Written by S. P. Mohanty and A.K. Duraiappah

The Sustainable Development Goals, are seventeen ambitious “Global Goals” endorsed by 193 countries to help us achieve the “Future We Want”. These Goals have been strategically designed to be general enough to exhaustively cover all the major problems the world faces at the moment. But the same “generalizability” poses a problem; mobilizing a large number of people becomes difficult mostly because these goals now seem like a moonshot making a single person feel powerless to do anything about it. The T-learning team located in India approach attempts to overcome this through crowdsourced SDG monitoring; a bottom-up model of community mobilization. Below is a summary of a paper they are developing on this methodology. 

We urge citizens across the world, to simply focus on local issues that they “care” about; local issues that their community suffers from, local issues that they relate to. For example, an individual would be inclined to volunteer to teach english during the weekends in the local village school to contribute towards improving the literacy of village children versus being asked to asked to help achieve Universal Primary Education.

We urge these local community members to point out such local issues, contemplate what could be actions to help solve the issue, and contemplate on the indicators of change to monitor changes in the status of these issues. It is much easier for someone to be motivated to pick the issue that they have the means to help solve once a repository of such pressing issues and their associated actions are available. In fact, the whole exercise of contemplating about the local issues and their possible solutions and indicators is one of the most important and educative first steps of achieving the goal.

It is important to understand that in this process of aggregating the issues that communities across the globe face, we also empower new communities to learn from how other communities are tackling  a particular issue, hence giving them a head start in terms of preparing to deal with an issue; in other words a bottoms up “best practises” global resource base to be used by all communties.

Now the next question would be is how would the information on Issues, Actions and Change reported by the local communities be used for action. Lets us illustrate the usefulness of the data with a simple example.   Lets us assume we focus on a single issue such as  Garbage on Roads.  We  then imagine every reported instance of this issue as a Red blip on a spatial map in realtime.

[Issue – Red blip]

Similarly, we can imagine every reported instance of an Action for this issue as a Blue blip on a map in realtime [Action – Blue blip]. Now, if there is a considerable overlap in the region where the Red blips(Issue) and the Blue blips(Action) occur, then we can see that people are indeed Acting to help solve the reported issue and at the right places.

Now we can imagine the reports of positive change as Green blips [Positive Change- Green blip], say people reporting the the roads are cleaner now. If we notice that there is a considerable overlap between the Green (Positive Change) blips and where the Red(Issue) and Blue(Action) blips occurred, then we can confidently conclude that the Actions on the Issue are indeed resulting in Positive Change.

The delay between the onset of the Blue(Action) blips after the initial onset of the Red(Issue) blips can provide insight on how motivated and responsive the community in general is to help in solving the particular issue. In similar manner, the approximate overlap between the Green(Change) blips and the Red(Issue) blips can provide insights into how effective the community is in general solving the particular issue.

In the associated paper, we try to model these statistically to help us measure these abstract notions of Competency and Responsiveness of a community for a particular issue, and we also build  on these to attempt to quantify the notion of Learning by measuring how Competency and Responsiveness of a community changes over time for a particular issue. The ability to quantify the responsiveness, effectiveness and learning for a particular issue by a particular community will help us better understand a particular issue in the context of a community, and also help us better adapt the formal policies around the issue. This parallel effort can only strengthen the official data and indicator development process undertaken by government agencies in response to reporting on SDG 4.7

Issues in the real world, do not reside in isolation. They are always linked to other issues; some issues might be  sub-issues of other issues. The ability to systematically link these issues to each other paves the way for the creation of taxonomy of issues which, if the SDGs were  indeed designed properly, will have the Seventeen SDGs at the top of this taxonomy with the sub-issues and the sub-sub-issues, eventually leading us down this tree to the local issues that some community somewhere is concerned addressing.

On a first glance , the necessity of this taxonomy of issues might not be apparent. However,  if we look closely, we will see that it opens the door for new possibilities for global monitoring of the SDGs. The indicators for a particular SDG would no longer be decided behind closed doors by people who probably do not have a first hand experience of a particular SDG. The indicators would instead now be built bottom up by aggregating the indicators for all the sub-issues of a particular SDG. The actual state of achievement of an SDG will now no longer be determined by the (often biased) reported statistics by  official bodies; but will now be determined by the actual reports of Issues and Actions of all the sub-issues of an SDG.

What we propose, is a large crowdsourced experimental observatory for the SDGs which will gives us a really high resolution view of the current state of problems that we face; one which relies on and incentivizes the direct participation of people all over the world. The Future We Want can only happen when an overwhelming majority contributes, and we want to empower each and everyone of them to contribute in every small way they can. Together we can achieve this moonshot of a Goal.