VNR reporting needs evaluation: a call for global guidance and national action


Posted on 14/03/2018 by IIED & EVALSDGs

Last month WASHwatch and End Water Poverty launched Action for Tomorrow – a campaign to engage civil society with the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). This year 47 countries will be undertaking a Voluntary National Review (VNR) at the HLPF on Goals 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 and 17. The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) recently produced a briefing calling for an evaluation of the current method of the VNR process. The briefing analyses 43 VNRs highlighting examples of good practice and provides recommendations for increasing the robustness of the process.

The VNRs are the official reporting mechanisms to hold governments to account on progress towards the SDGs. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets clear expectations for VNRs to be “rigorous and based on evidence” and the UN recommends that the first VNR in particular should describe the reviewing process and how the ‘national follow-up and reporting’ system will be implemented.


Figure 1: Countries with VNRs in 2016 and 2017, and submitting in 2018. Source: IIED, 2018

Key findings 

  • No set format or content for reporting has led to the reviews varying hugely in length, robustness and detail.
  • Lack of understanding on how monitoring differs from evaluation. Most reports are skewed towards monitoring work with weaker mentions on analysis - 13 reports mentioned evaluation, 24 mentioned evaluation but confused it with monitoring and 6 didn’t mention evaluation at all.
  • Existing monitoring systems provide opportunities. Most governments reviewed have conducted a gap analysis to assess how existing monitoring systems should be adapted to integrate SDG reporting.
  • Few qualitative indicators in reports as the focus tends to be on quantitative indicators.
  • Almost all countries have developed governance structures for the 2030 agenda and SDG reporting.


Good Evaluation Practice

  • Nepal has developed a five year ‘Integrated National Evaluation Action Plan’ for 2016– 2020’ and it’s planning to develop a national evaluation policy by July 2018.
  • The Maldives intends to cross-reference qualitative and quantitative data when reporting progress.
  • Italy commits to maintaining stakeholder involvement in follow-up and review. Stakeholder involvement will help to select the most relevant indicators, inform decisions and foster widespread ownership of the sustainable development agenda. Defining measures through stakeholder engagements will provide a good basis for active and useful evaluation.
  • Some companies on the Zimbabwe stock exchange have adopted sustainability reporting in accordance with the Global Reporting Initiative G4 guidelines. This is generating evaluative evidence for the private sector’s contribution to the SDGs.
  • The Government of Panama has established a multidimensional approach to measure welfare, poverty and discrimination/segregation. This approach requires specific policies and M&E mechanisms.



  1. The current Voluntary National Review guidelines should be revised by the UN Secretariat and General Assembly to clearly outline evaluation measures and review processes. These gaps should be filled in consultation with the UN Evaluation Group (UNEG) and the broader evaluation community.
  2. National governments should engage with evaluation networks and professionals early in the Voluntary National Review process. They should also consider developing and harmonising national evaluation policies.
  3. National evaluation organisations should initiate dialogues with their governments on evaluation’s role, and engage with institutions in charge of defining evaluation processes
  4. There is a need to strengthen evaluation capacity and use in all countries; this requires courageous political will, adequate resources and evaluation expertise.


Read the full briefing here. The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) promotes sustainable development, linking local priorities to global challenges. They tweet as @iied. EVALSDGs is a network to promote the evaluation of the SDGs and support National Evaluation Capacity Development. They tweet as @EVALSDGs