Institute for Sustainability


Prospects for accountability and learning in reviews of the SDGs

Key Words: review; accountability; peer learning; High Level Political Forum


Lead Supervisor: Dr Graham Long

Project Studentship Code: IFS010

Programme Code: 8200F

To apply you must follow the 'How to Apply' instructions.

The central research question addressed by this studentship project is: How, and how far, do the institutions and processes of review associated with the SDGs facilitate mutual accountability and learning?

This research project seeks to understand and evaluate the key processes and institutions of review around the SDGs, notably processes of thematic and country review under the auspices of the annual UN High Level Political Forum. It evaluates them in the light of two distinct (but related) key functions such processes are widely thought to fulfil. The first of these is the widespread demand for the accountability of actors, especially states, given their SDG responsibilities (e.g. OHCHR, 2015). The second is the claim that review facilitates learning between actors about policies and challenges, and so promotes effective implementation (UN General Assembly, 2016). These two purposes, of course, might be mutually reinforcing or in tension, as the project will examine.

The candidate will undertake this study against a background context of other, related, processes of review, such as (i) the UPR mechanism (ii) CBD reporting (iii) CEDAW review, as a device for (a) the initial framing of the particularity of SDG review in the opening chapters; (b) towards the end of the project, reflection on interlinkages in review structures.

The central concern of the project, then, is with governance, but governance understood as an agenda raising interdisciplinary questions. Global accountability and responsibility-allocation are central concerns of contemporary political philosophy or normative political thought (e.g. Held 2009; Dryzek 2012); social science has generated a substantial literature on how peer- and policy- learning processes function (e.g. Dunlop 2009; Dolowitz and Marsh, 1996). In addition, the review areas (i)-(iii) above address a wide set of subject areas- e.g. international law and conventions, the politics of gender, scientific understanding of natural processes and the science-policy interface.

Reflecting this agenda, the research will combine a range of normative and social-scientific methodologies. Normative analysis will proceed by reading, reflection, and careful argument, aiming at mutual support between general moral and non-moral theorising and considered judgements on accountability in the SDG context (Rawls, 1971). Understanding of how SDG review processes operate, how they are perceived to advance accountability, and how their learning function works will be furthered by mixed-method study (Creswell and Clark, 2011) including elite interviews (states, UN and civil society actors) surveys, network and discourse analysis. Common to both components will be literature review, including review of relevant documents and transcripts.

The proposed research will generate new knowledge on the evaluation of SDG review processes in context, including knowledge that can guide review of these processes themselves, and hence future development of the framework. It will also have implications for how actors can make best use of these processes for purposes of accountability and learning. Accompanying deliverables and partnerships below reflect the potential impact of this project's key findings.