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The Voluntary Subnational Reviews at the core of the SDG process

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A critical step in successfully achieving the 2030 Agenda is the reporting on any progress as well as the identification of any setbacks encountered. We learn by doing, and the subnational level is ideally placed to assess these aspects.

Voluntary Subnational Reviews (VSRs) are a tool that LRGAs can use to report on their overall accomplishments as well as any obstacles, opportunities and challenges they encounter in their efforts to implement the SDGs at the subnational level in their countries. VSRs were an initiative launched by UCLG in 2020. Already, by the end of 2021, local LRGAs from 14 countries had prepared VSRs, representing a total of 28,000 local governments. In 2022, the LRGAs from 10 countries (11 in 2023) are preparing VSRs

VSRs differ from Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs), which are individually produced by local or regional governments and circumscribed to a specific city or region. In contrast, a VSR can encompass a country/province/region-wide analysis of the process of localising the SDGs performed at the behest of all types of local governments (big, small, urban, rural). VLRs are carried out by cities or individual local governments (125 VLRs covering 36 countries were produced by the end of 2021). A noteworthy aspect of VLRs is that it calls for a multi-stakeholder approach, whereby municipalities work with different stakeholders on their territories – thus instilling ownership. VSRs and VLRs complement each other; however, for added value, VSRs should also draw on the experiences acquired by the local governments in developing their VLR. Moreover, for some LRGAs, VLRs may prove to be a first step towards their promotion of VSRs in their country. To support this VSR process, UCLG and the Capacity and Institutional Building group have published guidelines for VSRs that compiles specific contributions and findings from the different LRGAs that have already produced VSRs, including several European LRGAs .

The impact of VSRs has been critical; in every country that has produced a VSR, the national governments have mentioned/integrated direct references to VSRs in their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), which further highlights the importance of LRGs in the reporting process.

In Europe, as of 2021, Germany, Norway and Sweden have produced VSRs. Subsequently, in 2022, Norway also developed, in partnership with Statistics Norway, a “Taxonomy for indicators related to the SDGs”, to encourage the subnational disaggregation of indicators.

Effectiveness of SDG national reporting and coordination mechanisms

Are you involved in drafting a Voluntary Subnational Review?

Voluntary Subnational Reviews: are you aware of this tool?

Voluntary Subnational Reviews: has your association been involved in the development of a VSR?

Six CEMR countries will be using a VNR to report to the 2022 HLPF: Greece*, Italy*, Latvia, Luxemburg*, Montenegro* and, the Netherlands* .Two of the associations from these countries are preparing their first VSR: in Italy, AICCRE has been working on its VSR with assistance from academia and its partners and, in the Netherlands, VNGi is proceeding similarly while also using their knowledge and experience to take part in VSR-coaching activities involving Cameroon, the Philippines and Sri Lanka . Sixteen percent of the respondent associations have been involved in the VSR drafting process. For example, AICCRE is working on a VSR, has joined the UCLG VSR working group and is now awaiting governmental feedback about the VSR. In Scotland, COSLA attends the working group of its Scottish SDG stakeholder network. Interesting aspects that have come to light regarding the drafting of a VSR include how the process can influence reporting at the national level, cooperation with European and international LRGs and even visibility at the international level.

The way forward for VSRs

LRGAs also need capacity building that capitalises on the experiences of VSR development between 2020 to 2022 (see Guidelines for VSRs, November 2021, available in three languages). Possible options for CEMR and PLATFORMA to foster VSR development include: workshops/hands-on training, online courses to reach a larger group of LRGAs and peer-to-peer coaching sessions. All these tools could make use of the 2022 UN Handbook to help prepare VNRs and the 2021 VSR guidelines