Understanding how to interact with the UN as civil society can be incredibly hard as its systems are many and complex. We therefore created this page to help you manoeuvre the space, to break down the UN jargon, and map the various levels of advocacy opportunities.

About the 2030 Agenda

In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” to guide sustainable development efforts, focusing on people, the planet, prosperity, peace and partnership, for the period from 2016 to 2030. The 2030 Agenda sets out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets which jointly constitute a comprehensive plan of action to eradicate poverty and ensure sustainable development in an integrated and balanced manner. The Major Group and other Stakeholders have been a crucial part of the process to define the 2030 Agenda. We continue to meaningfully participate in the implementation and review process of the Agenda, respecting each one of the principles on which the review process is founded: openness, inclusion and participation.

Follow-up and review framework

There are three levels:

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Global level

High Level Political Forum (HLPF) and Ministerial Declaration

Regional level

Regional Forums on Sustainable Development and Engagement Mechanisms

National level

Voluntary National Reviews and local engagement. Within this level there are in some countries sub-levels, such as: regional, local authority and city level.

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For civil society engagement and participation 2022


Global level: what is HLPF?

What is our role at HLPF?

The United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) serves as the central platform for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda. It is supported by the reviews of the ECOSOC functional commissions and other intergovernmental conferences such as the UN Environmental Assembly, UN Biodiversity Conference and the UN’s Forum on Financing for Development. The HLPF meetings are held in July of each year. The forum takes stock of how far we have come in implementing the 2030 Agenda. Each year there is a different theme and set of selected SDGs under review. Below is a list of advocacy opportunities that you can engage with if you wish to influence HLPF and the global processes.

Creating change  before  HLPF

The Regional Forums on Sustainable Development (RFSDs), are organised by the five UN Economic Commissions. These are regional outposts of the United Nations in their respective regions. The UN has 5 official regions, see section below to learn more. The Regional Forums are set up to support the regional implementation, follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda.

Every year, ahead of the HLPF, all recognized stakeholder groups are invited by the UN to submit: a discussion paper, also called “position paper”, on the thematic focus of the HLPF and an executive summary of this discussion paper. The executive summary is a very short introduction about the key points of the position paper. It is voluntary and not mandatory to submit these. The executive summary is translated into the UN’s 6 official languages and compiled in a “Note” by the UN Secretariat. The discussion paper is published on the official UN website for the HLPF. A position paper outlines policy demands and recommendations. It includes expertise and analysis specific to the stakeholder group submitting it. It is a very powerful tool, which outlines the gaps of the 2030 Agenda, its implementation and recommendations for addressing those gaps. Having it published on the official UN website is not enough, it is always strategic to follow-up and share it with decision-makers and other relevant actors.

Similar to “official letters”, a statement is a tool which can be used to put pressure on decision-makers and UN agencies on pressing issues. These are often used to raise concern about a particular issue or to show support of an action. MGoS writes statements ahead of HLPF, usually around issues of meaningful engagement of civil society. These are created with MGoS’ broad membership and reflect their diverse civil society expertise. Statements can also be made by stakeholder groups or organisations. It should be clear who the statement is addressed to. If time allows, it always makes the statement stronger if you collect and include signatures of supporting organisations.

Each year countries present Voluntary National Reviews, also called VNRs, at the HLPF. Governments have to involve civil society in the making of these reports. However, VNRs are not mandatory, and the extent to which a member state involves civil society varies from country to country. Some have regular consultations, others invite civil society to draft sections of the VNR, others make surveys – the list is long in how member states involve civil society actors. Is your country doing a VNR? You can find out here. If it is doing a VNR, we recommend you to join our VNR task group to learn more about what you can do. It is also good to look up and contact the person who is coordinating the VNR within your government and ask them how you can get involved on the national level. This is usually published on the website of the department in charge of implementing the 2030 Agenda. 

Paragraph 89 of the 2030 Agenda states “The HLPF will support participation in follow-up and review processes by the major groups and other relevant stakeholders in line with Resolution 67/290. We call on these actors to report on their contribution to the implementation of the Agenda.”

Also called “EGMs”, bring together a multi-stakeholder group of experts including MGoS representatives. Participants assess progress and challenges to achieving the in-focus SDGs in the context of the broader 2030 Agenda. If you are interested in participating, contact either of the MGoS co-chairs who can guide you through the speaker selection process.

The MGoS Coordination Mechanism usually holds several meetings with the ECOSOC President in order to ensure an inclusive process for civil society during HLPF.

Representatives of MGoS, i.e. civil society, can participate and provide input to the informal consultations. The engagement is coordinated by the MGoS Coordination Mechanism. The intervention given by the MGoS representative during the informal consultations is disseminated through the co-facilitators of the Ministerial Declaration to all Member States.

