Motivation

Q: What are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
A: The 17 SDGs were adopted by all member states of the United Nations to guide international collaboration towards sustainable development. They aim to end poverty, tackle inequality, protect the planet, promote peace, and ensure prosperity for all. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years. See the UN website for more information about the SDGs.

Q: Why develop an SDG Index and how should it be used?
A: The SDG Index aggregates available data on all SDGs into a highly preliminary composite index to provide countries with a quick assessment of how they are performing relative to their peers. In this way the SDG Index can help draw attention to the SDGs and their role as a tool for guiding national policies and long-term strategies for sustainable development. Its purpose is not to compare countries with vastly different development status, but to allow countries to benchmark themselves using a single holistic measure that encompasses all SDGs and treats each goal equally. Just like the SDG Dashboards, the SDG Index is designed to support national discussions on operationalizing the SDGs instead of monitoring progress towards achieving the goals.

The SDG Index (Table 1) shows that rich countries, particularly from Northern Europe, perform best. Yet, this does not mean that Sweden and other highly-ranked countries have achieved the SDGs. As made clear by the SDG Dashboards all countries score “red” in at least two SDGs and “yellow” on a large number of goals. The SDGs require further actions by all countries.

Q: Why develop an SDG Dashboards and how should it be used?
A: In early 2016, the UN Statistical Commission recommended some 231 indicators for the SDGs, but for most countries data remain unavailable for the vast majority of these proposed SDG indicators. It will take time and investments in statistical capacity to build-up national data systems so that every country can monitor progress against the official indicators (see also recommendations by the Expert Group on SDG Indicators). Meanwhile, countries need to start the process of operationalizing and implementing the SDGs using data available today. Stakeholder need to agree, which SDGs to tackle as a priority. To facilitate these discussions and to get started with implementing the Goals, the SDG Dashboard presents available SDG data visually. The Dashboard is presented separately for each region, since it is most useful to compare countries facing similar development challenges. No new data were collected for the SDG Index and Dashboard – both are based on published data.

Q: Do the SDG Index and Dashboards replace or compete with official SDG monitoring and indicators?
A: No. The SDG Index and Dashboards are preliminary analytical tools to help governments and other stakeholders take stock of where they currently stand with regards to achieving the SDGs and to identify priorities for early action. As new data become available they will be included in the SDG Index and Dashboards, which will be published on an annual basis for the next three years. Simultaneously, countries will need to develop a full suite of monitoring systems to track the SDG metrics recommended by the UN Statistical Commission. This will require major investments in statistical capacity development, particularly in poorer countries or those with low statistical capacity. Over time every country should be able to track critical SDG variables to monitor progress towards achieving the goals.

Q: How and by whom were the SDG Index and Dashboards developed?
A: The SDG Index and Dashboards have been jointly developed by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), led by scientific co-directors Guido Schmidt-Traub and Christian Kroll. The authors have drawn extensively on the SDG Indicators proposed by the UN Statistical Commission and consulted widely on methodology and appropriate data with experts around the world, including through a public consultation on an earlier draft report. The SDG Index and Dashboards also drew on an earlier prototype SDG Index for OECD countries developed by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and a report on SDG indicators prepared by the SDSN. All data and methodological assumptions are available online

Q: Why develop a separate SDG Index and Dashboards for OECD countries?
A: The report proposes an Augmented SDG Index and Dashboards for OECD countries. Both augment the global Index and Dashboards with 15 additional variables to provide a richer assessment of the SDG challenges faced by OECD countries. The inclusion of additional variables holds OECD countries to a higher standard, which is justified since they have the resources to achieve the SDGs. The Augmented SDG Index and Dashboards might also help identify priorities for statistical capacity development and for generating new SDG data in non-OECD countries.

Indicator and Data Selection

Q: How were the indicators for the SDG Index and Dashboards selected? Why are they not identical to the recently proposed official SDG Indicators?
A: The SDG use appropriate are available today, for at least 80% of the 149 countries with a population greater than 1 million, i.e. at least 124 countries. To identify appropriate indicators, all recently proposed official SDG Indicators were reviewed for data availability and suitability for inclusion in an SDG Index and Dashboards. Major gaps were filled with other metrics from official or other reputable sources. Some 77 indicators meet the standards for inclusion and have been incorporated into the SDG Index and Dashboard. Countries with a population smaller than 1 million are included in the Index and Dashboard if sufficient data are available. Decisions on indicator selection are described in Annex 1 and the online metadata.

