Implementing the SDGs: learning the why, as well as the how

This post is written by Moizza Sarwar, Research Officer at ODI’s Growth, Poverty and Inequality Programme.

The verdict on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) came out this week in the shape of the United Nation’s final report on worldwide progress on the eight development goals established in 2000. Ban Ki-Moon has called it ‘the most successful anti-poverty movement in history’. The report told us that $1.25-a-day poverty has dropped drastically, the developing world has achieved gender parity in school enrollment, and expansions in preventive efforts have reduced the global burden of TB.

While the report documents this encouraging progress, it leaves far more important questions hanging unanswered. What were the mechanics of progress in each country? What were the determinants of total or partial success at the country levels and what were the determinants of failure?

The truth is that we do not know enough about what happened within national contexts, which is a significant point about as countries gather in New York in September to sign off on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). How can the process of reviewing and following up on the progress of SDGs be made relevant to the act of policy transfer and cross-country collaboration?

The UN MDG 2015 report lacks comprehensive case studies that map national mechanisms used for delivering on the MDGs. Existing studies largely detail the effect of MDGs on language employed by national governments rather than their national strategies.

To ensure that governments and citizens really know why and how, as well as what, the SDGs are delivering, will entail a comprehensive stocktake of progress. This could include country level reports on:

  • organizational strategies and changes to incorporate the new goals,
  • a review of the data production processes used for targeting and monitoring goals
  • way to identify the most marginalized groups
  • the development, financing and delivery of sector plans (across education, health, sanitation, environmental services) and
  • negotiations between stakeholders as SDGs are taken up at the country level.

The creation of such a body of research is integral for monitoring the effects of government policies on multiple goals. Significantly it can also institute a feedback loop that allows fine-tuning of procedures to avoid perverse effects such as diverting resources towards one goal at the expense of nationally set targets. Moreover it will provide the material for an international platform where national stakeholders can access a body of evidence to inspire different and hopefully innovative implementation strategies.

The final draft of the SDG outcome document is likely to change after the Addis Ababa Financing for Development summit ( – so there is still room for tightening and strengthening the follow up and review section. In other words, there is still space to learn the lessons of the lessons of the MDGs.

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