Since the Global SDG Synthesis Coalition formed in the Autumn of 2022, people’s curiosity has been piqued: why was the Coalition formed, and what is it trying to achieve? Why use synthesis to talk about the SDGs? Our acting Director, Alan Fox, has publicly promoted the role of synthesis as a methodology to evaluate progress toward the SDGs, and the revolutionary impact AI tools can have on speeding the process. I spoke to our in-house synthesis expert, Shivit Bakrania, to find out more.
Shiv: “It is widely known that the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent, interdependent crises have caused critical setbacks in progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. At the midpoint to 2030 the clock is ticking, and the road to achieving the Goals is challenging. Like many members of the international community, evaluators wondered what they could do differently. More evaluations would only add to the vast amount of evidence already available, so synthesizing the evidence seemed the best way to help stakeholders identify key lessons to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs. This is how the Global SDG Synthesis Coalition came to be.”
“The ultimate aim of the Coalition is to generate lessons and make credible evidence more available, so policy and decision makers can get the global community back on track for the SDGs. The synthesized lessons are designed to ignite interest in translating evidence on the different topics to speak to the different national contexts This robust, synthesized evidential foundation will empower decision makers to adapt and develop policy and action in light of global, regional and local contexts, while acknowledging the impact of recent upheavals.
The projected outcome is for these lessons to facilitate governments and partners to realign programmes and activities, and propel the global community toward a decisive leap forward in achieving the SDGs.”
“A considerable amount of evaluative evidence has been generated on the SDGs. The big issue is not so much a lack of evidence as an overabundance of it, and what we really need is not to generate more evidence, but to ‘shut the noise’. The evidence is buried in years of evaluation and research findings, and while it is in theory just a matter of looking for it, in practice, that is not a simple task.
To meet the challenges of helping to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs, we need an approach that allows us to draw what is most relevant out of vast quantities of detailed and specific evidence.
Methodologically speaking, syntheses accommodate the ideas and ideals of the studies they incorporate. Instead of hypothesizing, a synthesis systematically draws together evidence from the evidence that is already out there, while minimizing bias and getting to the key insights and lessons. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
“At the halfway point of the SDG timeline there is still time to make any necessary changes, making this an opportune moment to gather the evidence of what is working and what isn’t. With a strong evidential basis in which to ground the next steps, the Goals are still achievable, despite the setbacks of recent years.”
“The coalition will generate lessons that hold practical value for decision makers. These insights will be invaluable because they are aligned to the five SDG pillars (people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships) and synthesizing evidence by pillar recognizes the integrative nature of the principles of the SDGs. The pillars embody the interdimensional and interrelated considerations necessary to address sustainable development and leave no one behind in a way that the goals do not when considered independently of one another: no single goal can deliver sustainability in isolation. Through the principle of universality and collective global efforts combined, sustainable development can be realized.
As we develop the syntheses, we will upgrade our machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities to improve the quality of the findings. An evidence platform incorporating AIDA - UNDP’s Artificial Intelligence for Development Analytics tool - and other evaluation databases will allow stakeholders to generate syntheses in various user-friendly formats to cater to their different needs. The platform is a mechanism to pursue living syntheses that support decision makers in an accessible, interactive and visual manner.”
“The aim is to complete all five syntheses before 2025, to allow enough time for the evidence to be integrated into policy for the final years of the SDGs. The first synthesis on the Partnership Pillar will be ready by the UN General Assembly SDG summit in September 2023. The other four pillar syntheses will be ready in time for the UNGA Summit of the Future, if resources are available.”
“A coalition is by its nature made of multiple partners, and we warmly welcome new institutional and individual collaborators!
There are a variety of different ways to get involved. We are looking for people and organizations with a large rage of technical skillsets. High-level political officials can join the Steering Committee to drive the learning needs for the scope of the syntheses. Experts and methodologists can join the technical advisory panels for each pillar to quality assure the syntheses. We also welcome enthusiastic UN colleagues, development banks, international financial institutions and private sector foundations to join the pillar management groups, and play a crucial guiding role. Resource mobilization experts can help mobilize funding. We encourage advocates and champions from every echelon of government and society to ensure the lessons are put to good use. Whether you are an evaluator, a persuasive advocate or a fundraiser, we’d love to hear from you!”