Q: Why are some countries not included in the SDG Index and Dashboard?
A: A country is included in the Index and Dashboards if it has data for at least 80% of the indicators. Some countries with a population of less than 1 million have sufficient data and are therefore included in the SDG Index. A partial Dashboard for countries not included in the Index is reported in Annex 1 of the report. The fact that many countries lack sufficient data for inclusion in the SDG Index and Dashboards underscores the need for greater investments in statistical capacity building.

Q.: Where do the data for the SDG Index and Dashboards come from?
A: To the maximum extent possible, the SDG Index and Dashboards rely on internationally comparable official statistics. In some cases non- official metrics from other reputable sources are used, as described in the online metadata. Data for each indicator have been rigorously selected and reviewed for quality, timeliness and verifiability.

Methodology

Q: How do the Index and Dashboards compare performance across different indicators?
A: To ensure comparability we normalize the data for each indicator by transforming it linearly into a scale from 0 to 100. A value of 100 denotes the technical optimum, while a value of zero denotes the worst performer in the sample. For clarity and ease of interpretation, we transform some indicators so that in each case a higher score on the indicator corresponds to a higher overall progress.

Q: How are the SDGs and their indicators weighted in the SDG Index?
A: Each SDG has the same weight in the Index and Dashboards, which is in line with the spirit of the SDGs adopted in September 2015. This implies that countries need to pursue all 17 goals through integrated strategies. Within each goal every indicator is equally weighted, which implies that every indicator is weighted inversely to the number of indicators available for that particular SDG. An advantage of this approach is that as more and better SDG data become available new variables can be added easily to individual SDGs without changing the relative weighting of the goals. In this way the SDG Index and Dashboard can evolve over time as each epistemic community generates new and better data.

Q: What is the rationale behind the thresholds for the SDG Dashboards? How are they determined?
A: Some other indices use relative performance across countries to define thresholds. We believe that absolute thresholds are more suitable since most SDGs require absolute benchmarks to be achieved. To assess a country’s progress on a particular indicator, such absolute quantitative thresholds are introduced to differentiate between situations where an SDG threshold has been met (green), where significant challenges remain (yellow), and where major challenges must be overcome if the country is to meet the goal (red). Where possible, these thresholds are derived from the SDGs, their targets, or other official sources. All thresholds are specified in the online metadata.

Q: What aggregation methods do you use and how is the overall SDG Index score calculated?
A: As described in Annex 1, the choice of aggregation formula can have important implications for the results of both the SDG Index and Dashboards. Taking simple average of indicator values (arithmetic aggregation) implies that the indicators are perfectly substitutable: progress on one variable can offset lack of progress on another. This approach is reasonable for indicators within the same goal that tend to complement one another, so we use arithmetic means to aggregate indicators within each SDG for the Index and Dashboards.

However, major trade-offs may occur across SDGs. Progress on one goal (e.g. higher economic growth) cannot fully offset lack of progress on another (e.g. rising inequality or environmental degradation). For this reason countries need to make progress towards every goal. In other words one must assume limited substitutability across goals, which is commonly done by using the geometric mean. We might therefore use the geometric average of the scores for each SDG to compute the overall SDG Index.

In practice, fortunately, the two methods of aggregation give almost the same rankings and nearly the same scores for most countries (correlation =0.977). For simplicity we therefore use the arithmetic aggregation even though the geometric aggregation is conceptually attractive. This leaves a natural interpretation of the meaning of the national SDG Index score. A SDG Index value of X% (e.g. 70%) therefore means that the country is X% of the way from worst to best on average across the 17 SDGs.

A third method for aggregating indicator scores is the Leontief minimum function, which ascribes the value of the indicator on which the country performs worst as the score for the SDG. This aggregation is helpful for identifying the areas within each goal where a country needs to make the greatest progress. We therefore use the minimum function to calculate the color coding in the SDG Dashboards. If a country is “red” on one indicator for a particular SDG its overall score for that goal will be “red”.

