OECD’s data response to the SDGs

By Martine Durand, Chief Statistician, Director, Statistics Directorate, OECD

World leaders have endorsed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These comprise some 169 targets in fields ranging from poverty and hunger to equality and climate action to peace and justice. To know where we are starting from, whether we’re making progress, and what we need to improve, we will need good data for governments to make evidence-based decisions and for citizens to hold them to account. In other words, what we need is a global positioning system, or a GPS, for the SDGs. We need a data-driven GPS to help map out the best route to arrive at the successful implementation of the SDGs.

Data have been recognised as central to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The UN Statistical Commission recently endorsed an official set of SDG indicators as the basis for follow-up and review at the global level in the years ahead.

Implementing and monitoring progress towards the SDGs will be very challenging. The new targets are universal – applying to all countries – and they focus on more than development problems. Many of the targets are complex, interlinked and multifaceted, requiring new concepts and measures. The SDGs’ emphasis on leaving no one behind also will require disaggregated data across multiple dimensions, such as gender, age and socio-economic status.

Yet, good reasons exist to be confident. More data are available today than ever, and technological breakthroughs and improved methods now provide more detailed and granular information. New partnerships also are being set up to harness this data revolution.

This progress must continue if we are to meet the data challenges posed by the SDGs. Even in this era of “big data,” no country, including OECD members, has all the data it needs to monitor the SDGs. New sources must be tapped to fill the gaps, and an unprecedented and sustained international effort will be needed to develop the new information required.

The OECD will take part in this effort fully. We are already renowned for our statistics and have been at the forefront of global innovations in statistical methods, systems and dissemination for over half a century. We are a recognised authority on a vast array of economic, social, environmental and development-related statistics. Consider the fact that we have been leading the search for new statistical measures of progress that go beyond GDP by building indicators for well-being and measuring them consistently across OECD countries. On the education front, the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), already the world’s most widely used gauge of educational outcomes, is being adapted for use in more countries. And we have pioneered other useful tools and concepts to measure progress in areas as diverse as science and technology, income distribution, health, labour, international investment and regional analysis.

But the SDGs require measuring how actions taken in one country affect other countries’ performance. Through our world input-output tables, we track the trans-boundary impacts of production and consumption in OECD countries on CO2 emissions and critical natural resources for example. Our data on Official Development Assistance provide information on country efforts to meet aid targets, and we are developing new metrics, such as Total Official Support for Sustainable Development (TOSSD), to give a more comprehensive view of resource flows. Similarly, our Revenue Statistics provide unique information on the capacity of developing countries’ tax systems to raise domestic resources.

The OECD has been a key contributor to setting global goals for decades. Our 1996 development co-operation strategy, Shaping the 21st Century, was a step towards formulating the Millennium Development Goals, and we have played a vital role in monitoring them over the past 15 years. Now, building a statistical system capable of monitoring the SDGs will demand even greater investment in capacity and skills across the entire spectrum, from conceiving and collecting data to interpreting and communicating them clearly to making them open and accessible to all.

We will do all we can to build the GPS that will help member and partner countries and the whole international community rise to the even greater measurement challenges presented by the SDGs. Building better data for better policies to improve people’s lives today and tomorrow is one goal we are determined to achieve.


 

This article should not be reported as representing the official views of the OECD, the OECD Development Centre or of their member countries. The opinions expressed and arguments employed are those of the author.

SDG data discussion: what next?

By Johannes Jütting, PARIS21 Secretariat Manager

After months of intense discussions, representatives from more than 190 national statistical offices agreed on a global monitoring framework for the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 goals and 169 targets of the framework will be complemented by 230 indicators. This is a huge achievement given the complex political and technical challenges that had to be solved to reach a consensus. Now, the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the United Nations General Assembly formally will endorse the framework.

Avoiding a stalemate with this finish line in sight and addressing the framework’s remaining blind spots require urgent attention. The two main points that still need to be addressed are: i) integrating the SDGs into national priorities and strengthening national statistical capacities for that process and ii) improving the indicator set.

