Talking SDG implementation in Cape Town

My research project Assessing SDG localisation in Cape Town is concerned with the role of local processes and actors in shaping how the Sustainable Development Goals are taken up in practice. The project uses Cape Town as a study site to assess the dynamics of SDG localisation at the city-level to gain a better understanding of the context specific ways in which cities produce knowledge and engage with global (urban) development policies, agendas and monitoring frameworks. In doing so, the project seeks to provide insight into the challenges and opportunities for SDG implementation at the subnational level.

As part of this work I organise a monthly SDG seminar with the aim of offering a space for different actors to come together to exchange thoughts and experiences related to the SDG implementation and localization. Each month a speaker is invited to present on a different aspect of the SDGs and a diverse set of University of Cape Town (UCT) researchers and academics, but also practitioners, representatives from the private sector, the City of Cape Town and other (local) government officials attend. As such, the seminars themselves function as spaces and practices of knowledge co-production and transfer.

I kicked the series off in February by highlighting the importance of research on SDG implementation since very little is known about the ways in which local governments are grappling with the implications of implementation and monitoring at a city-level.

Local government associations such as United Cities and Local Governments ( UCLG), which were central to the inclusion of SDG 11, promote collaborative multi-level governance mechanisms and the creation of a local enabling environment to allow cities to implement the SDGs effectively. Yet, my work shows that while South Africa performs well when it comes to the legal and institutional requirements for SDG localization, in practice there has been little coordinated and consistent guidance on the SDGs from national government.

In the absence of this guidance, few South African cities have pro-actively engaged with this global policy as daily operations, priorities and processes tend to take precedence. (more on this here)

Given this context, the next seminar by Puvendra Akkiah, IDP Manager of eThekwini Municipality and Technical Chair of the UCLG Committee on Urban Strategic Planning, spoke about the bottom-up approach taken by the City of eThekwini. This was done to align its Integrated Development Plan to the SDGs as part of its strategic approach to sustainability. The United Nations Development Programme considers it to represent a pioneering example of best practice in the area of SDG localization.

By identifying which SDGs fall under the direct responsibility of local government and aligning the city’s Integrated Development Plan and all of its capital projects to an SDG, and SDG target, the city was able to get an overview of the extent to which the city is contributing to meeting the SDGs and identify gaps for where it needs to do better.

eThekwini has also undertaken various advocacy and training activities on the SDGs through the Municipal Institute of Learning and has developed SDG toolkits for local governments. Other efforts to ensure SDG localisation in eThekwini include institutional reform, such as the appointment of a dedicated Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Learning Officer who function as champions for SDG awareness- raising and implementation and who report directly to the City Manager.

Data gaps have been identified as one of the main constraints in achieving international development goals. With a total of 17 Goals, 169 targets and 232 individual indicators, the SDGs pose an even greater data challenge for governments than the previous Millennium Development Goals. But they can also be seen as an opportunity for governments to build better policy data systems.

Woolfrey based her findings on two SDG Indicator Data-Readiness Assessments conducted in Zimbabwe and Zambia in 2018. These were part of a larger United Nations (UN) “Capacity-building” project, the UNSD-DFID Project on SDG Monitoring, which tackles the challenges of SDG planning and monitoring by assessing data needs, building data platforms and conducting a detailed investigation of the capacity of National Statistical System (NSS) agencies to compile indicators of SDG progress.

Overall, the UN has found that African SDG indicator data sources are often outdated or opaque, that SDG indicators are often not necessarily aligned to Country Development Plans and that most country indicators are not available at the required level of disaggregation, for example sex and rural/urban area type. (See more here)

The next instalment of the seminar series will look at financing the SDGs in African cities exploring the fiscal constraints and opportunities for local government to participation in global agendas.

My hope that by the end of the series we will have created a robust space for sharing and dialogue that contributes to the knowledge required for meeting the challenges and opportunities of localizing SDGs, specifically in Africa.