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Implementing the SDGs at national level: Recommendations for civil society reporting

14 December 2016

The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in July was the first time that countries volunteered to report on the progress they’re making towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The HLPF is also a chance for civil society to contribute and produce their own reports on a country’s progress.

Analysing contributions to the 2016 HLPF 

A recent report by Bond, UKSSD, Save the Children UK and WWF UK analysed the contributions to the HLPF to try to raise the bar for reporting in 2017 and beyond (read a summary).  

We recently wrote about how countries can improve their reporting on SDGs to the HLPF. We now turning our attention to how civil society can make best use of the opportunity to report on a country’s progress.

The report analysed civil society inputs and reports for 10 of the 16 countries reporting to the HLPF, and makes the following 10 recommendations for civil society reporting.

10 recommendations for civil society reporting to the HLPF

1. Acknowledge good practice and areas for improvement

The civil society reports we reviewed were mostly critical of governments’ action on the SDGs. While holding governments to account and highlighting areas for improvement is an important role of civil society, it is also useful to identify good practice where appropriate.

2. Bring together a variety of voices

Civil society is not homogenous. A report that brings together diverse views and perspectives will carry more weight than one from a single organisation. Reports should provide clear information on who the publication represents.

3. Respond directly to the government progress report

Shadow civil society reports can be powerful platforms to challenge and verify the claims made in government progress reports and the most effective civil society reports we reviewed directly discussed and challenged the assertions made in the corresponding country reports. To facilitate this, governments should provide the chance for civil society to review and respond to progress reports at the earliest possible opportunity.

4. Avoid generalities and make clear recommendations for action and improvement

General or sweeping statements are difficult for governments to respond to and easy for them to ignore. Civil society reports should make direct, focused observations as well as recommendations for action.

5. Provide examples and evidence to back up claims

Concrete and evidence-based examples can help to clearly demonstrate where issues lie, give more weight to arguments and make it more difficult for government to rebuff them.

6. Provide insight into civil society engagement

Shadow reports can be used to showcase the value of civil society engagement and collaboration. They can challenge the assertions of government, judge whether mechanisms are adequate, highlight good practice and make recommendations for improvement.

7. Demonstrate civil society’s commitment to implementation

Shadow reports should demonstrate the contributions that civil society make to deliver the SDGs either independently, alongside or in partnership with government.

8. Keep reports short and focused

Two of the best civil society reports reviewed (Switzerland and Uganda) were both under 10 pages long, yet still made a host of clear observations and recommendations to be taken on board by government.

9. Engage the reader with good design and structure

Good report structure and design can help to engage the reader from the outset. Clear headings, colour and images can all be used effectively to highlight different sections and convey key messages.

10. Ensure reports are easy to disseminate

Several of the civil society documents reviewed were not published as reports as such but as commentaries on a website. This makes them difficult to engage with, particularly in areas where the internet is unreliable. Shadow analysis from civil society should be published as a stand-alone, downloadable document, easily shared and disseminated electronically and/or in hard copy.


Inputs from civil society at the HLPF provide an important verification and accountability mechanism in the reporting process and a chance to hear an ‘on the ground’ perspective. We hope that these suggestions for how reports can have the highest possible impact will help civil society to continue to play an important and valued role in SDGs accountability.

Our next blog post in this series will be on the reporting guidelines for the 2018 HLPF.

About the author

Ruth Fuller

International development policy adviser WWF-UK

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.