Q: How do the SDG Index and Dashboards deal with missing data?
A: The SDG Index and Dashboards do not model or extrapolate data to fill gaps because such extrapolations are prone to errors. At this early state in SDG implementation we also want to highlight data gaps to encourage governments and the international system to fill them. Annex 1 describes a few exceptions where data were imputed for entire groups of countries.

Interpreting the results and limitations

Q: Sweden is ranked number 1 in the SDG Index. Does this mean the country has achieved the SDGs?
A: Absolutely not. Sweden performs best on average and based on the data we were able to mobilize for the SDG Index. However, as the SDG Dashboard makes clear, every country faces major challenges in achieving the SDGs. This applies equally to Sweden and other top-ranked countries.

Q: The SDGs define a universal agenda. So why do rich countries perform relatively well in the SDG Index?
A: Some observers have expressed surprise that the ranking of countries in the SDG Index does resemble the ranking of more narrow indices that focus on income per capita and other measures of human development, such as educational attainment and health. Their concern is that the SDG Index may omit important variables on which rich countries perform worse than others and may therefore produce biased results.

As detailed below, there remain important data gaps in the SDG Index and Dashboards, including for goals, such as SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production or the global partnership, where richer countries tend to fare worse. However, other data gaps have the opposite bias (e.g. health, education, inclusive cities). Filling them would improve the relative ranking of richer countries.

On balance, an equal weighting of all SDGs will lead higher-income countries to perform better on average. These countries tend to perform better on most economic and social SDG priorities. They also perform better on some “local” environmental priorities, including access to wastewater treatment, deforestation rates, and rates of biodiversity loss. Rich countries perform worse on greenhouse gas emissions and some metrics for sustainable consumption and production, but these represent a modest share of SDG priorities.

Q: How does the SDG Index relate to other development indices for the SDGs?
A: Many other composite development indices exist, but we are not aware of one tracking all seventeen SDGs at the country level. The Bertelsmann Stiftung issued a report, which was the first to propose an index for OECD countries to track SDG achievement and determine priorities for implementation in each country. Another significant effort has been undertaken by the Overseas Development Institute, which presents a regional SDG Scorecard, projecting trends across key dimensions of the SDGs to determine areas in which the fastest acceleration of progress will be required. Annex 1 and online materials show how the SDG Index relates to other development indices, such as the Human Development Index.

Q: How can I access the data for my country or region?
A: The online country profiles of the report provide country profiles. The entire dataset is publicly available and periodically updated.

Q: What are the major data limitations?
A: As explained in the report, the lack of data in some areas leaves significant gaps in the analysis. In particular broader measures for the following SDG priorities are urgently needed:

  • Sustainable agriculture (SDG 2)
  • Universal health coverage (SDG 3)
  • Quality of education (SDG 4)
  • Women empowerment (SDG 5)
  • Integrated water resources management (SDG 6)
  • Decent work (SDG 8)
  • Inclusive and sustainable cities (SDG 11)
  • Sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12)
  • Climate change impacts and resilience (SDG 13)
  • Ecosystem services (SDGs 14 and 15)
  • Means of implementation (SDG 17 and other SDGs).

In addition, the SDG Dashboard does not capture important regional challenges that are less relevant at the global level, such as neglected tropical diseases, malaria, or inequality in education outcomes. Similarly, no globally available data could be found to track the impact a country might have on SDG achievement in another country (e.g. by sourcing natural resources from abroad). These challenges require careful analysis and will be addressed in later versions of the SDG Index and Dashboards.

Q: Do the Index and Dashboards include trend data?
A: Available trend or time series data are too sparse to estimate country-level rates of change for all variables. As a result, the SDG Index and Dashboards provide an initial snapshot of where countries stand today with regard to achieving the SDGs. Future work might focus on estimating historic baselines to compute rates of change.

Next Steps

Q: Will the SDG Index and Dashboards be updated?
A: The SDG Index and Dashboards will be updated annually over the next three years to include new indicators as they become available, update the data, and incorporate suggestions on how to make the tools more useful for countries and other stakeholders. The website will be continuously improved to facilitate the real- time use of the data and comparisons across countries.

Q: To whom can I address my comments on the SDG Index and Dashboards?
A: We welcome comments and suggestions for improving the SDG Index and Dashboards. Please address your comments and suggestions to info@sdgindex.org.