• A Critical Review of the Role of Indicators in Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals

      Mair, Simon; Jones, A.; Ward, J.; Christie, I.; Druckman, A.; Lyon, F. (2018-01)
      The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) bring together environmental, social and economic concerns. They therefore have the potential to move society away from the dominant model of prosperity as purely economic toward a more holistic and ‘sustainable’ prosperity. But, the success of such a transformative agenda rests on its implementation. At the heart of planned implementation of the SDGs is a set of 230 indicators. Indicators have been strongly critiqued in a range of literatures. However, in the context of the SDGs, indicators have been described as ‘essential’ with little critical assessment of their role in implementation. Therefore, this chapter aims to provide this critical voice. To do this, the chapter reviews critiques of indicators from sustainability science, anthropology and sociology and provides illustrative cases of indicators implementation. From this review we are able to draw lessons for the use of indicators in SDG implementation. Specifically, the chapter argues that indicators are reductionist and struggle with contested concepts. Nevertheless, by making the operationalisation of concepts visible and enabling quantified analysis, indicators can have a useful role in SDG implementation. However, this requires that indicator critiques are taken seriously and inform indicator use.