Measuring Outcomes & Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals
“We can end hunger around the world by 2030.”
Let that sink in for a moment. It’s a big statement, a big goal. When you consider a goal of ending hunger, you have a couple of choices. You could either think, ‘That is way too big for me to wrap my mind around,’ or you can say, ‘That’s a big goal, and I can do something to move the needle, even by one tick.’
Let’s take a step back. Why are we discussing big goals?
In 2015, the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—also known as the Global Goals—to change the world for the better and leave no one behind by 2030. This 15-year initiative aims to tackle 17 areas of need across the world, from eradicating hunger to fostering responsible production and consumption to ensuring everyone has access to a quality education.
Across these 17 goals are 232 targets and indicators designed to be guideposts, acting as gauges to tell us how well we’re making progress toward achieving the goals. Translation: outcomes measurement. This is so much more than the UN pointing at a North Star – with the emphasis on outcomes tracking baked into the SDGs framework, we have the indicators to see if we’re on track to achieving social change with a ready-made formula to measure success.
Do the SDGs Apply in the United Kingdom?
Now, back to our big “end hunger” goal. If that feels too daunting, and almost like you’re trying to change the world all at once, what if we said this instead:
We can end hunger in your city by 2030.
That feels different, doesn’t it? One of the sentiments I have been hearing from funders over the past several months is how hard it is to align your mind with something when it’s presented as such a huge global issue. Instead of tackling an issue for the whole world, what if we thought about it in a closer context? The SDGs have to do with achieving social change around the corner just as much as they do with achieving social change around the world.
There’s plenty to do to make change ‘around the corner.’ Something like ending hunger isn’t a challenge that’s confined to developing nations. In fact, in 2016 600,000, including more than 150,000 children, lived in food-insecure households.
If we look at some of the other goals, we begin to see that “global” doesn’t have to mean “across the globe.” Ending poverty on a global level doesn’t have to start someplace else – there were over 4.6 million people living in persistent poverty in the UK between 2010-13. Or, with the goal of supporting good health and well-being, the UN isn’t restricting this to certain nations or areas in the world. When we consider that Cancer Research UK projected that there would be 350,000+ new cases of cancer diagnosed in 2014 as just one health-centric data point in the UK, it’s clear we have so much more progress to make right here at home.
At this point, you may be thinking, ‘The SDGs are worthy goals, but I can’t veer away from what I’m already doing in my work.’
As you’re reading this, you may be leading a health foundation striving to provide greater access to quality healthcare for the people you serve. You may be a grant maker sitting in a community foundation, convening local change-makers to address issues like ending hunger, addressing inequality, or creating economic opportunities. You may be reading this in between reviewing grant applications to support responsible production and consumption or to take action against climate change. You may be part of a non-profit running a local food bank, doing your part to make sure no one goes hungry in your city.
Here’s the kicker: if any of those descriptions scratch the surface of what you’re doing in your work, you are already supporting the SDGs.
The only adjustment I’d encourage you to make – if you haven’t done so already – is to acknowledge that your change-making work is fundamentally part of this global effort. What the SDGs have given us is a way to recognise that these big goals apply in our own backyard as much as anywhere else in the world. The Global Goals are everyone’s goals.
2030 is Around the Corner
When I say that the SDGs apply “around the corner,” I mean locality as much as I mean the clock is ticking. 2030 may sound like a far-off date, but it’s closer than you might think. We’re already in the third year of the SDGs, and we still have lots of progress to make.
While we don’t yet have an exact format or collection mechanism at the global level to capture and share SDGs progress data, there is no time to waste in ensuring you are as prepared as possible to provide your results data to contribute to the emerging global impact story.
Unless we have the data to depict our progress, how will we know if we’re making a dent in achieving the goals?
At the same time, as you bolster your ability to track and measure the results of your funding and investments against the SDGs targets, you’ll set yourself up to be a better collaborator for change. As more and more individuals and organisations recognise a shared commitment to achieving the SDGs, it will be crucial that each participant across the spectrum of social good speaks the same language. A goal of ending hunger could never rest on one set of shoulders alone. Big issues like the ones the Global Goals are addressing require multi-sector, multi-stakeholder input and effort. With multiple stakeholders across sectors, there’s incredible opportunity to collaborate for change.
However, if each participant talks about and measures the results of their giving in a different way, you may dilute the power of what you can achieve together. When we speak a common language of giving, we set ourselves up to share apples-to-apples results data of how we’re making progress on some of the world’s biggest issues.
The clock is ticking – the more we can bring people together to truly collaborate toward achieving the goals based on a shared understanding of success indicators, the more we’ll be able to do as the calendar approaches 2030.
How to Act on the SDGs (Hint: You Already Are)
The SDGs present a unique opportunity for the entire giving sector to get aligned on achieving a better tomorrow for our world. Never have we had a formal platform that so clearly outlines goals and targets to achieve social change with the ability to foster cross-sector and worldwide collaboration.
If you are inspired to act, the good news is that you are already well on your way. The good work you do each day to invest in making change is already inherently supportive of the SDGs. Now it’s up to you to make sure you’re positioning that good work to align with the worldwide effort to create a better world for all, near and far, today and into the future.
4 Steps to act on the 2030 Agenda:
- Get informed. There are lots of resources available to get acquainted with the SDGs, what they seek to achieve, and what’s being done to make progress on the 2030 Agenda. Visit the UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform or try taking our SDGs true/false quiz to explore the goals.
- Familiarise yourself with the SDGs indicators. Spend some time reviewing the SDGs targets within the goals that align with your focus areas to see how the work you’re already doing could be contributing to achieving SDGs results. Speak with your partners and colleagues about the indicators relevant to you to ensure you’re on the same page about measuring progress from your work.
- Evaluate your ability to measure outcomes, not just outputs. It is more critical than ever to ensure you can measure outcomes and assess results data stemming from your investments in social good. With the enormity of the issues the SDGs seek to address, no one change-maker can achieve the goals alone. We will be best positioned to answer the question, “Are we making progress?” when each participant is speaking the same language and measuring results in an apples-to-apples way.
- Share your impact story.If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Likewise, if your organisation is making progress toward one of the SDGs and no one knows your impact story, did your change-making work move the needle? While the answer, of course, is yes, now is the time to share your results as widely as possible to build a global story of impact. As Matt Stevenson-Dodd, CEO of Street League recently said at a Blackbaud Event, “The best advice I could offer is to remind foundations to talk about the incredible work they do.”
Still wondering how the SDGs apply to you or curious about how foundations can actually measure outcomes and impact in the SDGs framework? Ask away. When it comes to achieving these big goals, the more we connect and share ideas, the more we’ll be able to accomplish.