How Will We Measure the SDGs? – Podcast with Casey Dunning

March 22, 2016

Here at CGD, we’ve been following the numbers on the Sustainable Development Goals: 17 goals, 169 targets, 1063 proposed indicators. We can now add a new number to that list: 230, the number of indicators that have finally been approved by the UN to measure development progress. 

If the SDGs answered the “what” question of the 2030 development agenda, the indicators answer the “how.” But as CGD senior policy analyst Casey Dunning tells me on this week’s podcast, those 230 indicators raise new questions as well. 

First, with 230 sets of data to collect, how are countries supposed to prioritize? The indicators are meant to create “a full and complete SDG agenda, not a menu of options,” Dunning says. However, with so many indicators, the menu approach may start looking more likely in practice.

Then there are the indicators themselves, some of which are going to be hard to pin down. Or, as Dunning tells me, “they defy logic. You can’t even define them in a single country context, much less apply [them] to a global context – and that’s the definition of the indicator, not even how you would actually operationalize it and measure it.” 

Finally, there’s the question of whether all 17 goals are “nationally appropriate” worldwide. Should rich countries like Belgium and Luxembourg dedicate limited resources to reporting on the lack of extreme poverty within their borders? Logically, this seems like a waste.

But here’s the problem: where do you draw the line on what is “inappropriate” for a specific country?” As Dunning explains in the clip below, “you can use that same logic to apply to sexual and reproductive health and rights, or governance, or democracy. Choose your highly contentious issue.”   



CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.