On Using Evidence to Improve Development Effectiveness: The South African SDG Hub

The effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires access to high-quality evidence. Providing access to and supporting the use of high-quality evidence directly supports each of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation’s core principles.

Ownership of development priorities by developing countries is not possible without access to local research and innovation. A focus on results is strengthened when countries have access to proven good practices. Partnerships are scarcely possible without access to inclusive learning platforms. And access to open research and data is key for fostering transparency and mutual accountability.

The South African SDG Hub, based at the University of Pretoria, seeks to play its part in improving developing effectiveness by connecting African governments with the most relevance, useful and reliable African research and innovation.

The South African SDG Hub

The precursor to the SA SDG Hub, the South African Sustainable Development Knowledge Hub, was launched in 2017 by South Africa’s Minister in the Presidency, and focussed on collecting, tagging and disseminating South African research relevant for the implementation of the SDGs. A partnership with the Department of Science and Technology ensures that selected South African innovations were also featured on the online platform. During the first half of 2018, the Hub’s partnership with the United Nations in South Africa will also be formalised.

Based on feedback from users in government, multilateral organisations and civil society, the initiative has expanded its initial online offering. It now has four work streams. In addition to sharing relevant, useful and reliable knowledge via its online platform, it also supports South African researchers with providing policy advice, facilitates dialogue between South African actors responsible for the implementation of the SDGs, and supports SDG-relevant capacity building initiatives.

With regard to capacity building, the South African SDG Hub collaborates with a new interdisciplinary postgraduate degree that equips participants with the leadership skills needed to implement the SDGs.

The Hub’s current cohort includes Advisors from the United Nations Development Programme, the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Department of Science and Technology, Statistics South Africa, the African Union’s NEPAD Agency, and selected development partners and academia.

Lessons

In launching and constantly improving the initiative, the South African SDG Hub is learning a number of important lessons on how to drive development effectiveness by collecting and sharing evidence. At this point, three lessons stand out:

  • More information isn’t necessarily better. On the one hand there exists a need to collect as many relevant knowledge items as possible. Yet, the more knowledge items one makes available, the less usable a platform potentially becomes for policymakers with limited time available to work through all the potentially relevant items.

 

  • Digital isn’t enough. Even a cursory look at the literature shows that evidence-informed policy making is about more than merely the availability of knowledge items. You have to go beyond uploading documents on a server, to also build and use high-trust relationships.

 

  • Availability doesn’t necessarily mean quality. Existing knowledge sharing hubs focus on making as much knowledge as possible available. Unfortunately, many repositories contain bad data or unreliable research. Any knowledge dissemination platform is faced with the challenge of balancing inclusion with some sort of quality control mechanism.

Now a Global Partnership Initiative (GPI), the new South African SDG Hub is going beyond traditional knowledge sharing, by building a platform that serves as a centre for high-quality, tailored and relevant evidence and data for practitioners and policymakers who truly matter.