Digital Footprint Data for localising SDGs

Digital Footprint Data for localising SDGs

Ban Ki-Moon famously stated: “the struggle for global sustainability will be won or lost in cities”. The increasingly leading role taken by local governments in reporting progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development reflects the importance of urban action in the fight to protect the planet.

While Voluntary National Reports (VNRs) of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) still represent the only official accounts of progress, more and more cities and sub-national entities are producing voluntary progress reports, called Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs) or Voluntary Sub-National Reviews (VSRs). From only around 20 VLR/VNRs that existed in mid-2020, there was a jump to over 120 reviews published as of early 2022.

A major challenge faced by regions when preparing these reports is accessing granular and up-to-date data to inform the progress status of the 169 targets associated with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Conventional datasets, such as census data and household surveys, are still the main source of information but are costly to obtain. Digital footprint data - including mobile phone data, citizen-generated data and environmental sensors - could help address these challenges, but there is a lack of knowledge of the opportunities and obstacles for using these data to address the Sustainable Development Goals at a local level.

Grid showing the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Aims and objectives

To address the knowledge gap, we will perform a comprehensive analysis of the existing voluntary progress reports to review how they are (or could be) informed by digital footprint data. We will investigate the potential of these data sources, including:

  • Their ability to increase inclusion of geographical diversity in relation to the respective indicator theme
  • Their ability to represent intra-urban spatial intersectional inequalities
  • The extent to which the definition of the localised indicator sets includes stakeholders from across the governance scale - from national government to community level - and across policy sectors.

Considering the differing approaches to the SDG monitoring framework at a local level and their transformative impact, the results of this study will be a critical comparison of current sub-national SDG monitoring practices globally. It will also be crucial for evaluating the opportunities and challenges to use indicators from digital footprint data. Our contribution builds upon current debates on:


We expect this pilot study will lead to follow-on projects with practitioner partners at the global, national, subnational and neighbourhood levels. We anticipate the focus of these projects to be towards inclusive and equitable practices of using digital footprint data for localising the SDGs, with sensitivity to intra-urban inequalities and the inclusion of deprived and marginalised neighbourhoods.


Lead: Professor João Porto de Albuquerque
Research Associate: Dr Philipp Ulbrich

Jointly funded by