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On Indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals

On Indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals

  Source:  UN Multimedia

This Tuesday, on March 8, 2016 the 47th Session of the UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) will convene to agree upon an indicator framework and set of indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set forth by the post-2015 development agenda.

 The 17 Sustainable Development Goals

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals

What are the indicators?

Indicators serve as both "management tool and report card" (source, pg 16), keeping teams on target to meet goals and measuring their success along the way. The indicators are very specific, concrete, and measurable results.

In March 2015, the Leadership Council of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network met to define indicators at the local, national, regional and global levels. Their report includes a full table of specific proposed indicators for each SDG (click here to view this full table as a Google Doc) -

For example, one indicator of "Goal 1: End Poverty in All its Forms Everywhere" is in the “proportion of population living below national poverty line, by urban/rural.”

"...we cannot afford a lag of three or four years before we start to measure our progress. So far, the international community’s attention has been focused primarily on defining goals and targets. The next step is to agree on the indicators and associated monitoring systems so that the world will be ready to implement the SDGs in 2016." (pg 16)

Why are the indicators important?

Indicators sound the alert throughout the process when a team has strayed from original objectives or is missing the target completely. Indicators lead to course corrections and recalibration that result in meeting targets and lighting the way ahead.

Lessons learned from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Indicators:

  1. many national statistical systems lack the capacity to generate comprehensive high quality data. As a result, available data on MDG indicators cannot serve real time implementation, management, and progress review,
  2. the SDGs need annual data collection with higher quality data, and
  3. indicators need to be well defined and compatible with low-cost but reliable data collection systems. (pg 198)

"The indicators need to be considered as an integrated package and must work in harmony with one another. They should help us look at every issue through an economic, social, and environmental lens." (pg 16)

What will the indicators mean for measuring success among UN agencies and departments?

"The Goals and targets will be followed-up and reviewed using a set of global indicators. These will be complemented by indicators at the regional and national levels which will be developed by member states, in addition to the outcomes of work undertaken for the development of the baselines for those targets where national and global baseline data does not yet exist" (The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda)

How might businesses align their strategies and KPIs around these indicators?

The SDG Guide for Business Action on the SDGs explains:

"Unlike their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs explicitly call on all businesses to apply their creativity and innovation to solve sustainable development challenges. The SDGs have been agreed by all governments, yet their success relies heavily on action and collaboration by all actors.”

The World Business Council on Sustainable Development, the Global Monitoring Initiative, and the Global Compact are researching ways existing business planning and measurement might be adapted for use with the proposed SDG indicator framework. (pg 94)

That said, a great starting point is the SDG Compass website. The site contains an inventory of business indicators mapped against the 17 SDGs and their targets.

The SDG Guide for business suggests a five-step logic model that can help you traces the path from inputs through activities, outputs, outcomes and impacts:

Sparkling constellations spinning around centers of extraction

Sparkling constellations spinning around centers of extraction

Small designy bits for friends.

Small designy bits for friends.