SDGs Local Monitoring – China’s Pilot Practice

This practice explored the techniques as to “how can a local community implement the SDGs and what transformation actions can be taken”, which local policy-makers confront when implementing the 2030 Agenda. Taking Deqing County as a pilot area, the practice produced valuable results on SDGs local monitoring, including a data-driven and evidence-supported approach within a geospatial framework, a cooperation network able to focus resources on major tasks, and significant guidance to local development policy-making. It is a proactive response to the United Nations’ call for follow-up and review of the global indicator framework for SDGs at national and local levels.

Objective of the practice

Having drawn important lessons from implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the global community recognized the necessity to conduct indicator-based and data-driven measuring and monitoring of SDGs progress at national, regional and global levels. The United Nations has adopted a Global Indicator Framework (GIF) with a set of 234 indicators developed by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goals Indicators (IAEG-SDGs). The GIF covers all 17 SDGs and 169 targets for the 2030 Agenda, but its implementation, particular at sub-national levels, requires significant resources and the production of timely and reliable data disaggregated by a number of specific characteristics, including by geographic location. Geospatial data and enabling technologies play an instrumental role since many of the indicators and their associated targets have a geographic context. The success of a comprehensive measurement and assessment depends on the selection of appropriate indicators, the availability and effective integration of reliable statistical and geospatial data, as well as spatial-temporal evidence-supported analysis.

During the past three years, there have been increasing efforts in the initial baseline assessments and reporting that are indicator-based and carried out at national and regional levels. However, a comprehensive measurement within a local context through the integration of geospatial and statistical information has not yet been presented. In order to follow up and review SDGs at national and local levels, China selected its Deqing County as a pilot study area in 2017. The pilot project aimed to set a good example, and compliant with the GIF, in measuring the overall progress towards the SDGs using geo-statistical data, and with methods which can be shared and replicated across the world.

The project encountered the following technical and coordination challenges: (1) How to select appropriate indicators that cover the major aspects of SDGs for a given sub-national region in line with the GIF; (2) How to integrate geospatial and statistical data to derive and quantify indicators that facilitate analysis and progress through a geographical lens; (3) How to perform overall progress assessment and identify gaps with quantified indicators and multi-type evidence; and (4) How to transfer the knowledge and outcomes to the local decision-makers and communities to enable the formulation of transformation pathways and actions?

To resolve these difficulties, a joint task force was formed with a multi-disciplinary research team led by the National Geomatics Centre of China (NGCC), and a group of local departments and agencies organized by the Deqing Government. Significant efforts have been devoted to the localization of the GIF according to the local circumstances, data collection and processing, quantitative measurement and qualitative analysis, as well as institutional coordination. A set of data-driven and evidence-supported approaches, within a geographic framework, was established and then applied to measure the overall progress towards the SDGs in the pilot County. The results delivered an overall picture about how far the County is from achieving the implementation of the SDGs, and have been used by the local policy-makers to formulate a transformation programme and Five-Year Action Plan (2019-2024).

Key stakeholders and partnerships

This practice was initiated by the Ministry of Natural Resources of China and Zhejiang Provincial Government, and supported by the National Bureau of Statistics. The major beneficiary is the Deqing County Government with about 20 subordinate departments, who developed the user requirements, provided significant data, aided indicator selection, and devised transformation actions. NGCC is the principal implementer, who led a research team with approximately 20 researchers from six universities and three companies to establish the overall approach, solve the technical obstacles, and complete the project. A group of multi-disciplinary experts, national and international, provided constructive advice through over twenty meetings.

