Linking the SDGs with national development planning for better coordination

AidData is piloting a new methodology in Rwanda to connect financing for and progress on the SDGs with national development.

May 11, 2018

Jennifer Turner, Lauren Harrison, Soren Patterson

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed to in 2015 by all 193 UN member nations, have material impact: for the next decade and a half, they will shape how donors direct hundreds of billions in development dollars, and how country governments program hundreds of billions more in national budget spending.

The 17 SDGs, or global goals, contain hundreds of targets and indicators on which progress must be measured (and spending toward tracked) to realize Agenda 2030. Many developing countries have also built localized indicators into their own national development plans.

Statistics will be key to meeting these ambitious targets—we cannot achieve what we cannot measure—but no accepted, standardized method yet exists for linking the ambitious, global indicator framework of the SDGs to a country’s specific local context. As countries increasingly seek to coordinate their national planning with the SDGs, how can the process be made more efficient, rigorous, and replicable?

Responding to this need, AidData’s Sustainable Development Intelligence team and Rwanda’s National Institute of Statistics are now collaborating on an innovative approach to align the global SDGs framework with Rwanda’s national development plans. Last year, AidData debuted a pilot methodology for tracking financing to the SDGs that helps policymakers see who is funding what goals, and where. In Rwanda, we’re adapting this methodology for use beyond financing, with the goal of providing a standardized method that can be used to link both funding of the SDGs and progress on SDG indicators to local planning processes across different countries and contexts.

The challenges of connection

Countries have already begun work to link national development plans to the SDGs, with varying approaches. In 2016, Uganda was one of the first countries to develop a national development plan in line with the SDGs, with around three-quarters of SDG targets reflected in the plan. But this is only an estimate of alignment. Without the ability to track both spending toward national development activities and progress on indicators, and a clear methodology to see how those map to the SDG indicators, effective coordination is difficult.

The challenge stems from the universal nature of the Sustainable Development Goals. Designed as a single, standardized metric for measuring progress, the global indicator framework is limited in the number of outcomes it tracks and is an imperfect fit when applied across 193 diverse country contexts. Countries’ domestic development planning often includes many more measures than can be accounted for in a common global plan, but that are relevant and necessary for local officials. For example, for a sector like agriculture, the official SDG indicators only include broad, aggregate measures to track progress on things like agricultural productivity or access to resources. Yet, a regional official in Rwanda’s Ministry of Agriculture would need more specific measures to make good decisions: data on individual crops, access to specific technologies, and other locally-relevant information.

The benefits of coordination

Like many other countries, Rwanda has already built locally-relevant indicators into their national development plans to track progress, and is now working to determine which of these indicators are (or are not) reflected in the SDGs. Countries will ultimately be responsible for reporting on all applicable SDG targets—so linking national development planning processes with the SDGs represents an opportunity to streamline and integrate reporting and data collection.

By establishing an adaptable, common framework for linking national development indicators to the SDGs, the methodology under pilot in Rwanda makes the process of localizing SDG measurement more rigorous and replicable across country contexts. It lifts the burden from local officials of needing to decide ad-hoc which local activities and targets seem to be related to which global goal or target. The adaptability of this methodology to tracking financing also provides a more seamless method for linking resources to results—letting policymakers track the relationship between development investments and downstream results in a systematic way.

Rwanda’s National Institute of Statistics (NISR) is now leveraging our partnership as part of a broader effort to respond to the global SDG mandate while increasing local ownership over development progress. Using AidData’s methodology, NISR plans to map where national priorities are fully aligned, complement, or stand alone from the SDGs to facilitate a more holistic approach to monitoring and evaluation and public accountability. This concept also figures prominently in Rwanda’s upcoming National Strategy for the Development of Statistics (NSDS3), reflected in plans to report and visualize SDG and national planning indicators side-by-side.

Amina Mohammed, UN Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning, speaks about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. Photo by UN Photo/Mark Garten, licensed under (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Jennifer Turner is a Program Manager at AidData working on sustainable development solutions.

Lauren Harrison has consulted for AidData on data and policy analysis since 2016, and currently works as an Overseas Development Institute (ODI) Fellow in Rwanda. She previously served as a Junior Program Manager at AidData from 2014-16.

Soren Patterson is AidData's Communications Associate. 

The views expressed here are those of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the institutions to which the authors belong.