Call for research applications: Voluntary Local Reviews using community-based participatory research

ICLD will fund the development of a number of Voluntary Local Reviews – monitorings of progress toward the SDGs on the local level – conducted using community-based, participatory methods. This is a joint project between academic researchers and local governments. This call outlines the Terms of Reference and informs about the application process.


During the strategy period 2023-2026, ICLD’s activities will contribute to strengthening the capacity of local politicians, officials, and organizations to work with Agenda 2030. This is done, among other things, by integrating the agenda as an overall perspective in ICLD-financed projects. Municipalities that participate in the program activities will receive training that enables analysis of their project’s impact on the agenda and will also be given support to strengthen their follow-up of goals within Agenda 2030. The aim is to identify areas where positive impact can be strengthened and negative impact reduced, so that the projects and ICLD’s collective program activities can make the greatest possible contribution to Agenda 2030. In addition, individual projects often contribute particularly positively to one or more of the agenda’s goals depending on its thematic focus. ICLD also works to increase transparency and the possibility of accountability around Agenda 2030 at the local level, for example through support for municipalities to carry out localized reporting in so-called Voluntary Local Reviews.

Commission Research on the SDGs and local democracy

During 2023 ICLD will support at least three action research projects to co-create Voluntary Local Reviews with local governments and communities, placing a strong emphasis on citizen’s dialogue.


  • To increase local democracy in selected municipality by conducting a Voluntary Local Review using community based participatory action research
  • Researchers are free to propose the use of different community-based participatory research methods to collect data for the VLR
  • The final result should be a written Voluntary Local Review in partnership with the Local Government

Research Questions:

The research project should answer to the following questions:

  • How has the selected local government advanced the localization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development? What data is available? What have been key priorities?
    • How are citizens and other social actors perceiving the implementation of the SDGs and how are they involved?
    • How is the ICLD partnership project contributing to the implementation of the SDGs?

Key Steps:

Step 1: Partnership for the Goals

VLRs have the potential to improve citizen participation and increase local governments transparency, equity and accountability. While some cases of VLRs are bureaucratic or technical exercises, the ICLD approach is radically different and explores the need to bring different actors of society together to assess the achievement of the SDGs and explore a common vision. Thus, the first step in this research project is to build a group that wants to actively engage in the VLR such as local government officials, politicians, civil society organisations, community-based organisations, universities, small and large business associations, and specific communities affected by the relevant questions. Active participation should be part of the entire process of building the VLR.

Step 2: Mapping local governments’ efforts to implement the different SDGs.

Mapping the progress made by local governments in the implementation of the SDGs. It is possible to acknowledge three levels of progress.

  • 1st stage: the local governments have committed to localize the SDGs (but have still not aligned the SDGs with their development plans)
  • 2nd stage: the local government have or are in the process of aligning the SDGs with their local development plans (and their budgets). Examine the progress made and obstacles faced.
  • 3rd stage: local governments that are in the phase of implementation: look at the main programmes and integrated approaches.

In many cases, local governments are mixing different stages. For example, they are implementing initiatives related to the SDGs (e.g. better access to public services, access to energy, strengthen urban planning, climate change actions plan) even if do not call these initiatives as “SDGs”.

Step 3: Progress made in the implementation of the goals and targets

The report will include:

  • Available data on progress made towards the implementation of the 17 SDGs and targets (or a selected group of SDGs aligned with the priorities of the local government, the partnership project). In any case, the report must include available data about the five SDGs prioritised by ICLD: SDG 5, 10, 11, 16 and 17. This shall include a description of how the goal and how it is understood.
  • Depending on the level of progress of the local government, this research should include a participatory research exercise with local government officials and politicians to map out progress, current challenges and build a common vision built together with the affected communities.
  • This research should include community based participatory methods (such as community mapping, photo voice, participatory video, etc) to map how affected communities experienced and perceived progress, current challenges and build a common vision in relation to their prioritised SDGs.

Prominent attention should be given to initiatives devoted to leaving no one behind, addressing more gender equality, poor and vulnerable groups, minorities, and increase citizen participation, transparency and accountability. A holistic perspective is necessary, keeping in mind that progress toward one goal may negatively affect another (for example, progress toward SDG 11 on sustainable cities requires analysis on working conditions, natural resource management etc).

Community based participatory research using methods such as: community mapping, photo voice and participatory video shall be used to assess the progress made in the SDGs. Focus should be given to the SDGs prioritized by the community, the SDG:s prioritised by the local government and the five ICLD priority SDGs.

Step 4: Write the VLR

Suggested outline of the report: VLR report outline.docx


ICLD will provide grants of 70.000 SEK

Time frame: January to May 2023

Who can apply?

Junior (including PhD students) and senior researchers affiliated to a university with experienced and knowledge in community-based participatory research.

Countries eligible:

Tanzania, Zambia, Kenya, Rwanda, Bosnia.  

Prioritised municipalities that have already expressed interest in conducting a VLR:

  • Kibaha
  • Emboreet
  • Mombasa
  • Muranga

Contact Clara Orstadius ( to put you in contact with the prioritised municipalities.  

If you want to apply for municipalities that are not listed above, the applicant should clearly state why the selected municipality provides a good case in the implementation of the SDGs.

How to apply?

  • Project proposal: Use VLR Proposal template.docx  (includes budget and time frame).
  • CV
  • Letter of support from the local government
  • Letter of support from the University  

Submit your application in the online form:

Application deadline: 15 January!


Recommended resources


UN Habitat list of VLR resources

Africa Voluntary Review Guidelines

ICLD Toolbox for Voluntary Local Reviews

ICLD Reporting on the Implementation of the Sustainable Goals in Sweden and their Implications for Local Democracy

UCLG VLR Guidelines

CBPR: List of resources CBPR public.docx

Sustainable Development Goals
17 - Partnerships for the goals
CBPR, Research, VLR,