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 article, 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.
- The ad hoc assignment of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicator custodianship has resulted in 17 separate institutional arrangements of varying degrees of fragmentation. We find that the more fragmented an arrangement is, the greater the coordination challenges its custodian agencies face. Policy interventions are needed to deal with this emerging system of custodians.
- As a policy response to ease this coordination challenge, we recommend encouraging system-wide knowledge sharing on potential approaches to coordination. A database of ongoing coordination efforts could for example help less resourceful agencies to join or establish initiatives based on lessons learned from other SDG issue areas.
- To reduce fragmentation, we recommend designating an orchestrator with a clear mandate to steer the custodian agencies. Potential candidates include the Inter-Agency Expert Group on the SDGs, ECOSOC, the UN Statistical Commission, a UN Chief Statistician, and the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.
- For SDG 10 on reducing inequality, the highly fragmented custodianship arrangement has not been conducive to coordination initiatives. Reducing fragmentation through, for example, assigning a leading agency with a clear coordination mandate would help streamline the operations of the custodians.
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