It’s in the Numbers – the Power of Partnerships to Measure SDG Progress

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This side event, organised by the permanent missions of Denmark and Colombia to the UN and UN-DESA’s Statistical Division, explored the opportunities and challenges related to multistakeholder partnerships for sustainable development goal (SDG) data. The session was opened by the moderator, Mr Stefan Schweinfest (Director of the UN Statistical Division), who reminded the participants of the large amount of data that is needed to monitor the SDGs at local, national, and global levels, which requires outreach to stakeholders that possess other forms of data: ‘we need all the help we can get’.

Mr Niels Ploug (Director of Statistics Denmark) spoke about the steps that have been taken in Denmark’s national statistical office to engage with citizens, resulting in an online platform that shows the progress of Denmark in achieving the SDGs. At the same time, Statistics Denmark has launched partnerships with the private sector, civil society, and academia to participate in the collection of data and to better understand the contribution of different sectors towards achieving the SDGs.

Highlighting the challenge of data gaps in the measurement of the SDGs, Mr Felipe Castro (Director, National Planning Department, Colombia) presented Colombia’s engagement with the private sector to obtain data on how companies are contributing to the goals, as ‘almost half of the targets need private sector involvement’. This requires mitigating a number of challenges, including the measurement capacities of companies (most companies do not measure their contributions to the SDGs), trust between the private sector and the government, the standardisation and comparability of data, as well as their reliability and transparency. Schweinfest added that the relation between government data and data from other sectors should be seen as complementary, rather than competitive, as there is an increased awareness of the benefits of ‘creating a data architecture filled with different types of information’.

After the presentations of the two government representatives, the session moved on to discuss the experiences of civil society and the private sector in engaging with government agencies. First, Ms Ida Klockmann (International Advocacy Officer of the Danish Family Planning Association) emphasised civil society’s importance in identifying areas where progress has stalled, and showcasing data on those who are most left behind, especially since they are sometimes excluded from official data and statistics. In addition, global indicators do not always match local realities, and it is therefore important to ‘localise’ the indicators to make them more relevant and comprehensive for the national implementation of the goals.

Ms Anne Gadegaard (Associate Director of Novo Nordisk) underscored the importance of private sector involvement, not least as there is a lot of knowledge and experience that can be shared. Moreover, many companies already produce reports that can be used by government agencies to better understand private sector contribution towards the SDGs. She concluded by highlighting the need for companies to look at both their positive and negative impacts on the SDGs and, based on this assessment, to at least ‘break even before claiming that they are positively impacting the future we are trying to create’.

The speakers then engaged in a lively discussion with the participants, which included a number of questions related to alignment and standardisation, for example between micro and macro level data, as well as between qualitative and quantitative data. Schweinfest explained that a highly standardised information architecture, similar to a national accounting framework, would be ‘a dream for a statistician’, as it would clearly define measurement and allow for comparison. Yet, he explained that such an architecture may not be appropriate for all cases and risks putting measurement efforts into straitjackets. The participants also raised questions related to the involvement of certain sectors, such as small and medium enterprises – which often do not have the capacity to contribute data – and ageing men and women – who are sometimes excluded from certain official statistical measurements.

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