The UN Sustainable Development Goals Part 3: Indicators, measurement and reporting

Once the 17 goals and 169 specific targets were agreed in 2015 work began to identify the indicators needed for us to measure progress, both nationally and worldwide. The list was finally agreed in 2017.

 It’s a very long list of 244 factors that are being measured and reported to create datasets, like the one maintained at and other reporting organisations.  There is a document with a complete list of indicators here. We have a handy spreadsheet here and there is a more interactive page here

Many governments are having to do a great deal of work to even collect the information they need to report. This is revealing in itself ( as an example I know that the UK only had 60% of this data available in 2018).  The data is incredibly useful for national sustainable development policy and implementation, so ensuring it is accurate and available should concern us all, and particularly researchers working in the relevant disciplines.

Some targets need research work simply to collect and manage the data systematically.  Many indicators reference existing frameworks, such as the Paris agreement on Climate change, and some are highly dependent on international co-operation for measurement as well as progress. It’s a complex structure but one where researchers have a large part to play.

Looking at the list of indicators I wonder, for example, how we will be able to measure ‘coastal eutrophication and floating plastic debris density’ for target 14.1.1?  I sincerely hope there are researchers working to help us with this.  We have learned that real, lasting, deliberate change is most often both preceded and reported by careful measurement and the trends revealed by these indicators are critical to our achieving the Global Goals and surviving on our planet.

As a reseacher once you have identified the targets that your research is helping to achieve, these indicators will be interesting, and perhaps even useful in reporting your impact. However, please do not think that your research outputs need to be measured using these indicators.  These are the measures being used by governments to report progress and you can safely assume that your work on particular targets is moving us all forward.

Now that you know about the SDG framework and have identified the targets your research work is helping us to achieve, please go ahead and build your own researcher page to tell us about your work.  Get started using the big red button at the top of this page. We’re looking forward to hearing about your work!

Of course we all have a wider responsibility, both personally and professionally, to keep the 17 goals in mind in our daily lives. This will help us to reduce pollution, promote equality of social, economic and political inclusion and avoid products or activities that pollute the planet or exclude certain people. This work is always important. As an example of how we can promote the goals beyond our own work Joel Gill writes persuasively here about improving gender balance in his own discipline, the Geosciences. In addition, universities have much to contribute to local sustainability in transport, buildings and city design and technology. This is all undoubtedly important and we truly hope that learning more about the SDGs will encourage you to strive for sustainability in all aspects of life. However, the Global Academy celebrates, reflects and will eventually report on the contribution of your research to the SDGs so do let us know about your work.

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This is the last of our three articles on the UN SDG Framework. The subject is huge you are certain to have more questions. Twitter is a great place to ask as we are in contact with many, many other researchers and organisations working on the goals.

The most important message from these 3 articles, is that your research is almost certainly helping us make progress towards acheiving the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Even if the contribution of your current project isn’t clear we are confident that the next one will be right on target!

“At its essence, sustainability means ensuring prosperity and environmental protection without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. A sustainable world is one where people can escape poverty and enjoy decent work without harming the earth’s essential ecosystems and resources; where people can stay healthy and get the food and water they need; where everyone can access clean energy that doesn’t contribute to climate change; where women and girls are afforded equal rights and equal opportunity.”

Ban Ki-moon, 8th UN Secretary General

Wendy Stone

Wendy Stone

Wendy leads the team at The Global Academy. She also makes respectable tea, but should leave coffee to experts.