Young people can play a formative role in citizen-led review of the Sustainable Development Goals using data. In this blog, Keya Khandaker of Accountability Advocates argues that organisations must support young people to collect data and support them to tell the UK government to do better on the SDGs.

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) monitoring process can benefit from the ‘Data Revolution’, which has emerged due to technological advancements, like mobile phones and internet access, which allow for new forms of data collection. The Data Revolution presents us with the opportunity to use innovative and cheap ways to share data to monitor the SDGs. Tech-savvy young people can easily collect or access real-time local and national data evidence. And for youth-led accountability initiatives the opportunity to capitalise on this, so that we can hold decision-makers to account on the SDGs, is critical.

Young people, as well as other marginalised groups, are often denied the ability to use data to hold their duty bearers to account because there is a lack of official government data on their lives. Through technology and the Data Revolution young people can bridge the gap between the official data, and their lived experiences. This provides the evidence to emphasise the political issues which disproportionately affect young people, particularly when there is a need for greater funding or investment. In other words, the SDG framework gives young people the opportunity to tell their governments to leverage financial resources and investments according to the SDG targets which are most vital to their lives or communities.

Engaging young people in youth-led accountability towards the SDGs

Young people generally lack the technical capabilities to generate and use data themselves, and so it is the role of organisations to engage them and build their capacity to report on the SDGs in the UK. Organisations, particularly civil society organisations, that invite young people to participate in youth-led accountability can provide them with the tools, skills, and knowledge to effectively hold their governments to account through data collection. An adult-led organisation provides not only resources, but adds a sense of legitimacy to the young people’s accountability efforts. Helping decision-makers and relevant stakeholders to take young people more seriously. Most importantly, this invited space has the potential to overcome issues of accessibility and inclusivity by providing financial support and resource.

To adequately support youth-led accountability mechanisms, organisations must focus on four priorities:  

1. Include underprivileged youth.

Youth participation programmes often exclude underprivileged youth in favour of young people from urban, well-educated and wealthy backgrounds who have the time and social capital to engage. Since youth-led accountability mechanisms require the young participants to give up their time, this presents a barrier for poorer young people who would need to take time off from work. A ‘digital divide’ can arise as young people with limited internet access (needed to conduct their data research) will exclude themselves from youth-led accountability programmes. We need to acknowledge these barriers of exclusion, and actively diversify the young people involved by creating a safe space for girls and marginalized youth, providing internet access, catering for mobility constraints and pre-existing time burdens, and addressing other rights discriminations. Since participation in these initiatives will only be accessible to young people who have their basic needs met, we must prioritise meeting the needs of the most marginalised in the monitoring processes.

2. Develop young people’s personal capabilities.

It is the responsibility of organisations to support the development of personal capabilities for the young people they come in to contact with, particularly feelings of self-worth and confidence. In other words, organisations must make sure young people’s needs are catered for through a sensitive approach and create safe spaces where young people are comfortable to engage with their governments, without fear of repercussions. Therefore, organisations should ensure their young participants have supportive relationships with a point-of-contact.

3. Provide appropriate training on accountability and data literacy.

It is the responsibility of organisations to develop young people’s skills and knowledge so they can participate in social accountability mechanisms and data collection. This involves being able to identify a key decision-maker to lobby, how to ethically collect disaggregated data, and the ability to communicate the data in an accessible manner to other young people. The participants of youth-led accountability must be trained to be informal researchers and involved in data analysis so that they can appropriately establish their demands for government action.

4. Improve receptivity to young people’s work.

Social norms can be changed when young people are provided with the opportunity to engage in governance processes alongside adults. Adult-led organisations can use their legitimacy to deconstruct assumptions of young people and their capacities. Through dialogue, they can challenge the perceptions of other adult-led organisations. In doing so, it is possible that receptivity to young people’s work can be improved and taken seriously, and that other organisations will be more likely to collaborate with them. Organisations have a responsibility to call for youth engagement across the different levels of decision-making when facilitating youth-led accountability mechanisms. Youth-led accountability programmes can bring together different stakeholders who can help identify and address obstacles and thereby legitimise youth’s position in holding their government to account.

Young people could be the key to achieving the SDGs

In the SDG-era we need creative ideas to bring about real change. If young people have meaningful opportunities to participate, as well as the ability to create new data and share this, they will be leaders in holding the UK the government to account for achieving the SDGs. When organisations provide opportunities for youth-led accountability on the SDGs, we can change society’s expectations of young people, enabling them to be leaders in their communities. We need to remember that the everyday citizen is at the heart of achieving the SDGs, and that young people could be the key to making them a reality in the UK.

Keya Khandaker is an Accountability Advocate – a network of 20 young people holding their governments to account on the delivery of the SDGs through data.