International organisations as ‘custodians’ of the SDGs

International organisations as ‘custodians’ of the Sustainable Development Goals
Exploring modes of global level cooperation steered by the SDG indicators

Led by Melanie van Driel

It is widely assumed that the fragmentation of global governance can affect coordination efforts among international institutions and organisations. Yet, the precise relationship between the fragmentation of global governance and the extent to which international organisations coordinate their activities remains underexplored. In this project, we offer new empirical evidence derived from the so-called custodianship arrangements in which numerous international organisations have been mandated to coordinate data collection and reporting for 231 indicators of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

These complex custodianship arrangements provide a fertile testing ground for theories on the relationship between fragmentation and coordination because the institutional arrangements for each of the 17 SDGs have emerged bottom–up with varying degrees of fragmentation.

Through a comparative approach covering 44 custodian agencies and focusing on the most and least fragmented custodianship arrangements, we make three key contributions. First, we offer a novel operationalisation of institutional fragmentation and coordination. Second, we present empirical evidence in support of the claim that fragmentation negatively affects coordination. Third, we provide nuances to this claim by identifying factors that affect the strength of this relationship.

Based on our analysis, we suggest further steps that might facilitate coordination in global sustainability governance.

This project resulted in a research paper published in Global Governance in July of 2022;