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Evidence-based policies to respond to emerging social challenges

Statement by Police Adviser Jon Christian Møller on Evidence-based policies to respond to emerging social challenges, 12 February 2020.

Excellencies, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The topic of today’s event is timely. As stated in the concept note, emerging social challenges—from increasing inequality, to social exclusion, to gender disparities—all hinder the implementation of the World Summit for Social Development and the 2030 Agenda. To counteract these challenges, sound policies rooted in evidence-based research are required.

In this statement, I will focus specifically on some of the challenges and solutions that emerge in the context of SDG 16. This goal pledges to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” Simply put, SDG 16 recognizes that sustainable development is impossible in the face of violent conflict, weak institutions, and poor access to justice. Unless we address these political conditions, progress on most other SDGs will falter—and, in some cases, even lead to the reversal of sustainable development gains.

In order to assess the current status of this enabling goal, as well as ensure momentum moving forward, evidence-based reporting and research are clearly necessary. A key tool in this regard is that of Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development encourages Member States to conduct such “regular and inclusive reviews” in order to monitor progress towards implementation of the Agenda, facilitating the exchange of experiences, challenges, and lessons learned in pursuance of the SDGs. As such, VNRs are critical in establishing a reliable evidence base to guide further policy action.

However, given SDG16’s multidimensional indicators, VNR reporting on this goal is a particularly complicated endeavour. This is why, last month, the Permanent Mission of Norway along with the Global Alliance on Reporting Progress on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies hosted a high-level panel meeting on this topic. The event sought to explore and disseminate best practices with an aim towards maximizing the usefulness, reliability, and impact of VNR reporting on SDG16. Toward this end, the event featured presentations of two evidence-based analyses of SDG16 VNR reporting.

The first analysis was conducted by the law firm White & Case, focusing on the VNR drafting process and its outputs. The second analysis, conducted by the Transparency, Accountability and Participation Network (TAP) with the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), compared civil society shadow reports of SDG16 with Member States’ official VNRs. Together, these analyses yielded several specific and actionable insights to guide Member States in drafting future VNRs for the benefit of goal implementation.

For instance, the White & Case analysis found that the most widely reported SDG16 indicator was number 4.5, which concerns discrimination in education. Nearly 100% of VNRs covered this indicator. The least reported target was 10.5, regarding the regulation of financial markets, which had a coverage rate of just over 30%. Further, the analysis found that coverage followed trends from previous years: the most broadly reported targets in prior reports remained so in 2019, and vice-versa. Considering that Member States continue to report challenges in collecting and analysing SDG16 data, these findings may productively focus capacity-building efforts.

The TAP Network/GIZ analysis provided supplementary insights. It found that VNRs tend to look back on what a government has already done in pursuance of SDG16, while the civil society shadow reports more often offer policy recommendations moving forward. In addition, the analysis noted that while VNRs have access to official government datasets that are generally more comprehensive and precise than the statistics available to civil society, the former are sometimes less credible on qualitative issues—for instance, there is reason to be skeptical of states’ assessment of corruption within their own governments. Based on these and other findings, the analysis shed light on the manner in which government and civil society may complement one another in the reporting process, recommending increased synergy between these actors and better integration of their respective findings.   

The number of Member States conducting VNRs is on pace to more than double in four years—from 22 in 2016 to an expected 50 in 2020. As such, we have a great opportunity to strengthen VNRs as a tool for improved reporting, monitoring, and action, both on the 2030 Agenda in general and SDG 16 in particular. However, in order to make the most of this opportunity, we must ensure that VNRs are concrete, reliable, and actionable; based on best practices for data gathering, collection and analysis; and, not least, reach the policymakers who can actually implement their recommendations. It was to facilitate progress on these fronts that Norway and the Global Alliance organized this high-level panel on SDG16 reporting.

Indeed, Norway has long sought to strengthen the VNR process in support of implementing SDG16. For example, Norway is amongst the biggest donors to UNDP and the main funder of UNDP’s Oslo Governance Centre, which supports policy development and applied research on SDG16 related topics. As UNDP is the custodian of three SDG16 indicators, the agency works on global, regional, national, and local levels to strengthen data collection, reporting, and monitoring on SDG16. This includes capacity-building initiatives with national statistical offices and support to countries in the VNR process. Also worth mentioning is the Oslo Governance Centre’s support to the Praia City Group on Governance Statistics, and the development of their upcoming Handbook on Governance Statistics. Its purpose is to provide a foundation for the development of international statistical guidance and standards in all areas of governance statistics.

As we now move into the Decade of Action, amplifying reporting efforts across the 2030 Agenda is necessary to enhance impact and develop sound, evidence-based policies to tackle emerging social challenges. Yet while we continue such efforts, it is important to recall the point of Ambassador José Luis Rocha, Permanent Representative of Cabo Verde, who noted during his statement at the high-level panel that do not need more reports simply for the sake of reporting - the findings must guide policy formulation and implementation moving forward.

It is with these words in mind that I look forward to the upcoming statements and discussions today.

Thank you very much.