December 10, 2020

Mainstreaming SDG16: Using the VNRs to Advance More Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies

On behalf of the Transparency, Accountability, and Participation (TAP) Network and the Global Alliance for Reporting on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, we are thrilled to launch the Mainstreaming SDG16: Using the VNRs to Advance More Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies Resource Guide. 

As we continue to face the unprecedented challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic amidst strained systems of governance, shrinking civic space, and growing social unrest fueled by entrenched inequalities, the vision put forth in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG16) proves to be more relevant than ever as a blueprint forward for the future we want.  With these obstacles before us, this resource aims to provide guidance to advance more peaceful, just, and inclusive societies through SDG16+, the foundational goal underpinning the 2030 Agenda, and the Voluntary National Review (VNR) process. 

The VNRs are a part of the review mechanisms for the 2030 Agenda, where member states voluntarily “conduct regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels, which are country-led and country-driven.” The VNRs are presented annually at the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development as a platform to share experiences, including successes, challenges, and lessons learned. The VNR process also aims to strengthen policies and relevant institutions to mobilize multi-stakeholder efforts to implement and review the SDGs. The exponential increase in both the quality and number of VNRs since 2016 reveals their growing relevance and utility for both states and other actors. 

Even before the emergence of COVID-19, the world was falling behind on the commitments made five years earlier in the 2030 Agenda, including an alarming regression of SDG 16. This resource seeks to counter this troubling trend with policy guidance, successful case studies, and the sharing of best practices and lessons learned at the national and sub-national levels by effectively leveraging VNR and post-VNR processes. The main question this resource tackles is, “how can we ensure that the VNR is maximized for SDG 16 impact, including improved subsequent reporting?” 

The Mainstreaming SDG16 resource first introduces the 2030 Agenda, SDG16, and the VNR process. Detailed approaches to mainstreaming and accelerating SDG16 implementation by leveraging the VNR process follow. The resource’s content is structured through the role of key stakeholders at the subnational, national, and global levels. Finally, the resource is underpinned by the guiding principles that service the entire 2030 Agenda: Leave No One Behind.

Key Findings 

Approaches to strengthen the VNR design and streamlining the process with SDG 16 implementation:

For example, in the planning stage of the VNR process, immediate next steps should be identified, embedding accountability mechanisms for follow up. Post-VNR presentation follow-up at the national level could include reporting back to parliament and/or the media about the VNR presentation as well as longer-term implementation.  

Consolidating the VNR process with other reporting mechanisms and broader review frameworks leads to more coherent policy, consequential coordination, and greater impact. Additionally, streamlining these processes expands and deepens stakeholder engagement and allows for more effective use of collected data. 

The importance of accountability while practicing the “whole of government” and “whole of society” approach: 

The “whole of government” approach calls on coordinated and systematic coordination across sectors of the government and public agencies at national and subnational, local levels. This approach ensures better coordination and mobilization of public resources in the implementation and VNR review process. 

On the other hand, the “whole of society” approach refers to forms of collaborative governance that engage non-state actors, including civil society, the private sector, and the media, among others, at every step of development. By engaging civil society actors and grassroots organizations, in particular, not only strengthens the impact of implementation, but it also facilitates greater ownership, and by extension, accountability in the review process. Ultimately, civil society plays a fundamental role in advocating for inclusivity and supporting marginalized communities, filling gaps in data, and providing relevant ideas that would otherwise be overlooked. Thus, meaningful civil society engagement based on a whole of society approach is crucial for accountability in the VNR design delivery and follow-up as it reflects inclusive decision-making, effective governance, ensuring that SDG 16 is included and no one is left behind.  

The urgent need for localization to facilitate ownership and accountability, as seen in case studies of meaningful community engagement: 

Localization refers to the process of meaningfully taking into account sub-national contexts and local actors in the processes of decision-making, implementation, and review to “localize” the 2030 Agenda. More specifically, through a “ground-up” process, local actors can support the VNR and post-VNR processes. Critical to realizing the vision 2030 Agenda where no one is left behind is the meaningful inclusion and engagement of local governments and civil society at every level of the SDG process. It ensures greater accountability and inclusivity cultivated from the ground up. 

The nature of data and data reporting mechanisms, as well as financing and partnerships as they relate to the VNR process:

Adequate data collection is a persistent challenge to tracking the progress of SDG16. It affects both the coverage and quality of data available for SDG 16 targets. In the face of this challenge lies an opportunity for bringing in diverse, new stakeholders into the process of data collection, disaggregation, monitoring, and reporting. Especially within the context of the pandemic, greater innovation, and inclusivity in collecting and managing data is critical for better quality and coverage. This endeavor requires greater coordination and communication among National Statistics Offices, UN agencies, human rights institutions, civil society, and other data collectors. 

Judith Kaulem, Director of the Poverty Reduction Forum Trust in Zimbabwe and TAP Steering Committee Co-Chair explains the timely importance of this guidance resource: 

“The integral role played by the Voluntary National Reviews in the 2030 Agenda and SDGs follow-up cannot be over-emphasized…the process towards their production provides an opportune moment to localize the 2030 Agenda by rallying together all key stakeholders, thus ensuring local ownership of the Agenda. This guidance is a go-to-resource, that provides a ‘whole of society’ approach to both governments and CSOs. It includes necessary tools to take the VNR one crucial step further—to use the recommendations identified in the VNR and link it firmly into national development plans and priorities.” 

Thank you to all who joined us for the virtual global event to officially launch the resource on Monday, 14 December 2020 from 8:30 – 10:00 ET / 13:30 – 15:00 GMT. The webinar features a panelist of key experts that will provide insight and reflections as they introduce participants to the content of the resource. The virtual event also facilitated an interactive discussion between participants and practitioners. Please find the recording below, and the executive summary on the SDG16 Hub

Please note that the content will be updated in the weeks and months ahead, including a virtual, interactive version of the resource. Download the resource now and sign up for updates on the SDG16 Hub.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on the TAP Network Blog Platform are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the TAP Network. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion.

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