Integrating SDGs into national priorities

The following table captures different reporting levels, organizations in the lead and the purpose of the reporting exercises:

SDG monitoring – roles and responsibilities

Global Regional and thematic National
Responsibility for SDG reporting UN Statistics Division based mainly on national data collected by international agencies Regional organizations, UN and other agencies harmonising SDG methodology for regional reporting National statistical systems and third-party providers supplying national and subnational data
Original data sources Country-level Country-level Country-level
Purpose Global monitoring focusing on world progress overall Regional and thematic monitoring focusing on relevant progress National monitoring focusing on national and subnational priorities

The relationship between UN technical agencies, such as WHO, UNICEF and FAO, and national governments in the production of statistics is complex. Much of the data we have currently on poverty, health, education or nutrition comes from large-scale international household surveys run by these agencies in countries. This is done in close collaboration with national statistical offices and often includes a capacity-building component that is very useful. However, involving agencies in the production of data can be problematic too as they have their own thematic agenda that might not align with national priorities or could even contradict those priorities. With the heavy SDG agenda, this risk increases substantially and could lead to a crowding out of national capacities.

Another equally important issue is the measurement exercise’s purpose. Do we focus all our attention on how best to do global monitoring? Or do we also focus urgently on producing national SDG data roadmaps that identify country-specific baselines, data needs and data filling plans for effective country-level actions? We should not forget that the data are supposed to help policy makers make evidence-based decisions and achieve impact. This happens primarily at national and subnational levels.

Improving the indicators

Even with general agreement on the indicator set, the real work remains. The consensus is clear that the indicators will need to be defined further over the coming months and years. Many indicators are yet to be supported by the required data or methodology. National statistical systems will face trouble with certain indicators or simply will lack the incentives to measure them at all. A good example is indicator 10.5.1 that measures the “financial soundness” of national policies: no government will be motivated to report on this aspect if the country is not doing well, especially given the possible impact on foreign direct investment decisions. Or take indicator 16.4.1 that asks for a country’s total value of inward and outward illicit financial flows. Illicit flows by their very nature are clandestine, making only vague estimates possible at best. Another blind spot is the current indicator on corruption: bribery is measured in the public sector whereas the private sector is not considered. Moreover, the indicator set ignores some important problems entirely. Obesity, for example, is not included but is a growing health problem in many middle-income countries, straining public services.

More technical work clearly is needed. But more importantly, the international community needs to provide the financial means to enable national statistical systems to do the job they are asked to do without undermining national priorities and taking into account their current capacity.

Where to go from here

The agenda needs to move now from the global to the national and finally to the local levels. Building partnerships among public institutions – agencies of the national statistical system – citizens and the private sector at the local level is critical. This hopefully will lead to better planning of conventional statistical operations and to building new models that involve citizens, businesses and nongovernmental organisations.

The conclusion is that achieving the SDGs will depend largely on strengthening national and local capacities in a creative synergy of data producers and users. Only then can we hope that policies will be able to reach those who live on the fringes of society. This is how we can leverage data effectively to fulfil the 2030 Agenda’s promise to “leave no one behind.’’

This blog also appeared on The Huffington Post. Click here to read it anew.


This article should not be reported as representing the official views of the OECD, the OECD Development Centre or of their member countries. The opinions expressed and arguments employed are those of the author.

The SDGs call for a revitalised global partnership: What should we do differently this time?

By Nicola Harrington, Deputy Director, OECD Development Centre

Partnerships were central from the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000.  Public, private and civil society entities forged ties, leading to some outstanding results. This was notable in health, where path-breaking co-operation across governments, companies and foundations improved millions of lives through medicines and vaccines. Given this track record, why do the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 15 years later require revitalising global partnerships? What was missing the first time, and what should be different now? Continue reading

Measuring discrimination will bring the gender equality global goal a step closer

By Keiko Nowacka, gender coordinator at the OECD Development Centre

A warning often repeated since the Rio+20 summit is that lessons learned from the millennium development goals (MDGs) should not be forgotten when the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – the new development framework adopted at the United Nations general assembly – replace them. Such concerns seem warranted given the mixed report card on the MDGs.

