Monitoring progress on the post-2015 development framework

Development Policy03 Feb 2014Robert Johnston

In order to effectively monitor progress on the post-2015 agenda, a focused data development strategy is needed. The strategy should focus on developing new official statistics and indicators for income, employment and inequalities, public and private investment and the environment.

As the 2015 closing date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) fast approaches, there has been intense examination of what targets have been achieved to date and what lessons can be drawn for the post-2015 development agenda. The attention to existing and new targets has also led to close scrutiny of the indicators and statistics used in the monitoring process, set up by the UN Secretary General and the UN Statistics Division (in cooperation with the UN system-wide statistical services) in 2001.

Monitoring the MDG indicators is based on national statistics and estimates compiled by the aforementioned international agencies according to internationally-recommended concepts and definitions. Well-established and widely-followed statistical recommendations have been instrumental in obtaining comparable and reliable trend reporting. However, despite considerable progress in data collection and compilation of indicators since the adoption of the Millennium Declaration, some significant gaps in statistical programmes can be seen. These gaps were discussed in the recent UN System Task Team report on statistics and indicators for the post-2015 development agenda.

The most important gaps relate to statistics and indicators on income, employment and inequalities, public and private investment, international money flows and the environment. Practical international statistical standards and country-level implementation programmes need to be agreed for the following:

  • Quantifiable concepts and statistical definitions of poverty and inequality (including gender inequality), and decent and productive work;
  • Education and learning beyond basic literacy;
  • Sustainability and balance among social, economic and environmental capacities and targets;
  • Governance and accountability, human rights, rule of law and crime and justice.

Beyond conceptual and programmatic issues, statistical services in the majority of developing countries are severely understaffed and underfunded relative to the intense demands that development agencies and NGOs place on them, in addition to their government’s own societal priorities. There is thus little or limited capacity for reliable, basic current data on many of the most important demographic, economic and environmental trends. For many of the least developed countries and countries in conflict, the limited basic data series and indicators they do provide are almost all ‘estimates’, based on a minimum of real information buttressed by subjective guesses.

In order to address these limitations effectively, a focused data development strategy is needed. It should cover basic economic data from the household’s point of view as well as other basic, accurate and detailed economic data on money, trade and small-scale production. The data should be based on the central framework of national accounting and surveyed at least quarterly. The strategy must incorporate effective programmes to develop, test and support implementation of internationally-agreed cross-sectoral statistical concepts and methods that will highlight and ensure availability of the agreed target indicators.

The Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) managed by UNICEF and the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) sponsored by the United States (both of which predate the Millennium Declaration), provide outstanding models of international cooperation with national statistical services. Together, they collect high quality, reliable and comparable data on population and health and provide the basic data for many of the MDG indicators using international statistical standards. Data methodologies are thoroughly worked out and tested in collaboration with national statistical offices. A similar approach – based on quarterly, integrated household surveys carried out by national offices and working from standard international statistical recommendations, extended and refined as experience warrants – should be developed to measure household economic activity and inequalities. Additional indicators, including education, gender equality, households’ rural and urban environment, governance and personal security, can be added to the survey if resources and agreement on new post-2015 targets permit. Such a survey should also be consistent with an underlying human rights framework.

Another example of cooperation is in the economic sphere, the International Comparison Program (ICP), managed by the World Bank. ICP works with countries to compile extensive price data to support price comparisons among countries for comparable consumption baskets. The results are mainly used to estimate purchasing power comparisons among countries to adjust gross national income data for price comparability.

Programmes such as MICS, DHS and ICP require considerable resources and intensive national and international collaboration to avoid ad-hocism, lack of focus, and fragmented, overlapping and unpredictable funding, all of which are now all too common in the area of household income and consumption.

However, well-designed and well-funded national programmes alone will not be enough to effectively monitor progress. The UN Task Team report identifies some additional prerequisites from post-2000 experience in order to effectively monitor post-2015 progress. These include:

  • Clarity and quantifiability of a small number of targets and clear organizational responsibility for each indicator in a short, agreed list;
  • Collaboration, review and agreement among all the concerned international agencies on compilation of indicators, analysis of trends, and integrated reporting in official reports, as well as on the creation of an online database and one main report for the general public;
  • Grounding the desired indicators in existing national statistical programmes and supporting these programmes;
  • Effectively addressing the persistent and severe limitations in many least developed countries and in fragile and conflict countries in their basic statistical programmes;
  • Developing strong statistical capacities at the international level for compiling and analyzing statistics for each target and indicator, and maintaining agreed methodologies for these;
  • Close collaboration with and support for developing countries regarding effective basic data collection and analysis, and avoiding new, unfunded data compilation burdens on national offices.

These ambitions represent formidable conceptual, programmatic and resource challenges at national and international levels. The UN Task Team working group has gone some way to review monitoring of the implementation of MDG targets and has identified ongoing work which can be drawn on, much of it published and widely cited. However, implementation of the necessary on-the-ground data collection programmes and indicators for regular official reporting will require significant additional human, financial and organizational skills for monitoring and country policy-making.