Implementation of the Project/Activity

Measuring and monitoring SDGs progress is indicator-based, data-driven and evidence-supported. Therefore, the pilot practice was carried out in the following six consecutive steps:
(1) Localized GIF according to the local context: The GIF was tailored according to the local circumstances with three criteria, i.e., adaptability, comprehensiveness and measurability. A set of 102 indicators was selected for Deqing County, which covers 16 SDGs (Goal 14 “Ocean” is not applicable to the inland County), assuring the comprehensiveness. Among them, 47 indicators were adopted directly from the GIF, 6 indicators resulted from extension of the GIF, 42 indicators were revised, and 7 indicators were substituted. Meta-data were developed for each of the 102 indicators, including their definition, calculation method, and data requirements.
(2) Acquired and processed multi-type data: 45 geospatial datasets, 385 statistical datasets, 66 thematic datasets, and 27 other datasets were collected and processed. The statistical data were mainly from authoritative information sources, such as the County Annual Statistical Bulletin and Water Resources Bulletin. Geospatial data were mainly provided by the County Geographic Information Centre. Also collected were the time series remote-sensing data in the recent 30 years. Population was disaggregated at 30m spatial resolution usingland cover/use data to facilitate integrated analysis of statistical and geographic data.
(3) Measured 102 indicators within a geographic framework: With the ready-to-use data, the selected 102 indicators were derived or measured in three different ways. 85 indicators were quantified by statistical data; 10 indicators were derived from geospatial data, such as 6.6.1, 15.1.1; and the remaining 7 indicators were measured by combined calculation of statistical and geospatial data, such as 11.3.1 and 3.8.1.
(4) Assessed all SDGs: Based on the quantified indicators and multi-type facts (data and local practices), the SDGs progress were analyzed at three hierarchical levels. First, each indicator was contrasted and ranked against the international (such as "SDGs Index and Dashboard") or national criteria/references. Second, each primary SDG was analyzed with related indicators and evidence. Third, a cluster analysis was proceeded to obtain an overall picture about the economic growth, social inclusion, and natural beauty.
(5) Documented and disseminated the results: A progress report (in both English and Chinese) was compiled to summarize the methodology and to present the project results. An internet-based SDG information service portal (www.deqing-SDGs.net) was established. The results of the project were officially released during the first United Nations World Geospatial Information Congress, which was officiated by Mr. Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations, and attended by more than 600 representatives from around the world.
(6) Devised transformation actions: Having understood where Deqing stands in the implementation of the SDGs, and what gaps and challenges exist, the local government has formulated its County Plan for Implementing the 2030 Agenda, which translated the Agenda into its own development vision and priorities, and defined the roadmap, specific actions, and monitoring mechanisms for achieving the SDGs.


1. Major outputs: (1) A data-driven and evidence-supported approach: The approach includes four components: (a) localizing the GIF with three criteria (adaptability, comprehensiveness and measurability) to select appropriate indicators based on the local circumstances; (b) disaggregating statistical data (e.g., population) over geographic space and time, and performing other pre-processing techniques to generate ready-to-use data; (c) computing indicators within a geographic framework in three different ways, i.e., calculation with statistical data, derivation from geospatial data, and integration of statistical and geospatial data; (d) assessing SDGs at hierarchical levels, i.e., indicator ranking and analysis, individual SDG analysis based on quantified indicators and evidence, and cluster SDGs analysis for economic growth, social inclusion, and natural beauty. (2) A progress report towards the 2030 SDGs (80 pages, in both English and Chinese languages): The report presents the major findings and results of the project, and provides answers about “how far Deqing is from achieving the SDGs”. The major conclusion is that the County has made significant economic and social advances while maintaining a good ecological environment in the past 5 years. For the 79 SDGs indicators that have comparable reference criteria, 68 have reached or are very close to the 2030 Agenda, or ranked top in China and even the world, 9 indicators need to be improved, and 2 indicators are facing challenges. For the 16 SDGs analyzed, 8 SDGs have reached the standard, 6 SDGs remain to be improved, and the other 2 SDGs are facing challenges. (3) A SDGs information portal: The major results of this project were published on this internet-based portal, which allows online access of the information and knowledge about Deqing’s 102 indicators, 16 SDGs, and development stories. 2. Impacts: (1) Set up a good exemplar: This project is one of the first comprehensive measurements in a local context over an entire administrative progress towards achieving the SDGs in both China and the world. Mr. Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations appreciated it as “a good practice for implementing and measuring SDGs at local level”, and “a pioneering project whose experiences is helpful and available for people both from within and outside China”. Mr. Jack Dangermond, ESRI president, commented that “we must show tangible impact and results beyond convening technical meetings and conferences and go further to ‘implement’ and achieve development results required to address the challenges ahead. Your work provides a very valuable contribution to this process and we would like to support the amplification of your effort”. (2) Provided a practical and replicable approach: This project shows how the overall progress towards the SDGs at a sub-national level can be well measured in alignment with the GIF through integration of statistical and geospatial data. It provides a practical approach to other parts in China and the world. The Chinese Society for Sustainable Development is planning to promote its application in some cities in China. The UNSD (UN-GGIM Secretariat) and UN-ESCAP are designing related training workshops for developing countries this year.

