Tuning Into the Right Voice to Guide UN Sustainable Development Goals

The year 2030 has a lot to live up to – it’s the appointed year for all member states to meet the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals as defined in its agenda. Effectively implementing the objectives of the 17 multi-faceted areas the SDGs cover is no easy feat, and 2030 will be upon us before we know it.

 

Our world leaders have a lot of work to do.

What is Latin America doing and why?

Latin America, Spain and Portugal have joined forces to localize the 2030 Agenda and set the stage for gathering their UN-specified metrics. This is significant because what they have created is the “SDGS Watch for Citizens” which has a vital, yet historically underrepresented, voice it’s listening to that will guide its ongoing actions: the voice of the citizens.

The Ibero-American Secretariat General (SEGIB), the Spanish Department for Foreign Affairs and the two sub-national governments of Andalucia and Huelva created the “SDGS Watch for Citizens” within the framework of the Observatory for Sustainable Development and Climate Change in Iberoamerica.

The goal of this localized effort is to provide government and company leaders real insights on the concerns and priorities from real people living in the their communities. Insights that can be put into action and have a real impact.

How is Citibeats helping Latin America do this?

The most common obstacle to effective large-scale change has always been the disconnect between business and government leaders’ dialogue and that of the people. It’s as if they speak completely different languages. And, one could argue, they do.

For example, what government would communicate as an “SGD 1” issue would have zero meaning to a common citizen. Whereas “homelessness” would instantly resonate. And this very same citizen may be quite vocal on social media, expressing a valuable opinion that represents larger public insights on homelessness – and leaders would miss it completely. Why? Because they’re too focused on the bureaucratic label, “SGD 1,” versus how it speaks, lives and breathes in the real world.

That’s where Citibeats comes into play. Citibeats serves as a sort of interpreter, using AI text analytics to recognize topics that are being discussed and shared on social platforms, and translates them into the SDG framework’s language.

Leaders paving the way on the UN SDGs are doing their countries, citizens, and world at large, a huge disservice if they don’t accurately tune in and hear what’s being said on social media. With 3.397 billion active users on social media worldwide with statistics indicating that there’s a new social media user every 10 seconds, they’ll be missing out on the world’s largest ongoing, information and data-gathering forum.

Not only is this important to see what the people are discussing, but to understand how the topics relate to real people in different cities. An example is the hotly debated topic of gender equality (SDG 5 in SDG-speak): a person in Buenos Aires might be posting on Facebook about abortion rights issues, while a person in Madrid is tweeting about violence against women. They are both SDG 5 issues, but the concerns and priorities in one city may differ greatly from those in another city.

And these are precisely the differences that the world’s decision makers – the ones implementing the policies and changes affecting their local populace – need to know; or they’ll miss the mark.

“We need to understand what the priorities are around the SDGs for citizens, in the most effective, massive and fastest way possible. We want others to keep joining this initiative so citizens’ voices can have more and more impact on decision making.”

 

Rosa Castizo, Project Coordinator,

Observatory of Sustainable Development

and Climate Change for Iberoamerica

What’s the goal?

22 cities in 22 countries are using the language model developed by Citybeats to include citizens’ voices in their SDG metrics. But those only represent 11% of the United Nations member states. The goal is to set up “SDGs Watch for Citizens” as a best practice for the other 89% across six continents to follow.

Also, “social KPIs” are an elusive, hard-to-grasp concept in this SDG context. Again, the discrepancy between the language used by the governing bodies and the people make accurate social tracking extremely difficult, if not impossible. Without advanced algorithms in place to connect the dots, social KPI tracking is, in essence, a shot in the dark.

What we want to do is go above and beyond the expected ways of implementing policy change, setting new regulations and establishing new standards. It’s time to empower leaders with real-time data to make decisions based on the concerns and priorities of those that all big-picture change affects the most – the everyday, working and striving human beings that occupy our cities and populate our world.

And they are expressing themselves daily, louder than ever before, online and on social platforms all around the world; they’re communicating exactly what’s happening around them, what they think, what they want, what they need – all the things that can have a real impact on higher-level decision making and reform.

And it’s time that our governing bodies tune in and listen.