The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent humanity’s best hope for a decent and survivable future. But to become reality, they will depend on a concerted, long-term implementation effort. Not only by countries but by companies and all kinds of organisations across the world. And to do that means they have to be measured.
Some of the key success criteria for this measurement enterprise are the development of:
- Protocols that clearly specify what should be measured. This should include agreed definition of key terms
- Attribution rules that define which parties, especially below the level of countries, are considered responsible for the various aspects of performance against the SDGs
- Consolidation logics that determine how the measurements made by those responsible for the various elements of performance should be combined. In simple terms, do they all add up?
My paper ‘Quantifying natural and social capital: guidelines on valuing the invaluable’ written for the ICAEW aims to contribute to that effort. Partly in terms of terminology, which is often very confused as different people use the same terms for different things – and indeed, different terms for the same thing.
But more substantively, it addresses quantification. The manner and extent of quantification used to develop the measurements underlying progress against the SDGs will have an impact on the result – and some of these can be damaging. That is not to say that the SDGs should not be quantified. So while quantification has many advantages in terms of mobilising effort through focusing attention, it has a number of dangers in terms of:
- Excluding what cannot easily be quantified
- Steering attention towards those things valuable economically
- Disempowering those who are not involved in the process of defining measures.
As a result the paper makes a number of recommendations for how measurement programmes can deal with these dangers. One of the most important is the participation in the measurement process of those whose lives are being measured. But any process, especially of the complexity of the measurement of the SDGs, will make compromises. So above all, the main recommendation is for transparency over the method used to define the measures.
And maybe the real question for the realisation of the SDGs is: should they all add up?
Adrian Henriques, Visiting Professor of Accountability and CSR at Middlesex University, www.henriques.info