Implementing and localising the SDGs: the role of civil society, local government and the European Union

Jonathan Potter, GNDR's Executive Director (left) and Antonio Fernandez de Velasco at the EU partnership Forum

In this piece, Lucy Pearson, GNDR's Programme Manager shares her reflections from the 2018 EC Partnership Forum. 

“The European Commission needs to be widening political space for local actors. And that needs to include widening it for vulnerable groups including, women’s groups, youth groups and refugees” Farah Kabir, GNDR Global Chair

The EU Partnership Forum is an annual meeting of 24 networks with whom the EU has Framework Partnership Agreements (FPAs). These partnership agreements represent a commitment to work together towards shared objectives. GNDR is one of these FPA partners, and I attended this year’s Partnership Forum.

One of the main topics of discussion was how civil society and local government could work together to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the role of the European Commission in supporting this. Drawing from panellists from around the world, group work with diverse actors, and conversations with a range of stakeholders, I present five challenges CSOs and local authorities face in jointly implementing the SDGs and recommendations for how the EU could address these challenges with their new Multi-Annual Financing Framework:

  1. Competition between us as actors. Recommendation: EU to mitigate this with more consortium bids that encourage collaboration, and by proactively initiating trust building activities between local authorities and CSOs. This will allow time for both sides to identify shared goals and joint accountability.
  2. Lack of state structures and plans around the SDGs. And those countries that do have them often lack a clear outline of roles of different actors.Recommendation: EU needs to work with states to develop national SDG implementation plans
  3. Shrinking civil space. In spite of what is said in the SDGs, an all-of-society approach isn’t happening and there is less room for civil society to engage in policy discussions.

    Recommendation: EU needs to 1) build capacities of local actors to understand their rights as outlined in the SDGs; 2) directly provide space for them to participate and 3) lobby other donor agency/regional institutions to give space to civil society actors. Mongolia was given as an example of where civil society and local authorities have been engaged successfully in the design of plans, with critical success factors being an initial period of capacity building of CSOs to help them engage in such discussions and a period of trust building between CSOs and local authorities.

    Recommendation: EU to support CSOs and local authorities to develop a shadow report on implementation of SDGs, as civil society space so limited to input into official national reporting on SDGs.

  4. Scaling up impact. Where the collaboration is happening effectively, it is rarely learnt from and scaled up.

    Recommendation: Support the collection and dissemination of evidence of how this collaboration works; Identify a set of indicators that will measure the impact of our joint actions as FPA partners towards the SDGs. We can jointly report on these indicators each Partnership Forum.

  5. No platforms for dialogue between CSOs and Local Authorities. Recommendation: EU to help establish national level groups of CSOs and Local Authorities officially responsible for implementing SDGs. These national groups should include national networks of CSOs so that local civil society can be represented/included through these networks.The EU could support these national groups to meet at annual forums, that feed up into the global Partnership Forum.

Barriers to local collaboration in implementing the SDGs: a local government network perspective

The Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) (a local government network) has been trying to create links between civil society, local government and central governments so that they may work together to localise the implementation of the SDGs. They shared three specific barriers to being able to collaborate in different environments:
-Decentralisation processes supported by EU still have to overcome obstacles e.g. local government don’t receive the financial instruments to help them to manage finances at this level.
-Unfortunately, the SDGs did not take into account the local territorial dimension. Focus is always on ‘big cities’, and often ignores other urban and rural areas.
-Corruption in local authorities needs to be tackled, as this is resulting in decisions not being risk-informed but bribe-informed
CEMR are developing local agendas for each of the SDGs so that there is a plan for each goal at the local government level. But this needs links between other local actors – they are now trying to create coalitions with civil society at the local level, and the EU needs to support the development of these coalitions.

Next steps for GNDR:

EU DEVCO are supporting GNDR to implement Views from the Frontline 2019 (VFL) in 50 countries to ensure that local voices are informing national policies and plans, and that local people are being included in resilience processes. We are talking to multiple local government networks about partnering with us in the implementation of VFL to ensure that the data collected is useful to local governments, the outcomes are owned and applied by local government, and that the project’s capacity building activities are offered to both civil society and local government actors to enable them to use local data and collaborate with communities.

For further information on this blog, please contact Lucy Pearson at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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