In practice

Using SDGs to support a country-focused results approach

Key messages

New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has refreshed its results system. A simplified results approach at corporate level has created space to focus on country-level learning, decision making and mutual accountability. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators are used to plan and monitor progress towards shared results with partner countries.


New Zealand’s Pacific and Development Group – Ngā Hoe Tuputupu-mai-tawhiti, or “The paddles that bring growth from afar” – is a section of the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Its results system needed a refresh. This was due to recent changes, including:

  • the ministry’s integration of foreign policy and international development co-operation

  • a new international development co‑operation policy affirming support for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

  • introduction of new four-year plans for bilateral relationships.

The ministry also recognised that the existing system, while well aligned to the SDGs, focused too strongly on the corporate level at the expense of country context.


The corporate level of New Zealand’s performance system has been simplified to focus on the contribution of development co-operation to the ministry’s integrated Strategic Framework. There is a strong focus on accountability at this level. The number of indicators was significantly reduced, from 27 indicators to 6 at Level 1 (development results), and from 21 to 13 at Level 2 (development co‑operation results). For example, instead of aligning to individual SDG indicators, the ministry uses the Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s SDG Index to report annually on the number of partner countries with improving trends for more than 50% of goals.

At the country programme level, the focus is on learning and mutual accountability. Each four-year plan now includes a theory of change, with 3-4 long-term outcomes aligned to key indicators, many of which are SDG indicators, prioritised by that country. Partners are consulted, and the plans will be shared on the ministry website by the end of 2021 and refreshed on an annual basis.

The ministry also produces Statistical Snapshots for each partner country. These are based on a broad range of relevant indicators, including many SDG indicators, and are aligned to the ministry’s thematic priorities. The snapshots are used to assist with planning and monitoring country progress towards shared development goals. Importantly, the ministry does not develop separate country-level results frameworks.

Internal governance groups have responsibility for monitoring progress towards achievement of the four-year plans. Annual reflection reports and governance group discussions provide the opportunity for evidence-based learning and programme-level decision making. The ministry reports back on four-year plan progress to partner governments via annual high-level consultations. This provides an opportunity to discuss what has been achieved in partnership, and to test whether four-year plans remain fit for purpose.


The changes described above have supported the development of a performance system that:

  • recognises that each partner country operates in a different context and that aggregation or generalisation of results at corporate level can mask this

  • focuses more strongly on supporting and using country-owned SDG data, with greater visibility of data gaps

  • reflects a more balanced approach to use of evidence in an integrated environment, balancing quantitative results data with qualitative reporting and reflection for learning and decision making.

The ministry has only recently implemented the new system (2020/21), and it is therefore too early to assess the overall effectiveness of the approach. However, anecdotal feedback suggests that staff appreciate the simplified approach and value the annual reflection process in particular. The approach will be monitored and further refined over the next three years, with a view to strengthening and streamlining internal policies and processes, enhancing external transparency and communication, and focusing on the use of SDG data and other evidence to inform consultations with partner governments.

Lessons learnt

The following are key lessons from the implementation of the results and performance system to date:

  • Use quality data and statistics. The ability to use SDG data to assess progress against development outcomes depends on the availability of solid data. The ministry will continue to support partner-country and regional capacity for collection and analysis of data and statistics.

  • Be clear about the purpose of results information and evidence at each level. Look for accountability at the corporate level versus learning and mutual accountability at country level.

  • Ensure the approach is simple, with a focus on quality over quantity. In particular, the ministry made sure not to adopt standard indicators lacking recent and reliable data.

  • Develop good mechanisms for governance. This is essential for a strong performance system. The annual internal reflection process by governance groups has provided an effective platform for use of evidence for learning and reflection.

  • Provide sufficient lead time and flexibility for consultation with partner countries. This was necessary for consultations on the new four-year plans and related theories of change.

Further information

New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Our approach to aid,

New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Policy Statement, New Zealand’s International Cooperation for Effective Sustainable Development,

Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Sustainable Development Report 2021,

OECD resources

OECD, Results in development co-operation,

OECD, Guiding Principles on Managing for Sustainable Development Results,

To learn more about New Zealand’s development co-operation see:

OECD (2021), "New Zealand", in Development Co-operation Profiles, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2015), OECD Development Co-operation Peer Reviews: New Zealand 2015, Development Co‑operation Peer Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris,