Empowering Local Voices: The Role of Participatory Research in SDG Voluntary Local Reviews

This report analyses the use of community-based, participatory methods in producing Voluntary Local Reviews. Since 2022, the Swedish International Centre for Local Democracy has supported municipalities with policy integration of the Sustainable Development Goals. Research teams together with three of these municipalities (Bijeljina in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Emboreet and Kibaha in Tanzania) applied community-based participatory research (CBPR) to collect data, information, and collective experience from the communities within the towns. The outcome VLRs work as a laboratory for an alternative kind of review on SDG implementation, with a focus on stories, perception, and co-ownership rather than on data, measurements, and indicators. This report explores the process that led to the VLRs, the contents of the reviews, and the lessons that can be learned for other local governments to adopt and contribute to a more inclusive and participative approach from the bottom up. It showed that more participation increases the community’s perception of their ownership of decision-making, and that bottom-up VLRs can constitute a mechanism for citizens to affect, change and improve the policymaking process.