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Key Take-aways  

Below are some highlights for municipalities and regions looking to develop indicators relevant to the local context, track sustainability progress, or learn more about how a VLR can support Agenda 2030 governance, mainstreaming, and reporting. 
 
  • It is not about the size of your city or municipality;
    Any small, medium-sized, or large city can get started. As Helsingborg emphasised, SDG progress reporting could be even more comprehensible in a smaller city because the processes of choosing indicators and/or drafting a VLR might require less coordination. Do not let resources and capacity be a hindrance to kickstarting the work. Leaders from Asker also concur that the size of the municipality is not of great importance for implementing SDGs.  
  • VLRs can support horizontal and vertical SDG action.
    The horizontal VLR process enables municipalities to share experiences, knowledge, and lessons learned from their local sustainability work among on another or with other stakeholders, which can foster partnerships and investment towards the achievement of the SDGs across the Nordics. When it comes to vertical SDG action—national to regional to local knowledge exchange—increasing alignment between a country’s VLRs, VSRs, and VNRs could help strengthen policy cohesion around Agenda 2030 and beyond.
  • Determining the right indicators is a multi-step process, but it will be key to measuring progress.
    Indicators with high-quality data to measure SDG progress exist at the national level in the Nordic countries, but these may not always correspond to local needs and targets. Adopting existing indicator systems as well as learning from municipalities who have well-developed systems and data collection methods may be useful when starting out. In 2021, for instance, Statistics Norway and KS developed a Norwegian taxonomy for the classification of any indicator relevant for the SDGs. The taxonomy identifies 469 relevant indicators, but not all will or need to apply to every municipality. Developing the right indicators may therefore involve some trial and error. The Nordic municipal and regional associations are resources to which local leaders can reach out for assistance. 
     
  • Consider SDG sensemaking.
    See Taajamaa, V., Joensuu, M., Karanian, B., and Bettencourt, L. (2022). Seven Steps to Strategic SDG Sensemaking for Cities. Administrative Sciences 12: 33. https://doi.org/10.3390/admsci 12010033  
    What does it mean for a city to be committed to SDGs and their measurement? As Espoo suggested in their ‘sensemaking’ process, indicators need to work for the local context. Therefore, a strategic process for choosing relevant indicators should include a participatory process involving both citizens and stakeholders. Data protection may pose restrictions on the possibility to apply information from national to municipal level. Another challenge is that it can be difficult to ensure comparability between local indicators and national or international indicators. Where local data is not available, there may be some qualitative methods—through community surveys, local stakeholder group discussions, or other social engagement methods—for at least gaining an idea about what is successful, what is lacking, and what to prioritise. 
  • New sustainability processes need not require duplicated efforts.
    Working toward the 2030 targets means optimising and continuing the good work already occurring through, for example, climate goals or strategies for improving quality of life. Where possible, municipalities can align indicator systems rather than creating distinct processes running parallel to one another.  
  • Learn from Nordic frontrunners.
    Several Nordic cities and municipalities have been front-runners in localising the SDGs for years, and several are catching up. The cities and municipalities that have submitted VLRs or developed relevant local indicators could serve as models for many places seeking to do the same. Enhancing collaboration and communication across the Nordics could increase sustainability efforts and overall added value.