Implementing the SDGs at national level: Recommendation for countries reporting to the HLPF

17 November 2016

Since the signing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) last year, countries have been getting to grips with this new, deeply ambitious agenda. The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in July this year was the first chance to see what progress countries are making.

The HLPF is an annual opportunity where countries can volunteer to report on SDG progress at the national level. Volunteer countries submit reports in advance of the meeting, making them available online, and making short presentations with opportunities for questions from Member States and other stakeholders during the meeting.  

A comprehensive analysis of the HLPF 

2016 was the first year and reporting came in all shapes and sizes. Consistency and quality of reporting is very important so Bond, UKSSD, Save the Children UK and WWF-UK commissioned a report that analysed the contributions to the HLPF to try to raise the bar for reporting in 2017 and beyond.

This report is now available online and you can read a summary here. The report makes recommendations on how countries might report in future, but also around civil society reporting and how the existing Secretary-General’s voluntary reporting guidelines could be strengthened. 

This is the first in a series of blog posts around the report, the focus is on country reporting.

10 things countries should do in their national reviews 

1.    Commit to submitting a report at least three times before 2030 
This facilitates the identification and sharing of best practices, and allows the HLPF to assess ongoing progress.

2.    Engage a broad range of stakeholders at an early stage 
This provides a more balanced view on national progress, highlights gaps and makes reporting more robust. 

How to structure your report

3.    Use the UN Secretary-General’s guidelines as a backbone
Our analysis shows that many countries didn’t use the guidelines to structure their reports. Wider use of the guidelines would facilitate comparisons and encourage countries to address challenging, but vital, topics, such as SDGs integration and ‘leave no one behind’ commitments. 

4.    Focus on quality, not quantity
Keeping reports concise improves their accessibility and increases the likelihood that they will be read and used by peer countries, stakeholders and citizens. 

5.    Use structure as a way to increase accessibility and engagement
A clear structure and compelling narrative significantly improves the accessibility and appeal of reports. A contents page based on the Secretary-General’s guidelines and images, tables and graphs would all help. 

What to include in your report

6.    Include a summary to engage more people
This should highlight key activities and good practice, as well as challenges and lessons learned. 

7.    Identify obstacles and areas where support is needed
Highlight key obstacles in implementing the goals at the national level and seek advice and support where needed. 

8.    Detailed examples add huge value
Reports should include sufficient detail, and concrete examples, to allow lessons to be shared and assessments of progress made. 

9.    Don’t avoid challenging topics
The integrated nature of the SDGs and commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ are particularly challenging. Few countries reporting in 2016 addressed them in detail, yet sharing experiences on these tricky issues can be particularly valuable. 

10.   Spell out the next steps
A clear set of next steps will outline the actions Member States will undertake to implement the SDGs. This is also a tool civil society and other stakeholders can use to hold governments to account.

What next

If countries are consistent in their reporting and the quality of reporting is high then the HLPF process will be much more valuable to all stakeholders. Look out for our next blog on the report which will focus on recommendations for civil society reporting.

About the author

Ruth Fuller
WWF-UK

Ruth is international development policy advisor at WWF-UK where she focuses on the links between poverty, natural resources and climate change. Ruth is also co-chair of the Bond SDGs group.

Beck Smith
Save the Children UK

Beck Smith is Senior Policy and Advocacy Adviser at Save the Children UK where she leads the work on the Sustainable Development Goals with a focus on implementation and accountability.