Global goals and local data doesn’t mix: That needs to change

Written by Jessica Espey and Jay Neuner

This opinion article was originally published on Apolitical. You can see the original article here.

Source: Michael Lechner via    Unsplash

Source: Michael Lechner via Unsplash


In the scientific, academic, and development communities, the need for sustainable development is obvious.

Who can argue against ensuring that both people and the planet are cared for and that prosperity can continue in the long term?

In 2015 world leaders showed their commitment to this, too, agreeing to a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The aim was to focus countries’ efforts and work together for a more sustainable planet. But sadly, over the last four years, in the face of cold, hard politics, this commitment has faltered.

As elections in the U.S. and Brazil have shown, a lack of national-level support can be devastating to progress in fighting climate change, ensuring equality, and more.

Fortunately, local policymakers are filling the void, breaking down the issues of sustainable development into community-relevant initiatives and actions. But to do this they need local data that can tell them where they stand on poverty, inequality, housing, ecosystem management, and other issues, and which ones to prioritise.

Data needed

New reports from TReNDS’ Local Data Action (LDA) grantees look at questions of local SDG monitoring, as well as how to make data and information as useful as possible for local policymakers.

Project teams from Aruba, Brazil, Colombia, England, India, and the United States took the most tangible aspects of the SDGs–their indicators and targets–and applied these to local contexts. In the process, they examined the availability of local data, the systems used to gather this information, the status of their city and regions on sustainable development, and how to accelerate progress over time.

The reports highlight a range of challenges including the lack of local data, the difficulty of building fit for purpose local data systems, and the varying contexts that threatened to derail their regions’ progress, from divisive national elections to hyperlocal issues unrecognised in the SDGs.

Despite these challenges, the grantees’ work helped promote action for the SDGs even when national leadership was missing. They also helped to broaden political support for the global sustainability agenda, incentivise relative progress, and more.

One approach, common to many of the partners, was to align SDG indicator frameworks with longstanding or new plans for sustainability, inclusion, and economic growth. For example, in Los Angeles, the project team aligned the SDGs with existing sustainability plans, and then collaborated with four universities to develop a list of locally-adapted SDG targets that the Mayor’s office will consider as it prepares a city-level system for reporting on the SDGs.

Spurring progress

Participatory efforts were also key to each project. For example, in Patiala, India, a multi-stakeholder approach was critical to identifying priority issues that should be considered first when aligning local data to the SDG framework.

From municipal entities and leaders, to local academics, to nongovernmental organisations, these groups banded together to advise on the indicator methodology and support action based on the project work.

As these grantees showed, achieving sub-national sustainable development requires the two-punch effect of both information and action. Whether a Small Island Developing State or a major city among the G10, the power of local data action is to spur progress among cities, among regions, all the way up to the national level.

For more on the power of local data action, visit

The Local Data Action Solutions Initiative is a project of TReNDS at the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The authors would like to pay thanks to Sandra Ruckstuhl for her management of this project. Learn more about the program on the LDA-SI website.