Open SDG - How we got here

5 minute read

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out an ambitious agenda to address the world’s most pressing challenges. This global action plan can only be achieved if data on the SDG indicators are made available to be used in monitoring progress and guiding policy.

Solutions for managing and publishing SDG data - known as reporting platforms - can help save time and resources. The Open SDG reporting platform is a strong example of what collaboration using open-source tools can achieve. Open SDG grew organically from a collaboration of teams solving a common problem with a shared approach and evolved into a full-fledged open-source project and community.

Origins

The Open SDG story starts two years before its initial release. In 2016, the USA government launched an open-source platform for the SDGs at https://sdg.data.gov, leveraging open-source code that was originally developed by the City of Philadelphia. Several aspects of these original implementations continue to be central to Open SDG today:

  • Using open-source technologies
  • Leveraging GitHub.com free services
  • Fast and secure as a generated static site
  • CSV data management

The UK Office for National Statistics reused the USA platform code and added a range of custom features, including disaggregation support, maps, high-contrast mode, and a separate web service for data. At the same time, the USA platform continued development by adding multilingual support. As part of its SDG National Reporting Initiative, the Center for Open Data Enterprise (CODE) connected with the USA and the UK to support and facilitate greater information sharing about open-source reporting platforms for the SDGs.

By 2017 these three teams were communicating regularly to compare notes and discuss new developments. Because both the USA and UK platforms were open-source, it was possible to share code and functionality between them. Additionally several other countries around the world began adopting the USA and UK SDG reporting platforms, including Ghana, Poland, and Rwanda.

The need for Open SDG

With the successful implementations of the UK and USA platforms, and the continued adoption by other countries, it became clear that there was an opportunity for everyone to benefit from a shared codebase. By combining the code into a shared platform, several key improvements could be achieved:

  • Each country could focus more on their content and data, without the burden of maintaining platform functionality.
  • As the shared platform gained features, all countries could immediately benefit, without the need for any extra work.
  • With a shared platform, documentation and outreach could become focused on a single, clear best-practice.

The CODE team began to focus on the development necessary to produce this shared platform. The project became known as “Open SDG” and was released in late 2018, as version 0.1.0. Both the USA and UK updated their platforms to use Open SDG. The project is hosted at https://github.com/open-sdg as a trio of repositories:

  • Open SDG: The core platform combining the USA and UK features into a re-usable library
  • SDG Build: A Python library for preparing and converting SDG data
  • SDG Translations: A repository for translating the platform to an ever-growing number of languages.

Path to 1.0.0

With the release of Open SDG as a shared platform, Open SDG itself (rather than the individual country platforms) became the focus of the teams’ development efforts. Incremental versions were released over the course of 2019, from version 0.2.0 in January to version 0.10.0 in November. In addition to the important release of platform documentation and automated tests, the releases during this time focused on adding new features and fixing bugs. The UK team provided project management throughout this phase (and continues today).

After reaching version 0.10.0, the next milestone was to release a “stable” 1.0.0 version. Version 1.0.0 was critical because it would represent a solidifying of the platform’s evolving architecture. With this intensive push towards 1.0.0 came a project website and many improvements to the platform. The UK team continued to contribute resources, including an expert review of the platform from the perspective of user-centered design, as well as a web accessibility audit and extensive testing. As a result, the usability and accessibility of the Open SDG platform received a great deal of attention, and improved significantly.

Version 1.0.0 was released in April of 2020.

Growing community

As Open SDG grew in popularity a community formed around the project. This influx of new users and use-cases spurred on development and inspired new functionality. The Jekyll-based architecture of the platform proved to be successful in allowing any part of the platform to be altered by a country, and then allowing for those alterations to be contributed back to the project to become part of Open SDG.

The platform was adopted by Germany, and the German team contributed greatly to the project, both by their involvement in the community and by their many examples of extensive platform customization. The city of Los Angeles also adopted Open SDG and initiated outreach about the platform, which was instrumental in producing new features allowing the platform to be used at the local level.

As more countries expressed interest in using SDMX data rather than CSV, new functionality was added which allowed Open SDG to be used in an unexpected new way: as a front-end for a completely separate (non-CSV) data source. This has opened the door to adoption by many countries that may already have an established data back-end, but would like a front-end specialized for the SDGs.

The development of Open SDG’s integration with SDMX has benefited from a close collaboration with UNSD and the UNSD-FCDO project countries. In particular, Kyrgyzstan’s adoption of SDMX-ML was (and continues to be) instrumental in developing the Open SDG integrations, as was Cambodia’s implementation of an SDMX web service. Guidance and encouragement from the IAEG-SDGs Working Group on SDMX has been crucial throughout this initiative.

Multiple webinars held during 2020 continued to spread the word about Open SDG. At the time of this writing, there are 22 known users of Open SDG with implementations at country and sub-national level. The process of creating a new implementation of Open SDG has become progressively faster and less technical; to the point where it can now be done in less than an hour, using only a web browser.

Looking ahead

So this brings us to where we - the Open SDG community - are today. As of January 2021 we have just released version 1.2.0, and are already working on version 1.3.0. This open-source platform continues to adhere to those original design principles started years earlier, at the same time as it continues to accumulate features and functionality to better help with SDG reporting.

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