In March, the international community of statisticians will gather in New York and Ottawa to discuss and agree on a global indicator framework for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the 169 targets of the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. The task at hand is ambitious. In 2015, heads of state from around the world committed to do nothing less than “transform our world”. Monitoring progress towards this ambition is essential, but technically and politically challenging: it will require endorsement from all UN Member States on how to measure progress. In March, it will be the second attempt at getting this endorsement.
Why is it important? “What gets measured, gets done”. Measuring progress is essential for transparency and accountability. It allows us to understand our accomplishments and failures along the way, and identify corrective measures and actions—in short, it allows us to get things done.
What is the issue? Politically, the SDG process has been country led. This means that countries—and not international agencies, as in the case of the Millennium Development Goals—have guided the whole SDG process, including leading discussions and the selection of goals, targets and indicators. Technically, the development of a robust and high-quality indicator framework is highly complex: the indicator should align closely with each target, have an agreed-upon methodology, and have global coverage. In reality, many indicators do not. For example, the indicator proposed to measure the 11.2 SDG target (“By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all”) is the “proportion of population that has convenient access to public transport”. Data is not yet available for this indicator. Additional indicators may be needed to cover all aspects of the target.