The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) recently produced an Advisory Note on Follow-up and Review of the SDGs: https://oios.un.org/resources/2017/09/FcdUD2er.pdf. Some in the United Nations system have lauded the Note as being useful. However, ECDG has serious concerns about certain aspects of the advice that is provided. Thank goodness that it is non-binding.
According to the note, “- many countries will require substantial statistical capacity building support from the UN”. The note goes on to state that “. . . it is also important to note that – when it comes to national reporting – Member States are not obliged to take into account any data generated through mechanisms that are additional or parallel to their own national statistical services.”
ECDG believes that it would be important to apply principles of systems thinking to the follow-up and review of the SDGs. One principle that is relevant in this instance is the paradox of local optimization. This paradox occurs when part of a system is optimized at the expense of other elements of the system.
In this instance, the note appears to advise Member States to optimize their national statistics systems . . . and to sub-optimize other forms of M&E and progress reporting. ECDG believes that if Member States follow this advice, they may inadvertently, negatively influence overall system throughput.
ECDG’s advice to Member States is exactly the opposite to that of OIOS. Instead of locally optimizing national statistics systems, ECDG recommends focusing on global optimization. Member States should seek to develop an ‘optimize the whole’ culture by challenging all decisions and policies with the question, “Is this decision good for the system as a whole or does it focus on the interests of one element of the system?”
ECDG adapted some ideas from the following website for this blog: https://less.works/less/principles/systems-thinking.html#Seeing(andHearing)LocalOptimization