Moving forward: Monitoring, knowledge production and knowledge sharing

10 June 2019
SERIES Think tanks contributing towards the health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 8 items

This SDG series shared opinions of the researchers from South Asia who were engaged in the IDRC initiated regional review of the SDG implementation process. A number of key messages have emerged from the regional studies:

  • The SDGs are more than just the indicators and counting the numbers. The integration and interdependence of the goals is the significance of the SDGs. The SDGs provide an opportunity to bring fundamental changes in governance in order to ensure sustainability of the earth and well-being of the population.
  • The notion of development as growth is secondary to the notion of sustainability.
  • Inclusion of different sectors such as researchers, policy makers, international organizations, academia, government is not avoidable if the SDGs are to be realized. In addition, different groups, especially the marginalized, also need to be included in the implementation process. The question of how to engage different groups and stakeholders is still not clear.
  • Tracking progress on the SDG indicators are mainly assigned to national departments of statistics and census in each South Asian country. Two challenges are witnessed in the process: some of the nationalized indicators are inconsistent at the regional or the global level. For example, Universal Health Coverage is measured differently in each country; Afghanistan measures health service provision, whereas India measures health coverage. Second, a lack of reliable and timely data in many of the South Asian countries may make it difficult to create an accurate picture of the ongoing progresses and limitations towards achieving the SDGs. This is important, because the timely analysis would allow the policy makers and implementers to correct what is not working.

What now?

The way forward is to follow up accurately and consistently the progress of SDGs at the local, national, regional, and global levels. Three tasks are of utmost importance at this stage: monitoring progress, producing knowledge on best practices, and sharing knowledge. The need for systematic monitoring of progress towards the nationalized SDGs is critical. One of the challenges to systematic monitoring is a lack of quality data. Both administrative databases and periodic surveys have questionable methods of data collection in LMICs. Outdated paper record keeping takes time to collect data, to process them into information, and to produce knowledge. Many surveys rely on recall for data collection, affected by recall bias. Digitization of administrative processes helps provision of better services but also enables better monitoring and evaluation.

Systematic knowledge production is another challenge in many LMICs. A lack of skills (capable human resources) and technological capacity hamper the ability of many LMICs to produce knowledge systematically. When little research is produced, they are rarely used by policy and decision-makers. The challenge is on both ends. The knowledge needs to be policy-relevant and easily accessible to the policymakers. On the other hand, the policymakers need to have some understanding of knowledge production process to be able to make sense of the research and analyses.

Think tanks and policy and research institutions (PRIs) can play a central role at this stage. Policy and research institutions can help government agencies with the development of tools to collect systematic data. The gap between research and policy can also be bridged by think tanks and policy and research institutions by producing policy-relevant analyses and training policymakers to make sense of research results.

LMICs can benefit the most in terms of learning from one another. Cross-country cooperation in South Asia is limited, but there are a few to learn from.  Southern Voice, EQUINET AFRICA and Grupo FARO are a few examples of successful LMICs knowledge sharing and policy analysis platforms.

While global development institutions provide funding and technical support for PRIs and the governments to implement the SDGs and to strengthen their monitoring capacity, it is also crucial to be aware of the power imbalances and ethical questions that may be present in the funder-recipient setting. It is important to be careful of power positioning between the funders and the LMIC researchers and implementers if we are to move forward with equity in the SDG era.