Can peace be measured?

Marina Ponti, Social Watch

The post 2015 process will result in the adoption –by Heads of States at the United Nations on September- of a set of universal and transformative Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets.

The success of this agenda is also connected to the outcome of the discussion on indicators, which is taking place within the Inter-Agency Expert Group and the UN Statistical Commission.

One of the innovations brought by the SDGs is the inclusion of a Goal on peace, justice and inclusive institutions (Goal 16). As for all the others goals and targets, the selection of the indicators will be critical to ensure effective accountability and implementation.

During the first meeting of the UN Inter-Agency Expert Group on the Sustainable Development Goals an interesting panel discussion[1] was organized on the feasibility of measuring peace and inclusive societies (Goal 16) with some takeaways that may be relevant for the broader discussion on indicators.


  • Peace and justice can be measured and there are concrete examples and best practices[2];
  • Governments and National Statistics Offices cannot manage the monitoring process on their own. They need to involve civil society with the aim of bringing together official data with other sources of data (third party and independent);
  • Data needs to be disaggregated by age, gender, disabilities, race, etc. This is both a commitment and a requirement. Disaggregation will imply additional cost and different levels of expertise. This is challenging, but necessary for effective monitoring;
  • Data management and accountability cannot be separated;
  • Data collection is not be an end in itself and should occur within transparent review mechanisms at the level local, national, regional and global level;
  • We need more than 1 indicator for each target. For example the target 16.4 “by 2030 reduce illicit financial flows, arms flows, recovery stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime” requires several distinct indicators;
  • Complex objectives (as the attainment of the sustainable development goals) require complementary indicators (e.g. the number of homicides should be examined along with the number of other death-related causes) and supplementary indicators (global indicators need to be coupled with nationally relevant indicators);
  • A final takeaway was that the definition of indicators should not be constrained by what we can monitor today and with readily availability of data.

Read more:

Six main takeaways on Indicators for Sustainable Development Goal 16 from the Virtual Network on SDG 16 consultations

By Marina Ponti, Social Watch


[1] “Measuring Peaceful and Inclusive Societies for Sustainable Development, Access to Justice and Effective, Accountable and Inclusive Institutions” side event organized by UNDP in partnership with the governments of Germany and Cape Verde.  The panel discussion also included representative from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and Saferworld.

[2] Homicide reporting, Strategic Harmonization of Statistics in Africa (SHaSa), pilot work on MDGs 9, conflict, displacement, social cohesion survey modules.


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