‘Critical Agents of Change’: Why statistics have never been more important

08 Mar 16
Around the world

Sierra Leone - Ebola volunteers work on health presentation

It’s the UN Statistical Commission this week (8th - 11th of March). For some of you, three more boring words have never been uttered in succession! For others, you may feel at home with figures, data and indicators. Whether it’s your natural territory or not, statistics have never been more important for young people as they are this week.

Why? Because it’s where UN Member States will decide exactly how the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals (AKA Global Goals, Agenda 2030) will be monitored and measured.

So yes, unsurprisingly, the UN Statistical Commission will be full of lots of technical decision-making, but more importantly this will set the bar for how we’ll know whether or not the all-important global goals are being achieved around the world.

“I don’t see how that’s relevant for me”

Agenda 2030 recognises that young people are ‘critical agents of change’(1). That’s great! Now we need to ensure that when the UN decides how we measure the progress of the SDGs, young people’s experiences are used to measure progress, but that young people are also seen as ‘agents’ in the monitoring of the goals.

Global Goal 16 pledges to “build effective and accountable institutions at all levels”(2). This means governments signed up to be held accountable for sustainable development. Now is the chance to ensure there are indicators on youth-inclusive national level monitoring of gGovernance, something that we at Restless Development are very focused on (see our Big Idea initiative).

“What does that mean then?”
The way we see it, for all of this to be successful there needs to be:

  • Broken down data (or disaggregation of data) – if Agenda 2030 is to ‘Leave No One Behind’ then we need to see exactly what progress looks like on an individual level for all groups in society. This can reveal so much. We know, for example, that girls from ages 10-19 are more vulnerable to a number of rights violations, such as child marriage, dropping out of school and early pregnancy, so fully disaggregated data will give us the full picture and evidence to push those in power to make it stop (3). Using smaller age brackets may also be essential to understand the experiences of young people so we can better understand how the global goals are being met for children and older youth.
  • Data generated by civil society AND citizens – Civil society has access to lots of useful information through their everyday work. They are on the ground, monitoring things as specific as service delivery for young people and aid flows. Citizens are the best people to express their experiences, and they information they produce is vital for understanding progress, but also a great way to keep people engaged with the Global Goals. U-Report is a great example of this.
  • A data revolution – young people have a vital role to play in generating, using and analysing data around the issues that affect them. In order to use this data to hold governments to account, they need the skills to access, understand and then use this information.

So here’s the crunch-point. Young people are already involved in monitoring of good governance around the world, but the decisions made at the UN Statistical Commission could set the conditions to empower them to do even more. Young people should be involved in developing, and participating in, robust strategies for measuring progress to deliver on Agenda 2030. After all, everyone insociety needs to participate in the monitoring of sustainable development for the Global Goals to be successful - young people’s energy and innovation is integral to this.

“The (even more) geeky stuff”
Of course all countries are different, and governments need to decide which indicators are relevant for them in their unique national contexts. The Working Group on Youth-Inclusive Governance Indicators, of which Restless Development is a member, has compiled a great system for measuring and assessing whether an indicator ticks the boxes (e.g. is it high quality, relevant, reliable). Not only have they created this handy system, we have suggested some practical indicators that can be used to measure the progress of the SDGs at the national level, particularly for those issues that impact on youth.

If you’re someone who enjoys the finer details, you’ll enjoy the full document (‘Critical Agents for Change’) where the Working Group on Youth-Inclusive Governance Indicators outlines all of their practical recommendations for indicators.

To watch the UN Statistical Commission in action, check out: webtv.un.org


1.The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, para 51.

2. Ibid

3. Plan International (2015) The Unfinished Business of Girls Rights.

We are the Youth Collective. If you believe in the power of young people, join our movement.