Step 4. Advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals and report on progress

UN Sustainable Development Goals: A Guide for Councils

Once a council or local SDG partnership has decided to engage with the SDGs, it will want to advocate for them and report on how it is helping to achieve them. This can serve to reinforce existing partnerships and create new ones. Councils can go further in their advocacy, engaging local citizens in supporting the SDGs and reaching out to national and international audiences.

In this briefing, we have set out an SDG roadmap which starts with a council considering whether to make use of the SDGs, then moving on to creating a local SDG partnership, selecting its own local SDG targets, then tracking its progress towards them. Right at the outset, advocacy for the goals is likely to play an important part in creating any effective local SDG action.

The SDGs represent a global consensus on what sort of progress humanity should be aiming for; moving forward with decency, dignity and fairness. At the same time, they identify the gravest threats and largest injustices facing humanity: public health emergencies, environmental destruction, conflict, crime, corruption, exploitation and lack of opportunity. If a council decides it wants to support the SDGs, it will surely want to advocate for them.

"Right at the outset, advocacy for the goals is likely to play an important part in creating any effective local SDG action."
Advocate for the SDGs internally and externally

This advocacy will be internal, telling a council’s staff and councillors that they are part of an organisation which is part of a global endeavour for better future. And it will be external, explaining the SDG commitment to the council’s partners and suppliers, and to local communities.

Make sure councillors understand the commitments made

To be effective, the council’s political leadership will have to play a part in this advocacy, while every councillor will need to understand the commitment. It will have to be distilled in simple, short messages about what the SDGs are, why the council supports them and what it is doing about them.

Communicate progress

Councils should report their progress against their local SDG targets internally and to local stakeholders, but they may also wish to report more widely to national audiences. Other councils and Government need to learn what works; how did engagement with the SDGs help improve peoples’ lives in a locality?

Councils may wish to input into the UK’s next VNR, which will formally report on national SDG progress to the UN. A council may want to go further and set out its progress in its own Voluntary Local Review (VLR), which it may choose to submit to the UN. New York, where the UN has its headquarters, became the first major city to submit to publish a VLR in 2017, and Bristol became the first UK council to do so in 2019. Major cities may have led the way, but there is no reason why councils serving smaller urban and rural areas should not champion the SDGs, and draw up and publish VLRs.

Communicating progress on the SDGs nationally and internationally is important, but it’s equally important, if not more so, that councils communicate the impact of their policies and service delivery to local people. This helps encourage local engagement with the SDGs and is also important as part of a democratic process, allowing citizens to hold their representatives to account for their actions.

As mentioned in Step 2, engaging citizens and organisations in a locality can be a creative endeavour. The UN provides free downloadable icons and resources for organisations online, as does the public campaign ‘Global Goals’. In some cases, such as Utrecht, these have been interpreted into local imagery, reflecting important landmarks or cultural concepts rather than the global icons.