SDGs Week One – a progress report

This blog is written by Claire Melamed, Director of Poverty and Inequality at the Overseas Development Institute.

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So, to the SDGs.  What is happening?  Yesterday we brought together some of the key movers and shakers of the SDG world to share ideas on what is happening and where different organisations are at in deciding what to do with the Global Goals now we have them.

Inevitably, it was a wide-ranging and, of course, really interesting session.  As an early snapshot of what the SDGs might come to mean in practice, it offered a few useful insights.  Firstly, there’s a lot going on.  Unlike the MDGs, the SDGs have got off the ground quickly in many organisations – the important ‘first 1000 days’ of the SDGs seems to be concentrating minds on the early years of implementation.

To specifics. The enthusiasm for all things data shows no sign of abating.  This continues to be a key area for many organisations – some focusing on data for specific goals, and others on broader issues such as how to operationalise the commitment to disaggregate data so that the progress of particular groups can be tracked.  I continue to be amazed and delighted at how the need to improve both the production and the use of data has grabbed the attention of so many organisations and individuals – there’s a chance to make real gains here and people are seizing it.

But, linked to this, a reminder too yesterday that the politics of the process aren’t over.  The political process of agreeing the indicators has not yet ended and may still have some surprises along the way, including the threat that countries unhappy with a particular goal or target may use the indicator process to try to subvert the power of the framework.  And, running in parallel, the outlines of the so-called ‘monitoring and review framework’ for the goals is still being debated.  The UN Secretary General is expected to release a report with proposals for how this could work in the middle of this month, but there will still be big questions unanswered and a political debate to be had before it is resolved.

Those organisations who can and want to influence the global politics of the SDGs still have work to do, and the first job is to ensure that the July meeting of the High Level Political Forum (the apex of the SDG monitoring structure) is successful in putting down a marker that governments will be accountable for progress on the goals that they have signed up to.

But a strong theme of yesterday’s meeting was also that the global is not the only, or even the most important, place where things are happening on the SDGs. It’s all gone national, where governments and civil society organisations are busy working out what the goals mean for them, and where the UN system is gearing up to support with guidance and practical tools for implementation.  All sorts of national level discussions and debates are happening and plans are being made: whether that is the UK’s DFID working out what the SDGs mean for their policy and practice, or NGOs getting people together to start to monitor what is happening at a local level and what difference it is making to people’s lives.

Here, the call to ‘leave no one behind’ is still clearly a big focus and a useful tool for many organisations, and it will be fascinating to see how this idea is made real in different contexts. Another recurring theme of the discussions was universality – there was much talk about what OECD countries are doing to operationalise the SDGs internally, as well as through aid and development policies, and they should expect a lot of pressure to deliver on that front.

So, the SDGs are alive and well in 2016.  Here at ODI we are also hard at work putting together our own programme of work on the SDGs – we’ll be focusing hard on ‘leave no one behind’ and how to use the SDGs to produce real benefits for the poorest and most marginalised, we’ll continue to convene key actors to discuss issues and solve problems, we’re still interested in all kinds of data and what can be done with it, and, most of all, we look forward to continuing to work with our many friends and partners to deliver on the promise of the SDGs in the years to come.

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