Currently, the main problem facing Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) in the tracking and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), stipulated in the UN’s 2030 Agenda, is not in the insertion of the countries within the follow-up and review processes, but in the quality of their reports. This is the conclusion reached by Cepei after an exhaustive work that began in 2015, when we put the spotlight on the SDGs.
For this reason, we have decided to develop our open-access digital tool, the “SDG VNR Quality Tracker“. It is necessary that governments and decision makers have the possibility to analyze the quality of the data, the reports of the countries in the region and obtain information that allows them to understand where the failures are in order to build evidence-based solution strategies.
This has been possible thanks to a long journey in which Cepei has attended the most important events in the sector, such as the United Nations High Level Political Forum (HLPF) and the Latin American and Caribbean Country Forums on Sustainable Development. It has also been relevant to analyze each of the Voluntary National Reports (VNR) submitted by LAC countries since the beginning of the reporting and review process of the 2030 Agenda in 2016.
We will now take a look at its sections, functions and possibilities.
1. Digital tool “SDG VNR Quality Tracker”
1.1. Concept of “quality”
There are many ways to define the quality of a product. The “SDG VNR Quality Tracker” digital tool considers quality as the degree of fulfillment by governments of the commitments adopted by countries in the 2030 Agenda. Specifically in terms of monitoring, reporting and data, as well as alignment with these commitments. The higher the level of the above, the higher the quality of the results.
1.2. The sections
The SDG VNR Quality Tracker is made up of four sections that analyze and provide insights about the quality of Voluntary National Reports (VNRs). Each one includes dashboards with information produced by Cepei, based on high methodological standards that allow obtaining action-oriented data.
- Section 1: quality analysis of VNRs based on approximately 70 variables organized around 10 areas. It includes a VNR quality index.
- Section 2: analysis of the institutional framework created by the countries to implement and monitor the SDGs. It includes an index of the quality of national SDG governance.
- Section 3: analysis of the availability and quality of official country data to monitor and make informed decisions on SDG implementation. It also has an analysis of existing national SDG data portals, including an indication of their quality.
- Section 4: database, called “SDG Quality Help Desk”, which contains suggestions on how to present quality reports and take full advantage of the effort that the voluntary national review process of the 2030 Agenda means for countries.
2. Solutions offered by the “SDG VNR Quality Tracker”
To present the solutions that the SDG VNR Quality Tracker can offer to its users, we take as a reference the concerns identified by the countries that will submit their VNRs in 2023 to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) at the workshop on knowledge exchanges held in March 2023. 
2.1. Principles and steps required to prepare a Voluntary National Report
The VNR quality index, included in the first section of the tool, shows the areas of weakness in reporting by LAC countries. This makes it possible to identify those areas in which it is necessary to pay more attention or deepen the national analysis.
It is built taking the 2030 Agenda as a reference, therefore its principles are not only incorporated into the analysis, but also gain specificity and become operational and practical. This is due to the dimensions that make up this index, which goes from stakeholder participation to the elaboration of future steps.
The VNR quality index obtained for each report allows the user to quickly identify which of the previously presented VNRs can be consulted as a reference, both in general terms and in relation to specific topics.
On the other hand, the governance quality index, included in the second section, allows analysis of the institutional baseline and management capacities installed by governments to lead the reporting process, as well as institutionalized spaces to receive advice from non-governmental actors.
An approximation of the quality of the data available by country and of the SDG data portals, if they exist, shows the countries those areas and goals in which they should make greater efforts to have quality information in the report.
Finally, these approaches interact with the “SDG Quality Help Desk” that integrates the SDG VNR Quality Tracker, where operational and concrete suggestions are shared for a better reporting process, whether it is a first, second or subsequent VNR.
2.2. Institutional frameworks for SDG implementation
The governance quality index for SDG implementation considers as a core the three functions that Cepei has identified as essential, which we call “The Three C’s”: Championing, Covening and Communication.
In this way, the user can compare SDG leadership structures among LAC countries, analyze regional weaknesses and strengths, and identify key functions for SDG implementation that are within and beyond their competencies. This facilitates evidence for improving the institutional framework for implementation and learning from other national experiences.
2.3. Roadmap for data work and lessons learned in the preparation of VNRs
Regarding data quality and data portals on the SDGs (section 3), the SDG VNR Quality Tracker provides information on weaknesses for monitoring the 2030 Agenda at the national level and for each SDG individually. It also facilitates the identification of data gaps and problems in areas such as updating the production, publication and disaggregation of data for each country in the region.
This information is essential in the development of strategies to increase statistical quality, as well as the consideration of the insertion of National Statistical Offices in the national governance of the SDGs, which can be seen in the Governance Quality Index.
The recommendations presented by the SDG Quality Tracker are not the traditional “good practices” that compile and expose different virtual spaces and reports, but are practical actions, easy to implement and concrete results in the short and medium term.
The “SDG Quality Help Desk” presents recommendations based on the experience of Cepei professionals, which are organized according to whether it is a first, second or subsequent report. This information will be useful for the construction of the VNR, its presentation to the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), and even for its subsequent use as a document that promotes national transparency and accountability.
2.4. Ensuring meaningful stakeholder participation in voluntary national review processes and SDG implementation
This issue runs through the SDG VNR Quality Tracker in a cross-cutting manner as stakeholder participation in national SDG reporting is a commitment in itself, a reassurance of the “leave no one behind” principle and an element of good national governance leadership for SDG implementation and monitoring.
In addition, the “SDG Quality Help Desk” also presents suggestions aimed at strengthening the actual participation of non-state actors in the process, both during the construction of the report and at the time of its submission and in the steps following its submission.
To guarantee an effective and action-oriented multi-stakeholder engagement, Cepei has adapted the “17 Rooms” methodology created globally by The Brookings Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation for Latin America. This is a working process that States can implement at the national and subnational level ( even by institutions) when constructing their reports to reinforce the real participation of non-governmental actors. More information here.
2.5. Lessons from regional cooperation among reporting countries
Although the SDG VNR Quality Tracker does not consider in depth the lessons that result from this type of cooperation, it is possible to find among the suggestions of the “SDG Quality Helpdesk” lessons from cooperation on building VNRs created in LAC and other regions. One example is the invitation to contact other countries in the region that are going to report in the same year or have had good reporting results in the past to establish with them a peer review system for their draft national report.
Furthermore, the identification of strengths and weaknesses in the VNRs, the governance of SDG implementation and monitoring at the national level, and the quality of SDG data and data portals provides opportunities for countries to determine what their own shortcomings are and which LAC countries are strong in those same areas, opening up possibilities to work with them to strengthen weaker national capacities.
As we have seen, Cepei’s SDG VNR Quality Tracker provides governments, but also decision-makers with responsibilities related to sustainable development, with the possibility of accessing unique information and adapting it to their own needs in order to make evidence-based decisions.
This document reviews its main elements based on specific demands made by governments that will submit their VNRs in 2023. This is a brief introduction to the tool, which will be able to answer questions such as: What is the relationship between the data quality profile of each country and its SDG governance structure? or What is the relationship between governance, data and VNR quality?
All this and much more will be worked on in future Cepei papers and analyses.
For more information or to request a demo of the ODS Quality Tracker please contact Javier Surasky, Cepei Research Director: firstname.lastname@example.org
 For more information: https://sdg.iisd.org/news/desa-workshop-knowledge-exchange-support-2023-vnr-countries/