USCIB convened a Business Experts Roundtable on Data Analytics for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and National Reports, on September 19, kindly hosted by KPMG. This session, held on the margins of UN General Assembly (UNGA) week, was intended to start a conversation about how to organize, analyze and improve on frameworks to present and analyze SDG-related data, with a focus on private sector approaches that are already in use.
OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria opened the meeting with a statement of wholehearted commitment by the OECD to advancing SDG action by governments. He reminded the meeting of extensive data and assessment that the OECD has gathered, but also recognized that the quantity and variety of metrics is overwhelming. He expressed appreciation for U.S. business involvement on these topics through the Business and industry Advisory Committee to the OECD, and looked forward to further insight that business could offer in organizing what is becoming “too much” of a good thing: data and metrics on SDG action and impact.
USCIB members offered two presentations as examples of business thought-leadership in this area. Tam Nguyen and Michael Yamoah, Bechtel, described a textual analytics framework to strengthen the business case within the company for SDG action. The overall objective in the company was to shift from SDG reporting to formulating a strategy that would be integral to the entire business process: new business development, design, building and operation. Text analytics of national voluntary reviews did provide a structured approach to organize and make sense of voluminous amounts of unstructured data related to business lines, markets and SDG’s.
Gaya Branderhorst, KPMG, provided an overview of dynamic risk analysis (DRA) and its applicability to tracking SDG actions. In her presentation, DRA is well-suited to sustainability science, reflecting the inherent inter-connections of the SDG’s. A systems dynamic approach to gauging progress will need to elicit multiple experts, and involve all levels of an organization or company. This is especially relevant to emerging issues and innovation, which may not be visible to the top levels of a government, inter-governmental and business entity.
Jennifer Park, a representative from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, observed that the U.S. government also tracks dozens of statistics and other metrics, and spoke about the need for a structure that would allow a “full picture” of sustainable development status and progress. Carolien DeBruin of C-Change underscored the need to bridge between top-down data gathering and interpretation and working and grassroots experiences in practice. Manu Bhardwaj of Mastercard provided a perspective on data poverty in developing countries, and the barriers that poses for SDG action. He described recent efforts in the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth to work with the OECD on utilizing private sector information from consumer transactions to help inform SDG policy priorities.
National governments and other important societal partners are expected to take action on the 17 goals and 169 targets of the SDGs, but governments and business now face the challenge of how to measure progress on multiple and integrated fronts, and then communicate it to important stakeholders. In addition, many stakeholders are seeking more disaggregated data, which adds another level of complexity. For business, that means reaching internal audiences as well as investors to demonstrate value and benefit of a company’s SDG involvement, while national governments seek to demonstrate to their public and the international community – perhaps through Voluntary National Reviews to the UN High Level Political Forum – that they are delivering on their commitments.
Some governments have invited and reflected business information and metrics in their VNRs, but these are still in the minority, so a related question concerns a closer look at good practices in public consultation and gaining a better understanding of what business-generated or held information relating to SDG progress could also be useful to governments.
USCIB’S SDG Working Group will explore these and other dimensions of how to structure and understand data on SDG action and impact, and share further private sector experiences and suggestions in this regard.