Implementing the SDGs at national level: Reporting guidelines for the 2018 HLPF

11 January 2017

In July last year 22 countries volunteered to report on the progress they were making towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York. Following the HLPF, Bond, UKSSD, Save the Children UK and WWF-UK commissioned a report looking at the inputs to the meeting provided both by countries and by civil society with the aim of raising the bar for reporting in 2017 and subsequent years.

This report is now available online and you can read a summary here.  Our first blog about the report looked at how countries can improve their reporting. The second made recommendations on civil society reporting. In this third and penultimate blog in the series we look at how the reporting guidelines produced by the Secretary General could be strengthened. 

Revising the guidelines for 2018

The Secretary-General’s voluntary common reporting guidelines are a key tool to help countries formulate and structure their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). They also provide a content framework that allows VNRs to be compared side-by-side, as shown in the table below from our report: 

SDGs summary

This table shows that the level of adherence to the guidelines varies dramatically between countries, with some choosing to use it as a backbone and others choosing not to use them at all.  While adherence to the guidelines doesn’t necessarily relate to the quality of reporting, a shift towards more standardised reporting that enables comparisons between countries to be made and easily identifies best practice that could be shared would be welcomed.

It will be important that the guidelines are regularly reviewed and updated, with inputs from civil society, to ensure that they’re driving up standards in reporting and accountability. 

Our recommendations for future revisions of the reporting guidelines

  1. An opening statement by a Head of State or Government was included by only 4 out of 16 countries. We believe these statements can be impactful and demonstrate commitment, and should be standard practice.
  2. An Executive summary was included in most reports. This is essential for accessibility and highlighting key points and should be in all reports.
  3. With regards to methodology, the guidelines should encourage countries to include information on how their reports were prepared and share lessons that can support other countries
  4. Raising awareness and creating ownership of the SDGs should be addressed in country reviews.
  5. The incorporation of SDGs in national frameworks featured in many reports and would be useful as standard.
  6. The integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development was highlighted as a key implementation challenge, but few countries addressed this component substantially in their report. Further guidance and support from the Secretary-General and the UN would be helpful in this regard, along with how to link to climate change commitments.
  7. Reviewing the status of goals and targets at the national level was not a strong feature of reporting in 2016 but should be the main aspect of the reports going forward.
  8. Leave no one behind was emphasised by most as an important component but only a handful of countries chose to address the topic substantially in their reports. We recommend LNOB should be a permanent feature of future reporting guidelines, underpinned by support and guidance from the Secretary-General and the UN.
  9. Institutional mechanisms featured in many reports and can be particularly helpful in terms of information exchange and capacity building.
  10. Means of Implementation was only looked at by a handful of countries and the content and quality was mixed. Further guidance on how to approach this section would be useful in future guidelines.
  11. A clear set of next steps that a country is committing to can be a useful tool for member states, stakeholders and citizens to track progress and hold governments to account, and should be encouraged.
  12. Statistical annexes were not widely used in the 2016 reports but guidance on how to provide statistical and measurement information would be helpful.
  13. Governance did not feature in the Secretary-General’s guidelines and few countries addressed it in their reports. Governance and leadership arrangements would be a useful additional component to include in future revisions of the guidelines, especially in the initial years of reporting.

Next steps

The guidelines for reporting will be updated at various points between now and 2030. We hope that stakeholders will draw on the points listed above when making recommendations about how to ensure VNRs are as informative and impactful as possible. 

In our fourth and final blog in the series we will share examples of best practice from the different countries that reported in 2016, including innovative ideas and approaches. 

Find out how the SDGs have the potential to drive real change at the Bond Conference on 20-21 March 2017.

About the author

Ruth Fuller

Ruth is international development policy adviser 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.