Enabling factors and constraints

1. Enabling conditions: The pilot County has a long tradition in practicing the concepts of sustainable development. It fully recognized that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets, and paid significant attention to the harmonized development of economic growth, social inclusion and natural beauty. The County is moving towards “an open and inclusive city of entrepreneurship and innovation”, “a land of harmonious livelihood with deep-rooted traditional culture”, and “a large ecological garden with water and mountains in sight”. This laid a sound basis for the design and implementation of this pilot practice. On the other hand, the County has been proactive to develop its geospatial infrastructure and related industries. It has established multi-scale and multi-type geospatial databases and developed a variety of value-added geospatial applications. A geographic information town that has now gathered about 230 geospatial companies was built up several years ago. Last November, the first United Nations World Geospatial Information Congress (UNWGIC) was successfully held in Deqing, attracting more than 1,000 participants from 80 countries. This made Deqing a good pilot place for geospatial-enabled SDGs measurement and monitoring. Moreover, this pilot project has received strong support from the Ministry of Natural Resources, the National Bureau of Statistics, and Zhejiang Provincial Government, who provided necessary policy guidance and technical advice, as well as expert resources. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Science and Technology, National Development and Reform Commission, and Chinese Academy of Sciences contributed to the project with constructive suggestions. The UNSD (UN-GGIM Secretariat) guided the implementation of the project. 2. Specific constraints and innovations: The geo-statistical data-driven and evidence-supported SDGs measurement and assessment is a complex process that faced a number of technical and coordination challenges. Innovative ideas and techniques were implemented to tackle and overcome them, such as:
(1) Three criteria were proposed to localize the GIF based on the local circumstances: (a) adaptability, the indicators shall have practical significance and adapt to the local development priorities; (b) comprehensiveness, cover major SDGs and targets; and (c) measurability, have available and reliable data. The tailoring/localizing process was conducted in the following four ways: direct adoption from the GIF, revision, extension and substitution. (2) Four different methods were utilized to measure and analyze SDGs with geospatial information: (a) geospatial disaggregation of statistical data; (b) derivation of indicators with geospatial parameters (such as spatial density, accessibility, coverage and relations); (c) provision of spatial-temporal evidences; and (d) location-based visualization. (3) Hierarchical analysis at three levels was made to derive an overall picture about a given region’s SDGs progress and status. Firstly, each indicator was contrasted and ranked against the international or national recognized criteria or references. Secondly, each SDG was assessed by grouping its targets into 2-3 meaningful subsets, which were analyzed with quantified indicators and facts. Thirdly, a cluster analysis was conducted in three different SDG clusters (i.e. economic growth, social inclusion, and natural beauty) according to the contribution or relevance of their indicators.

Sustainability and replicability

1. Sustainability: (1) Transforming information into action plan: The information and results acquired from this project were used by the local decision-makers to formulate an action plan for the next five years. They are currently developing concrete implementation strategies and allocating resources accordingly, to address the gaps and challenges towards achieving the SDGs, such as reducing industrial emissions, lessening energy consumption and material consumption, improving public transport convenience, etc. (2) Planning to establish a regular monitoring mechanism: Having identified the role of measurable indicators as a management tool, the County resolved to carry out regular monitoring and reporting of SDGs implementation performance. There are a number of items to be explored, including the design of key variables for regular monitoring, use of social media and other big data, problem diagnosis, and policy simulation. 2. Replicability: (1) Showcase at the UN Open SDG Data Hub: The UN-GGIM Secretariat has decided at the end of 2018 to “showcase the work as a flagship example on how countries can practically measure their progress using statistical and geospatial information, especially at the sub-national level”. It is underway to transfer Deqing SDGs information portal into the UN Open SDG Data Hub to serve as “an example to assist countries to develop their own sustainable service-based, interoperable and standards driven system-of-systems approach to measure, monitor and report, in an integrated and consistent manner, on the SDG indicators”. (2) Replicate the practice in more cities in China: The Administrative Centre for China’s Agenda 21 and Chinese Society for Sustainable Development are researching and selecting candidate cities in China to perform similar practices in the near future. The Ministry of Natural Resources and National Bureau of Statistics are planning to use the results for nation-wide SDGs monitoring. (3) Capacity building for developing countries: The UNSD (UN-GGIM Secretariat) and UN-ESCAP have resolved to organize training workshops/seminars for developing countries, and develop relevant technical guidelines.


