How Can Young People Strengthen Accountability in Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals?
Children and young women and men are critical agents of change and will find in the new Goals a platform to channel their infinite capacities for activism into the creation of a better world ” (United Nations, 2015).
Today’s generation has the largest generation of children and young people in history, with over 3.5 billion people being under 30 (DSW, 2015). Yet many countries provide few opportunities for young people to participate in political processes or in the design of programs and policies that address their challenges. As the generation on whom the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will impact most, it is important for young people to be actively involved in strengthening accountability for implementation of SDGs.
Meaning of accountability
Accountability can take many forms; from informal, citizen-led initiatives to formal structures and processes and from local to the international level (Davis, Bergh & Lundy, 2014). From a rights-based approach, accountability involves duty bearers – primarily the governments – taking responsibility for their commitments and actions, answering for them by explaining and justifying them to rights holders, and being subject to a form of sanction where commitments and responsibilities are not fulfilled. Accordingly, accountability has a corrective function and ensures that grievances are addressed and remedies provided. Accountability is essential for the achievement of SDGs because it ensures that all partners honor their commitments, demonstrates how actions and investment translate into tangible results and better long-term outcomes. Accountability also plays an important role of informing us of what is working and what needs to be improved (Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, 2011).
Linkage between accountability and SDGs
The 2030 Agenda and SDGs have a universal, human-rights based, transformative response to today’s most pressing development challenges. Made up of 17 goals and 169 targets, the Sustainable Development Goals focus on five P’s: People, Planet, Peace, Prosperity, and Partnerships (The Commonwealth, 2016). In the 2030 Agenda, all governments committed to supporting “accountability to our citizens” and promised a follow-up and review framework that is “open, inclusive, participatory and transparent for all people and will support reporting by all relevant stakeholders.” This implies establishing social accountability mechanisms at local, national, regional, and global levels where citizens and civil society – particularly the poorest and most marginalized – can take part in decision-making, monitoring, and accountability systems.
The past few years have seen significant advances in terms of human development, although deep challenges still persist. Progress has been uneven, with many young people across the world experiencing limited access to decent jobs, educational opportunities and health systems, high levels of poverty, limited political inclusion, and interlocked forms of discrimination (United Nations Development Programme, 2016).
SDGs can only have an impact if no one is left behind and all citizens, including young people, are involved in the monitoring and follow up of these goals and targets at local national, and global levels. The achievement of development effectiveness through accountability and transparency is paramount to strong partnerships between young people and all stakeholders. This will ensure that young people’s challenges are addressed, their contributions are recognized, and that they get involved at all levels of decision-making.
Youth-led accountability
As suggested by Restless Development (2015), effective youth-led accountability should be based on four key principles: inclusion, responsiveness, collaboration, and transparency. The first principle of inclusion involves active engagement of the most marginalized young people to promote social and political inclusion and ensuring effective opportunities and resources to participate in the accountability processes.
The principle of responsiveness involves government officials listening, responding to and acting upon the inputs of young people. The government should create an enabling environment to facilitate open, inclusive, participatory and accountable governance. An enabling environment enables young people to access information and resources for implementation of SDGs.
The principle of collaboration involves governments and stakeholders working actively with young people through mechanisms and structures that encourage interaction and discourse. This calls for clearly defined modes of engagement in the High Level Political Forum review process, and in any regional review mechanisms that encompass SDGs (The Commonwealth, 2016). Young people should partner with national and international stakeholders to create spaces for national dialogue, consultations and social media campaigns for implementation of the SDGs. In addition, young people should seek collaborative action to address resource and capacity constraints. At the local and national levels, young people can play a collaborative role by helping the government in the delivery of sustainable development objectives. For instance, they can participate in monitoring of the relevance and quality of essential services. At these levels, it is important to establish clear pathways for accountability reliant on clearly defined modes of participatory engagement.
In regards to the principle of transparency, young people should have access to government data relevant to their policy focus areas. Young people should engage in generating, curating and disseminating information for accountability to government bodies, citizens and other stakeholders. Through collaborative support from data specialists, young people can spearhead accountability by acting as informediaries (The Commonwealth, 2016). The effectiveness of this role can be achieved if young people are properly equipped with data literacy skills in order to dig, collect, clean, analyze, visualize, and communicate data to the public and decision-makers.
Young people in Kenya, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, and the United Kingdom have taken up the role of accountability advocates and are leading the process of developing national accountability frameworks (The Commonwealth, 2016). They are engaging in multi-stakeholder action plans to monitor, review and seek accountability for implementation of SDG targets prioritized by young people at the national level. Young accountability advocates focus on monitoring and reviewing service delivery and commitments to sustainable development, and producing reports and citizen-friendly resources for the purpose of raising awareness of pressing issues. They convene national stakeholders on areas of concern and develop joint action plans for off-track commitments. Young accountability advocates also lobby for citizen participation in accountability mechanisms through evidence-based advocacy (Davis, Bergh & Lundy, 2014).
Youth-led accountability should be encouraged to ensure that young people are not left behind in SDGs and to give them space to actively participate in saving the world. Effective youth-led accountability should be guided by principles of inclusion, responsiveness, collaboration, and transparency.
Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health (2011). Keeping promises, measuring results. New York: Every Woman Every Child. Retrieved from:

Davis, A. Bergh, G. & Lundy, A. (September 2014). Young People’s Engagement in Strengthening Accountability for the Post-2015 Agenda. Report on Shaping Policy for Development. Retrieved from:

DSW. (2015). Enabling Children and Young People to Positively Impact the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda Through Social Accountability Processes. Position Paper. Retrieved from:

Restless Development. (November 2015). Follow-Up and Review: How to Scale Up Ambition on Youth-Led Accountability for the SDGs. Retrieved from:

The Commonwealth. (2016). Youth-Led Accountability for the SDGs. Restless Development. Retrieved from:

United Nations Development Programme. (January 2016). Youth as Partners for the Implementation of the SDGs. Retrieved from:

Share This Post: