Having decided to adopt some of the SDGs and targets, a council needs to ensure that the plans and policies to achieve them are working. It needs reliable indicators of progress, and a way of systematically reviewing progress and making any changes required to ensure it stays on course.
The main outcome expected from any council’s engagement with the SDGs is a localised version of them. This would be a set of 2030 targets agreed with strategic partners that align with the SDGs and some of the affiliated targets. This local commitment to the SDGs would be supported by a range of existing strategies and plans, with some possibly amended, extended or drawn up anew to embed the SDGs within them.
- Identify indicators and establish a baseline
For these targets to be meaningful, there needs to be a means of reviewing progress towards them. If this review of progress is to be rigorous, at least one indicator should be chosen for each target, with baseline data used to set out the current or recent situation. Ideally, this baseline data should cover trends over the past one or two decades to indicate the direction of travel at the beginning of the commitment to the SDG-based target; have things been getting better, worse or staying about the same?
- Monitor your progress
Once an indicator has been chosen and ‘baselined’, data should be gathered regularly to see if adequate progress is being made towards the target. If it is not, then the policies and strategies related to that target need to be reviewed, in so far as the council and its partners are able to change them. It’s important this is communicated publicly. This way, council partners, stakeholders and the citizens will understand what is improving or falling behind in their area.
A global set of indicators has been agreed by the UN, covering all 17 of the SDGs and their 169 targets, so councils should try to align their own chosen indicators with these. It is not necessarily possible for every global indicator to be used at a local level, indeed some of them are not appropriate to a UK context, so in some cases proxy indicators might be more suitable.
At a national level, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) is reporting UK progress on the global indicators through its National Reporting Platform. It is also increasingly disaggregating national data so that common indicators can be used across councils in the UK.
- Choose the right indicators
Just as any council or local partnership engaging with the SDGs needs to make its own careful choice of locally relevant targets, so too should it for indicators consistent with the data gathering resources it can provide. For some targets, it may be that there are simpler, qualitative ways of effectively assessing progress.
The key questions that a council or local SDG partnership needs to ask itself are:
- Is a chosen indicator well aligned with an SDG indicator, but also meaningful and useful to us, our partners and our community?
- Is there local data available to establish a baseline for the indicator and then track progress in future?
- If not, can one be established – affordably and soon?
- Are we already collecting this data ourselves, or can we find another public body that is collecting and analysing it, such as the ONS, which will give us access?
- Are there prospects for disaggregating the data to make it even more useful?
- Can we use it to find out what is happening for certain groups, eg by gender, age or ethnicity?
- Can we use it to find out what is happening in specific areas, such as individual wards?
If many councils become engaged with the SDGs, they may collaborate on local SDG indicators, share learning and insights, and compare their performance on reaching them. The efforts to identify suitable indicators by cities like Bristol, Newcastle, and London are potentially useful to other councils across the country, as well as the work of the ONS and international examples like that of Mannheim.
- Case studies