This session aimed to acquire a better understanding of the state of sustainable development goal (SDG) 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions) and its upcoming review, and to identify and coordinate effective approaches to addressing the gaps in data collection and analysis. After the official opening of the SDGs Learning, Training and Practice track, Mr Marco Suazo (Head of the New York Office of UNITAR) introduced the session and the moderator, Mr Massimo Tommasoli (Permanent Observer to the UN of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance) elaborated on the session’s topic. Tommasoli highlighted the relevance of SDG 16 as an enabler, accelerator, and consolidator for the other SDGs. He furthermore emphasised the value of data-related partnerships on SDG 16, in line with the general convergence towards ‘objective, evidence-based analysis’.
Ms Ursula Knudsen-Latta (Research and Policy Officer at Saferworld, speaking on behalf of the SDG 16 Data Initiative) provided an overview of the work of the SDG 16 data initiative, which serves as a collaboration between 13 organisations to develop a holistic approach to monitoring goal 16. For example, the partnership addresses gaps in data and methodology, in an effort to provide a fuller and clearer picture of progress towards the goal for policymakers and civil society by using existing datasets, such as the Transparency International Index and the World Justice Index. Yet, there are a number of challenges to mitigate, such as the lack of available funding and resources to observe the many indicators in the monitoring framework. Partnerships are instrumental to mitigating these challenges by sharing the burden of work and increasing efficiency.
Mr Chris Murgatroyd (Policy Advisor of the Governance and Peacebuilding Cluster of UNDP, speaking on behalf of the Global Alliance for SDG 16 Reporting) highlighted the importance of trust, partnerships, and linkages. First, he highlighted the need to overcome the inherent mistrust related to working together across different sectors and stakeholder groups. In addition, he emphasised the importance of not only data and statistics, but also of the storytelling and narratives that they contribute to. Second, he identified the importance of partnerships to ensure the effective monitoring of Goal 16. Murgatroyd reminded the participants that there was no pre-established architecture for SDG 16 when it was created, unlike some of the other SDGs, which benefited from decades of experience in putting structures and frameworks together. Third, Murgatroyd explained that SDG 16 is not only an enabler for the rest of the agenda, but the goal is also affected and enabled by other goals, such as those related to education and employment.
Responding to a question by Tommasoli on whether there were gaps to be filled with regards to the indicators and the availability of data, Murgatroyd explained that there is a need to ‘upgrade’ indicators, so that Tier 3 indicators (for which there is a general lack of methodology and data) move up to Tier 2, and ultimately Tier 1 indicators (for which there is a clear methodology and data is already being collected). In addition, he advocated for the inclusion of broader views and in-depth knowledge of what is happening in the context of SDG 16, and to make sure that this knowledge underpins the set of reports that are being prepared for the thematic review of the goal in 2019. Knudsen-Latta echoed the importance of including civil society insights in these reports, in order to add ‘texture and layers to this conversation’.
Mr Anselmo Lee (Senior Advisor at the Asia Development Alliance) explained the way in which South Korea is monitoring SDG 16 at the national level. Considering the challenges related to measuring this goal, he proposed two solutions. First, he recommended focusing on the cross-cutting nature of the goal and integrating SDG 16 as an accelerator or enabler, linked to all other goals. Second, he suggested adding two new targets to SDG 16; one related to the information society, comprising the right to information as well as the right to privacy; and the other related to the disarmament agenda. Tommasoli remarked that it will be important to contextualise the SDGs at the national level and include context-relevant factors in the track progress for the SDGs, while at the same time, remaining committed to the global framework that has been put in place to monitor the SDGs.
Mr Christian Lamarre (Senior Programme Officer at the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDF)) explained the relevance of UNDF’s work in advancing SDG 16. Lamarre indicated that while there is potential to gather data and a wealth of information available, it is important to build capacity for decision makers to be able to attain, validate, and use this data. He also underlined the need to engage civil society to monitor SDG 16. This nexus between government actors and civil society organisations was reiterated by Tommasoli.
Opening up the discussion, participants in the room identified several issues related to monitoring SDG 16, including its inter-relation with the global compact for migration and refugees with education; and the need for potential preparatory meetings before next year’s HLPF. Knudsen-Latta noted that there is no single solution to solving the data-related challenges of SDG 16. Rather, solutions should be found at the local, regional, sub-national, as well as national and international levels, as ‘national averages can hide huge issues’. Yet, she did note that there is already a lot of data ‘out there’, but that there is also a need to include qualitative data and understand broader systems. In the context of the Voluntary National Reviews that countries conduct to monitor their own progress towards the SDGs, Tommasoli concluded the session by suggesting different ways to prevent countries from cherry-picking only those SDGs for which progress has been made at the national level.