SDG Reviews are Not a Beauty Contest - Enhancing the Capacity of Local Governance in Localising the Sustainable Development Goals

In early April DeLoG conducted a joint workshop on 'Enhancing the Capacity of Local Governments in Localising the Sustainable Development Goals' in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It was hosted by the National League of Local Councils of Cambodia. Other organisers were UCLG (United Cities and Local Governments), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), UCLG ASPAC (United Cities and Local Governments Asia-Pacific), LOGIN Asia (Local Governance Initiative and Network Asia), and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).


The workshop aimed to enhance the capacity of local governments and their associations in contributing to the achievement of the SDGs in their respective countries and enable local government representatives to contribute to the preparation of Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) for the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development. The HLPF is the main United Nations platform on sustainable development and it has a central role in the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda at the global level. With VNRs, all countries have the opportunity to report on their progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda.

Around 30 representatives from local governments and local government associations from Cambodia, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and the Republic of Korea participated in the 2-day workshop. All these countries except Sri Lanka and the Republic of Korea are preparing a Voluntary National Review for the HLPF 2019.

All participating parties emphasised the importance of dialogue not only between national and subnational governments but also between local governments and their associations of different countries.

In Cambodia, SDGs treat explosive subjects – because it matters on the ground

The Cambodian representatives informed about an interesting fact: The 2030 Agenda in Cambodia does not have 17 SDGs, but 18. The government of Cambodia added a goal on demining: 'End the negative impact of Mine / Explosive remnants of war (ERW) and promote victim assistance'. This shows, how considering sustainable development on a local level might add more notions.

In order to contextualise the workshop’s thematic focus, Pytrik Oosterhof, Sustainable Development Consultant – O-Land Consulting, and Luc Aldon, UCLG, gave inputs on localising the 2030 Agenda and local governments’ involvement in VNR processes. One of the main outcomes of adopting the SDGs is the acknowledgement of relevance of the local level: SDG achievement depends strongly on progress made on the local level, by cooperation of the national level with local governments and local stakeholders.

With regards to the challenge of collecting data, especially when it comes to the LNOB process, the ADB gave an interesting example how to involve stakeholders in collecting and consolidating data: In Indonesia, the ADB implemented a programme to end teenage marriage and early pregnancies. Diagnostic and monitoring followed an open data approach. Several actors had disparate data which was difficult to compare. To solve this, stakeholders had to reach an agreement that took into account the multi-level nature of public action (provincial level, districts, national level). The programme developed a dashboard that is sensitive to the lack of quantitative data and the possibility to translate qualitative information into programmatic monitoring.

Experience shows: local SDGs improve public services

Representatives from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Cambodia gave concrete examples on the processes of localising the SDGs and VNR. In the Indonesian case, it became clear that SDGs can function as an opportunity for local governments to develop public services better than today. Local governments align their plan with national strategies and the SDG framework, reforming the overall financing system and participating in the reporting process.

The complexity of the 2030 Agenda and the process of adopting the targets at the national and subnational level was demonstrated in several presentations: often, there is a lack of coherence between policies in achieving the SDGs and a lack of institutional coordination. Therefore, mainstreaming and integrating subnational actors are important approaches to achieve the SDGs. The example of Sri Lanka, the so-called shining star from the Asia-Pacific Region in the 2017 HLPF, showed: it is about clarifying the mandates and regulatory frameworks.

All levels should be integrated in developing action plans; the subnational level is very close to the people and knows the needs of local communities. Other key points that were raised: In some cases the SDG implementation process is problematic due to a lack of decentralised structures. Financing is a key issue for local governments, as the central government often does not give (enough) resources. The challenge of collecting data should be tackled by innovative methods, also taking non-traditional data collection efforts and localisation into account. With regard to VNRs it was mentioned that they are not representative, as they are not addressing the total challenges of the 2030 Agenda – the subnational level for example is not explicitly included in VNRs.

To summarise the whole process in the words of a participant: 'VNRs are not a beauty contest. It is a critically important stocktaking process and understanding the madness'.

Different countries have different planning (and budget) circles. But by sharing their experience, good and bad practices as well as lessons learned the participants took home new ideas and approaches and will hopefully make use of the country action plans which have been developed throughout the workshop.

Read the full report here.