While there were substantial improvements in poverty reduction and education, other goals showed patchier progress. The MDGs were praised for focusing the development community’s attention on eight priority areas, but also criticised for leaving out other key sectors. Many lessons have been learned over the past 15 years on how to make development more effective and help those most in need. As we look to the next 15 years, which of these key lessons should we take to heart to turn the promises of the SDGs into reality – particularly when it comes to gender equality and women’s empowerment (MDG3)?

First, focus matters. A standalone goal on gender equality has been retained (SDG5). A dedicated goal makes a big difference in mobilising action and resources. Furthermore, SDG5 includes many ambitious targets left out of MDG3. Tackling gender-based violence, unpaid care work, early marriage and harmful practices, among others, are now high on the gender and development agenda.

Second, strong indicators that can monitor the SDG commitments, inform policy action and ensure accountability on gender equality are just as important. After the adoption of the SDGs, all eyes will be on the selection of indicators to track progress on the 17 goals and 169 targets. Over the past year, representatives from governments, UN specialised agencies and international organisations, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), have worked on establishing a list of provisional indicators, which will be adopted at next year’s 46th UN statistical commission. While this list shows how much better we have become at measuring complex areas, gaps in data coverage and availability present real challenges to the SDG enterprise.

Indicators and data on gender equality are a case in point. A data revolution, strengthened national statistical systems and other statistical initiatives have already given us a very detailed understanding of remaining gender inequalities in the labour market or in education, just to cite two areas, and what policy interventions have worked to reduce them. Still, so much is not captured systematically by regular social or economic surveys, which are critical for measuring gender equality, and also for tracking progress towards SDG5. Here, the MDGs taught us another valuable lesson: what gets measured, gets done.

Addressing discriminatory social norms and institutions has become a new development priority and features strongly across the SDG5 targets. Yet, this area needs much more statistical work and investment. Data reveals how formal and informal laws, practices and attitudes shape women’s ability to enjoy their rights and take advantage of empowerment opportunities.

Results from the OECD Development Centre’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), for example, highlight how a discriminatory social practice such as early marriage adversely affects girls’ educational attainments, or how an unequal share of unpaid care work between women and men can exacerbate gender wage gaps. These examples demonstrate the value of including targets in the new framework; quantifying and measuring discrimination against women is challenging, but possible.

Indeed, the OECD Development Centre recently completed its first SIGI survey in Uganda, where new data on social norms was generated for the first time at the local level, providing evidence on how these norms can exacerbate inequalities despite the introduction of gender-sensitive laws. The survey showed that one-quarter of Ugandans agree that women and men should not enjoy equal land rights. Close to half of the population (45%) agree that early marriage is acceptable for girls (but not for boys). Such data is critical and a valuable resource for identifying how to make laws more efficient, and target the root causes of inequalities between women and men.

So what will it take to step up to this statistical challenge? Financing and technical support for statistical agencies is key. Most of the proposed indicators for SDG5 are classified as tier two (methodology exists, data not easily available) or tier three (methodology needs to be developed). For example, unpaid care work is measured through time-use surveys. However, less than half of the world’s countries have conducted such surveys in the past 10 years. Designing surveys, harmonising methodologies to ensure cross-country comparability or including indicators in existing surveys can be costly. Worryingly, this summer’s Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa did not include increased commitments for statistics, even though it is estimated that at least an additional $200m (Paris21) is needed.

 The silver lining is that data on gender is getting better all the time. We now know much more about the prevalence of and attitudes towards violence against women than in 2000, thanks to demographic and health surveys. Political will has proved critical too. Colombia and Uruguay, for example, have passed legislation to mandate regular time-use surveys. Innovative projects, such as the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality initiative led by agencies, including the World Bank, UN statistics directorate, UN Women, the OECD and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, have shown exciting results in advancing our knowledge of women’s asset ownership through new approaches and thinking around data collection. This is promising for future measuring of results for the SDGs: more reliable data and innovative methodologies will help truly capture and track women’s empowerment in the home, the workplace and in public life.

While these investments in indicators and data may appear formidable, the promise of a high return if we are able to achieve SDG5 by 2030 is certainly worth it.

This article first appeared in The Guardian on September 28, 2015. Read it anew here.


This article should not be reported as representing the official views of the OECD, the OECD Development Centre or of their member countries. The opinions expressed and arguments employed are those of the author.