Review of the SDG Index and Dashboards: An example of Japan’s global ranking results

Working Paper
Review of the SDG Index and Dashboards: An example of Japan’s global ranking results Cover

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was adopted as a global agenda for sustainable development for the next fifteen years. Implementation will be central to achieving the SDGs and the effective review of progress and useful indicators will be equally important. The Bertelsmann Stiftung and the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) recently published an unofficial SDG Index and its global ranking of 149 countries to track SDG achievements and identify national priorities (Sachs, et al., 2016).
The purpose of this paper is to review the results of SDSN’s SDG Index and the ensuing methodologies used, with particular focus on exploring the SDG scoring and indexing system using Japan’s SDG global ranking results as an example. The paper raises and discusses several practical issues that may hinder the effective use of the Index as a practical tool.
The first and most critical issue is the big data gap, particularly the environmental data gap at the global level, which prevents using indicators and associated data to provide a complete picture of the target issues.
The second issue is the robustness of the indexing and global ranking results and the comparability among different indexing and global ranking systems. Rankings in indicator systems are influenced by the selection of indicators, availability of data and the indexing and weighting methods.
The third issue involves the indexing method which aggregates the scores of individual indicators by their arithmetic mean value. First, it needs to be underlined that the SDGs and their targets are different things. Second, they are not equivalent to each other by the same proportionate interlinkage. Their interlinkages can be reinforcing, dependent, conflicting and compromising. The current indexing method ignores these two points and therefore brings a challenge to the results.
The fourth practical issue is related to how to properly package the monitoring results and convey accurate messages to the target stakeholders. In particular, the basic assumptions and technical limitations and their associated impacts on the analysis and ranking results should be explicitly mentioned in a transparent and responsible manner to avoid misunderstanding.
The paper concludes that cross-national differences in the selection of indicators, data availability and methodologies make the international comparison across countries difficult. It suggests that at least initially international comparison of the progress in achieving the SDGs will be limited and country-based monitoring with due consideration for national circumstances and available resources will be appropriate. The paper further suggests that investment and capacity building in data collection related to the SDG indicators should be strengthen which requires deepening and broadening collaborations among UN organizations, academia and national governments.