In ECDG’s opinion, the UN is faced with a dilemma with regard to monitoring and evaluating the Sustainable Development Goals. On the one hand, the rhetoric surrounding the SDGs is that “Business as usual” for the UN is not an option any more. On the other hand, the UN appears to be hanging on to its strong commitment to Results-Based Management (RBM). For ECDG, results-based management IS business as usual.
The UN seems to be trying to finesse the dilemma by making statements about the need for complexity and systems thinking . . . in an RBM environment. In other words, the UN wants to have its cake and eat it, too.
In ECDG’s view, RBM may be inimical to complexity and systems thinking. Why? If one reviews the professional literature, complexity is not seen as being a monolithic concept. In other words, there are different types of complexity.
Detail complexity is the sort of complexity in which there are many variables. This type of complexity is well suited to measuring the 17 goals, 169 targets and 244 indicators with approaches that are consistent with RBM.
The other type is dynamic complexity. In this type of complexity, cause and effect are subtle and effects over time are not obvious. This is the type of complexity that the SDGs require . . . and which RBM cannot accommodate.
With regards to systems thinking, one of the things that makes a system a system is that everything is related to everything else. One cannot change one element of a system without influencing all of the other elements. RBM is not sensitive to this constraint.
ECDG is very encouraged by the work of the International Council for Science. The Council’s Guide to SDGs interactions: From Science to Implementation is, in ECDG’s view, a very positive contribution to the SDG M&E conversation.
One final thought; if you missed ECDG’s blog on The promise of OD for the SDGs, and we know that many of you did, then you have missed some of ECDG’s best and, forgive our lack of modesty, most important thinking on the SDGs.
 Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline. Currency/Double Day. NY, NY.