West Midlands local group meeting: The SDGs and what they mean to statisticians

The RSS West Midlands local group were pleased to host Phil Crook to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and what they mean to statisticians. The event took place on Thursday 14 November at the University of Warwick.

Phil Crook worked as a statistical consultant within the field of international development via the navy, the Seychelles and the Department for International Development (DfID). In explaining the SDGs themselves, he broke down his analysis into a period of 'unmeasured aspirations' 1946-1990; the Millenium Development Goals; the launch of the SDGs; and the current opportunities presented by the SDGs.

The United Nations (UN) Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 was identified as a key point in defining the aspirations of international development work. He explained how over the following decades the UN produced several other declarations identifying particular areas (racial discrimination, gender discrimination, rights of the child, education, the environment, etc) but none of these included measurable targets. Meanwhile, in the 80s and 90s, there had been efforts towards statistical capacity building globally, particularly led by the UK, France, Portugal, Germany, Sweden and Norway – along with the World Bank and IMF, with the latter making loans conditional on good data proving an important incentive.

With the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, measurable outcomes were finally included alongside the aspirations, with the eight goals being broken down into targets and indicators. The MDGs were widely seen as successful both in motivating and focusing attention, and ultimately in contributing to positive changes. However it was subject to some criticism, with for example the indicators often being those that could be readily measured rather than those that were the most relevant, and the Goals and Targets being imposed in a top down manner.

With this in mind, the SDGs were launched in 2015 with heavy involvement from statisticians, especially those from the UK. These addressed many of the concerns but at the cost of having an increase to 17 goals, 169 targets and 244 indicators. Phil gave some examples of these, including some where the committee decision-making progress was evident. He also discussed the relevance to the UK, which will also be required to make efforts to meet the SDGs.

He finished by discussing the opportunities that the SDGs represented for statisticians, and answering questions on subjects including on the extractive dimension of statistics in Africa, and the relative roles of statisticians and economists in the development of the SDGs.

Load more