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Developing official statistics for SDGs

The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015 by the UN General Assembly brought challenges to national statistical systems worldwide. Measuring the 17 Goals and 169 targets with reliable, consistent and comparable indicators is a complex task, comprising multiple policy and statistical areas.

A group of 27 countries, with balanced regional representation, was tasked to develop the indicators for the SDGs. In March 2016, the Inter-agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) presented a list of 230 indicators which was adopted by the UN Statistical Commission.

Based on the core principle of the SDGs that no-one should be left behind, these indicators will require significant amounts of disaggregated data: by sex, age, geographical area, and other parameters. This poses extra burden to national statistical offices, which will require investments in personnel, surveys and in other forms of data production. In addition, it represents an opportunity for innovation in the ways official statistics are produced, such as extending the use of administrative records and Big Data.

UNECE’s Statistical Division is actively collaborating with member States in developing official statistics for SDGs. A Steering Group, comprising 17 countries, is preparing a road map on statistics for SDGs. The road map deals with the practical challenges that statistical systems face and provides guidance on assessing the availability of indicators and capacity building needs, establishing national and regional SDG indicators, reporting on the global SDG indicators, and communicating and disseminating SDG statistics.

UNECE recently hosted the fourth meeting of the IAEG-SDGs, which took place on 15 to 18 November in Geneva. The meeting discussed refinements to the global indicator list, as well as how data will flow from national surveys, statistics and indicators to international statistical systems and databases. This work will be facilitated by international organizations, which will act as “custodian agencies” of different indicators, ensuring international comparability of data. The custodian agencies are also developing methods for calculating SDG indicators that are new for official statistics and where commonly agreed methodologies do not yet exist.

The measurement of SDGs brings along huge challenges but also opportunities for innovation, closer cooperation between government agencies, and for strengthening the coordination role of national statistics offices to ensure the high quality of all official statistics.