Measuring infrastructure project impact across the Sustainable Development Goals

Elodie Huiban, ICE Knowledge Strategy Manager, wants to encourage engineers to better understand their project impact.

ICE workshop on measuring infrastructure impact across SDGs.
ICE workshop on measuring infrastructure impact across SDGs.
  • Updated: 13 May, 2019
  • Author: Elodie Huiban, ICE Knowledge Strategy Manager

After the Global Engineering Congress (GEC) enthused more than 3,000 engineers worldwide last October, the engineering community is still asking itself: how do we translate high-level goals to project context? And since what can’t be measured can’t be managed, it feels like doing so is the most important task on our to-do list post-congress.

ICE dedicated some time to this question at a workshop with a cross-section of practitioners, academics and other thought leaders on measuring infrastructure project impact across the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals.

Workshop presentations

Sharing the latest research on sustainability measurements methods at organisational and project level were representatives from UNOPS, London South Bank University, and Simetrica.

UNOPS: Geoffrey Morgan, Infrastructure and Resilience specialist, talked about Infrastructure as a System of Systems to Improve Impact.

He focused on how networked infrastructure influences 72% of 169 targets across all SDGs, and about using the Infrastructure: Underpinning Sustainable Development research to develop a knowledge-sharing tool 'sustainABLE', for infrastructure and development practitioners to identify real-world practical actions.

Nathu Puri Institute for Engineering and Enterprise/London South Bank University: Paul Mansell, a Doctoral Researcher, shared 'Empirical evidence of a 'golden thread' from project-level SDG reporting to organisational level'.

He discussed how a new Infrastructure Project Transformation Process Model is being proposed, called the 'Infrastructure SDG Impact-Value Chain' (IVC) to link tactical-level project delivery with global-level strategic SDG impacts.

Simetrica: Richard Houston, Associate Director, talked about social value and its relation to the SDGs.

Topics he covered included the social value benefits to the monitoring and measurement of the SDGs at project level to improve decision making, and how the leading role of the UK passing the Social Value Act (2013) not requires that all major procurements explicitly evaluate social value.

Research into practice

Workshop participants were then asked to validate and test some of the research while assessing the feasibility of doing such exercise with project teams.

Paul Mansell presented a series of cards representing the SDGs and another set representing the 169 targets so participants could choose a set of primary and secondary SDGs to prioritise for the development of an infrastructure project that was seeking to provide safe drinking water to a village in Zambia.

SDG priorities

The three groups had different approaches and chose different SDGs as priorities, while all groups included SDG6 Clean water and sanitation and SDG3 Good health and wellbeing (as the two most obvious ones).

The other ‘priority SDGs’ were different from one group to another, choosing SDG 13 Climate action over SDG8 Decent work and economic growth – the links between our project and SDGs were not as clear and when we delved into the targets, it got even more complicated.

We felt empowered by discovering more about each SDG we had chosen to prioritise for the project, and yet challenged by the urge to want to know more about each target to ensure the project would achieve its priority SDG and be measured against its indicators.

At that point most of us were overwhelmed by the nature of the 232 indicators which sit underneath the 17 SDGs and its 169 targets.

Another realisation occurred – no one from a project team would go through all of the above in great detail – it’s too complex, time consuming and indicators are inappropriately applicable to a project or possible to easily integrate as part of measurement tools.

It highlights again the need for the engineering industry to agree on how SDG indicators should be translated from high-level goal to project context – and ICE is forming a working group on Measuring, Monitoring and Reporting impact against SDGs across infrastructure projects to develop methods to answer this apparent need.

UN SDGs grouped
Click to enlarge
UN SDGs grouped
UN SDGs grouped

SDG system map of interdependencies

Each group built a generic map of interdependencies between the SDGs chosen as priorities, which could be used at the project design stage to effectively assess pre and post-project success as defined within the IVC model presented and developed by Mansell and piloted throughout the afternoon.

Systems mapping
Click to enlarge
Systems mapping
Systems mapping

Next steps

Action required: provide UNOPS with feedback on their newly developed tool.

Access the sustainABLE tool and provide feedback on your user experience, and answer some of the questions below:

  • What would you add to it (guidance documents, assessments available to share and so on)?
  • Which thematic areas would you like to contribute to and how?
  • Funding is required to further develop the tool - do you know of any bodies that might be interested in investing?

Action required: has your company aligned its strategy to SDGs?

If yes, please share video messages, PDFs, powerpoint presentations, report or documents, links to case studies that we could share with the community.

As engineers, we must be better at telling the story - please help ICE do just that!

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