The UK Government’s approach to its Voluntary National Review on the Sustainable Development Goals involves individual departments drafting a Goal review relevant to its policy areas. In this article we capture some of what we know so far and where we can see challenges emerging.

The UK Government’s approach to its Voluntary National Review (VNR) on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) involves individual departments drafting a Goal review relevant to its policy areas. For example, the Home Office is leading on Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions and DEFRA on Goal 6 on clean water and sanitation.

The Department for International Development (DFID) is leading the coordination of the review, providing departments with guidance on the process and timelines. DFID has assured that the review will be data driven, with the Office of National Statistics (ONS) having an important role, and that it will review the UK’s progress to target level. Both are vital if the VNR is to present a realistic review of UK progress.

The risk of this sort of approach is that the interlinkages between Goals and targets will be missed, particularly where policy areas cross-cut the framework. It will be down to DFIDs coordination and the ability of departments to work collaboratively to ensure this is not the case.

To find out more about the VNR and why it’s important, join our webinar on the 13 December.

Stakeholder engagement

Stakeholder engagement in national delivery and the monitoring of progress on the SDGs is encouraged by the UN, we would argue it’s essential if we’re to develop a collaborative way of working that will address the challenges presented by the Goals. Stakeholder engagement on the delivery of the SDGs in the UK is weak, it’s something we’ve highlighted before and that both the Environmental Audit Committee and International Development Committee raised as concerning in their reports on UK progress on the Goals.

We’ve been disappointed so far on the Government’s efforts to engage stakeholders during the development of the VNR. We’re in regular discussion with DFID with our colleagues at Bond, and will continue to encourage them to do more and better. So far, DFID’s focus has been on receiving case studies through its online form about the work organisations are doing to help deliver the Goals. These sorts of case studies are important, but as experts in our fields we can provide much more value to the substance the report, rather than stories that add colour to the finished product. 

There are a few examples of positive progress:

Home Office event on Goal 16

The Home Office are the only department so far to invite stakeholders to participate in a conversation about their chapter of the VNR on Goal 16. Along with policy leads in the Ministry of Justice and the Joint Anti-corruption Unit, stakeholders participated in a two hour workshop to review specific areas of focus within the Goal 16 review and to express their views on priorities. Although awareness of the SDGs and the preparation of policy leads was not as good as expected this is one example of some commitment to stakeholder engagement in the development of the review.

Scotland's SDG Network

Scotland’s SDG Network, an active group of citizens and organisations, recently set up its own VNR Working Group, which the Scottish Government is a part of. Together, this open working group will discuss plans for the VNR and opportunities for collaboration to deliver the Scottish element of the it. It will also use the review process to take forward wider discussions around SDG implementation in Scotland through the delivery of Scotland's National Performance Framework. A third meeting of the group has taken place and more information can be found at Contact Paul Bradley with any questions. 

Unofficial sources of data

The Office of National Statistics is now able to report on 64% of the SDGs through its National Reporting Platform and is aiming to reach 70% next year. Where gaps exist they are very keen to work with stakeholders on the use of unofficial data. Once the VNR is drafted they will be reviewing where additional data is needed and will see if stakeholders can help. We’ll be sharing the details of this when they’re available.

All Party Parliamentary Group on the SDGs

In November the All Party Parliamentary Group on the SDGs hosted a parliamentary event to raise the profile of the VNR with MPs. The event included presentations from the Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt MP and Richard Curtis CBE, co-founder of Project Everyone. You can find a write up of the event here.

We'll continue to share progress, opportunities to engage and our views on the UK's VNR but if you want to be more involved in UKSSD’s partner-led advocacy programme please get in touch, you need to be a Partner first and you can find out more about how to join here.

To find out more about the VNR join our webinar on 13 December.