This pilot practice has successfully performed SDGs local monitoring through establishing a cooperative partnership among all stakeholders to mobilize resources, developing a set of data-driven and evidence-supported approach, and transforming monitoring results into action plans. It has demonstrated that SDGs progress can be well monitored in a local context, and strengthened the local implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The SDGs monitoring in this pilot County was realized with the application of a data-driven and evidence-supported approach developed in the practice that takes a geographic perspective into consideration. The monitoring results presented an overall picture of the local development status, informed the local community of its gaps and challenges for implementing the SDGs, and raised local awareness of the importance of SDGs monitoring for implementing the 2030 Agenda. The local government is therefore able to develop concrete implementation strategies and allocate resources accordingly, to address the issues identified in the monitoring, including reducing industrial emissions, lessening energy consumption and material consumption, and improving public transport convenience. To further extend the practice, the pilot County is making efforts to set up a mechanism for regular monitoring and reporting of SDGs. The practice has received numerous positive comments from the international community. It was appreciated as “a good practice for implementing and measuring SDGs at the local level”, and “a pioneering project whose experiences are helpful and available for people both from within and outside China”. Mr. Jack Dangermond, ESRI president, commented that “we must show tangible impact and results beyond convening technical meetings and conferences and go further to ‘implement’ and achieve development results required to address the challenges ahead. Your work provides a very valuable contribution to this process and we would like to support the amplification of your effort”. Dr. Wang Keran, Chief of Space Applications Section (SAS), IDD of UN ESCAP, appraised that “The experience of Deqing’s progress has been shared with relevant agencies in Asia-Pacific countries and received positive feedback and requests on capacity building towards using geo-statistical data to support monitoring progress of the SDGs.” The practice has provided a monitoring approach for SDGs local monitoring that is practical and replicable for other parts of China and even for the world. At its official release, some developing countries showed interest to carry out similar practices in their countries. UNSD (UN-GGIM Secretariat) has decided at the end of 2018 to “showcase the work as a flagship example on how countries can practically measure their progress using statistical and geospatial information, especially at the sub-national level”. UN ESCAP, as the Secretariat of UN-GGIM-AP, is developing work plan of UN-GGIM-AP for 2018-2021, in which “capacity building and sharing Deqing’s Progress experience will be the priority”.

Other sources of information

(1) Won the Geospatial World Excellence Awards 2019; (2) Deqing progress report on implementing the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development,; (3) Deqing SDGs Information Portal, http://www.deqing-sdgs.net/; (4) Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations, Opening Remarks at UNWGIC Special Session on “Measuring Deqing’s Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals with Geo-Statistical information”, https://www.unwgic2018.org/USG%20Remarks%20UNWGIC%20Special%20Session%2020Nov2018.pdf; (5) Chen J. and Z. Li, 2018. China Tracks Its Progress towards SDGs, Nature, Vol.563, No.7730, 184-184, 2018 (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07309-w); (6) UNWGIC Special Session on "Measuring Deqing's Progress towards the SDGs with Geo-Statistical Information”, http://ggim.un.org/unwgic/nov20-ss-Measuring-Deqings-Progress-Towards-the-SDGs-with-Geo-Statistical-Information/; (7) Chen J., Comprehensive Measurement of Deqing’s progress towards 2030 SDGs, presentation at the United Nations World Geospatial Information Congress (UNWGIC), http://ggim.un.org/unwgic/presentations/SS3-20Nov-Jun_Chen.pdf; (8) Ge Y., How Far is Deqing from SDGs - Indicator & Evidence-based Assessment, presentation at the UNWGIC, http://ggim.un.org/unwgic/presentations/SS3-20Nov-Yuejing_Ge.pdf; (9) Wang Q., Sustainable Experience of Beautiful Deqing, presentation at the UNWGIC, http://ggim.un.org/unwgic/presentations/SS3-20Nov-Wang-Qinying.pdf

Goal 17
Staff / Technical expertise
Expert resources of multi-disciplinary, national and international, data resources from national and local statistical and geospatial agencies, and human resources from universities, research institutions and private companies.
Basic information
Start: 01 March, 2017
Completion: 30 November, 2018
Ongoing? yes
Asia and Pacific
Geographical Coverage
The pilot area is Deqing County, Zhejiang Province, China, with an area of 936 km2 and a population of about 440,000. It is featured by “50% mountain, 10% water and 40% farmland”. It is ranked as one of China’s Top-100 Counties.
National Geomatics Center of China
Type: Government
Contact information
JUN CHEN, Prof, chenjun@ngcc.cn, 86 10 6388 1088

United Nations