Keeping the Promise: Implementing an Agenda of the People, by the People, and for the People.

Authors: Naiara Costa (International Secretariat, Together 2030 – @naiaracc) and Graham Long (Newcastle University – @GrahamLong9)

When governments adopted the 2030 Agenda, they emphasized the vital contribution of a robust, voluntary, effective, participatory, transparent and integrated follow-up and review framework. Member States also determined that the lynchpin of follow up and review in implementing the SDG is the national level. The annual voluntary national reviews (VNRs) undertaken for the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) are one of the core elements of this process.

For the second year, Together 2030 ( has carried out a survey to collect evidence on stakeholder awareness of, and participation in, national planning and review around the 2030 Agenda. In 2017, the survey was conducted in partnership with the Newcastle University ( and received almost 500 responses.

Our survey has shown that awareness of VNRs, and especially on how to engage in VNR processes, is low.

One-third of respondents were unaware that their countries were undertaking VNR this year; only one in four civil society (CSO) respondents were aware of the process their governments were using to prepare their reports.

The survey registered limited global awareness of national implementation plans amongst civil society. Overall, 41% of respondents (both based on VNR and non-VNR countries) were ‘not aware’ or only ‘somewhat aware’ of their countries’ plans to implement the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

High expectations for civil society and stakeholder participation in national review processes have not universally translated into genuine spaces and opportunities for engagement. At least 1/3 of the survey respondents did not consider that civil society and stakeholders would be able to participate, or did not know whether they could.  

Respondents showed clear interest in engaging with national review processes, and  also pointed to several approaches for civil society engagement on national review processes. ‘Coordinated approaches by coalitions/groups’, followed by ‘national consultations’ and participation in ‘multi-stakeholder committees’ featured as preferred engagement approaches. Also significant was how respondents expressed a clear desire for coordination mechanisms amongst civil society and other stakeholders.

Access to information was another challenge identified at the survey, with only 33% (“agree” or “strongly agree”) of respondents considering that they had the necessary information to engage and contribute to the national review process regarding the 2030 Agenda

One concerning aspect from the outcomes of the perception survey related to the universality of the 2030 Agenda. Respondents in European countries volunteering for the HLPF have shown lower levels of awareness of national processes and ability to participate when compared to other regions.

All countries have committed to implement and follow up on an inclusive manner. On the evidence of our survey, European countries, as well as other developed countries such as Canada and the USA are not taking the lead on this.

As countries prepare for the HLPF in New York, we hope that they commit to address the challenges identified in our survey, including by:

  • Increasing publicity and awareness around countries’ plans to implement the 2030 Agenda and processes of national reviews.
  • Building upon the enthusiasm and energy of non-state and other stakeholders actors and their capacity of adding distinctive value to the SDG implementation.
  • Establishing clear, open and inclusive national review processes, with a diverse set of participation opportunities, with a focus on leaving no one behind, and building capacity for stakeholder engagement.

The full report is accessible here:

About the authors: 

Naiara Costa leads the international secretariat of the Together 2030 Initiative. An international analyst, she has large experience on international advocacy at global, regional and national levels on sustainable development, human rights and social issues.

Graham Long is a lecturer in Political Philosophy at Newcastle University, UK. He works with civil society on human rights and global justice in the SDGs.




Together 2030 is a civil society initiative that brings together more than 450 organisations from 89 countries to promote national implementation and track progress of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


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