Each year the MGoS organise a preparatory meeting the day before the HLPF in order to convene all civil society participants who will be following the HLPF that year. This space is particularly important to newcomers who have never attended HLPF before. At the meeting, civil society discuss and strategize around: advocacy and synergies, the official programme, logistical coordination, and mobilisation.

Elements papers are often used in multilateral negotiations where multiple stakeholders, including civil society, with diverse interests are trying to reach agreement on a complex issue. The purpose of an elements paper is to provide a starting point for negotiations, by outlining the key issues, areas of agreement, and areas where further discussion or compromise is needed. Elements papers are usually developed by the facilitator or chair of the negotiation process, and are shared with all parties in advance of the negotiation session. The parties are then expected to use the elements paper as a basis for further discussion and negotiation, with the goal of reaching consensus on a final agreement. Overall, an elements paper is an important tool for facilitating complex negotiations and promoting consensus-building among diverse stakeholders within the United Nations.

Creating change  during  HLPF

The Major Group and other Stakeholders coordination mechanism organises an official session yearly at the High Level Political Forum. There they present their positions, perspectives and priorities to the Member States and UN agencies attending. The session is in the official HLPF programme and is live-streamed on UN Web TV, as well as included in the outcome reports of the sessions.

Is the act of delivering a speech at the UN during the official sessions (at the thematic or VNR sessions) or at side events. To “intervene” is to share your concerns, analysis and expertise on the issue, usually on topics that have been omitted by Member States. The MGoS have a few opportunities to deliver an intervention towards the end of some official sessions and forums. The MGoS coordination mechanism coordinates civil society’s interventions to ensure these speaking slots are evenly and equitably divided amongst MGoS. Individual constituencies then organise collectively for each of their slots. For example, there might be a flag at the UN that says “Farmers Major Group”, but that doesn’t mean that anyone who is a farmer can sit down there and speak on behalf of farmers. The Farmers Major Group coordinates within themselves who will represent them during the session. If you are interested in delivering an intervention, we strongly encourage you to reach out to the Organising Partners of your constituency, you can find contact details here. They will inform you of the internal selection and drafting process. One of the main mandates of the MGoS coordination mechanism is to coordinate the VNR interventions, or “questions” as they are called. This process usually starts around march/april. If your country is presenting a VNR, then ask your constituency how you can engage in preparing and delivering the VNR statement

Every year, the HLPF has sessions for each of the Sustainable Development Goals under review. In these sessions, the MGoS coordination mechanism has the possibility to designate a lead discussant and nominate speakers from the floor (interventions). The lead discussant officially speaks from the floor, while the nominated speakers speak based on the comments and questions from the Member States.

At each HLPF the first week of official sessions consists of thematic reviews, based on the SDGs that are in focus at that year’s forum. In each of these sessions the MGoS gets a few slots to deliver a 2-3min intervention towards the end. The constituencies submit their nominations for speakers to the MGoS coordination mechanism (composed of volunteers), who in turn then selects and offers the slots. This is to ensure these speaking slots are evenly and equitably divided amongst the MGoS. The selection committee takes into account not just an equal division of slots amongst the MGoS but also a balance and diversity amongst the speakers selected, including geographic, language, gender, ability, age diversity and beyond. The process for how to nominate speakers for interventions is up to the Organising Partners of each MGoS constituency. Similarly, the process for how the intervention is drafted varies per MGoS.

The Ministerial Declaration is the outcome document of the HLPF, reinforcing commitment to the implementation of the SDGs, and containing guidance and recommendations for Member States for SDGs follow-up and review. Before HLPF begins, Member States conduct a series of informal consultations and begin to negotiate on the Ministerial Declaration. The process is co-facilitated by two member states, which rotate each year. Based on these consultations, all the Member States agree on a set of paragraphs which compose a final Ministerial Declaration addressing the SDGs as well as cross-cutting issues, which is adopted at the end of each HLPF.

Or “bilaterals” for short, are essentially conversations between two groups, such as between a government delegation and a civil society group. Most high-level delegations as well as MGoS schedule bilateral meetings during HLPF. Bilaterals have different purposes, such as looking for collaborations, gaining insight into the negotiations, as well as advocacy.

In each of the Voluntary National Review (VNR) sessions, which take place during the second week of the HLPF, the MGoS coordination mechanism has the possibility to propose one speaker from civil society to intervene at their country’s session. For this, the coordination mechanism has a process led by its VNR task team of volunteers that sends out a survey for all interested civil society (belonging to an MGoS) from each country to collectively draft an intervention and select a speaker to deliver it at the VNR session. After the official VNR presentation by the Member State representatives, time allowing, the designated MGoS speaker gets to make a brief 2-3 minute intervention presenting questions, comments and concerns on the country level progress and implementation of Agenda 2030.

is an informal platform for experience sharing and reflection on the Voluntary National Review process. The Labs are held under the Chatham House rule and are open to Member States, the UN system and representatives of MGoS. Chatham House rule: “When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.” (Source: Chatham House)

The MGoS has the right to organise a multitude of side events and special events on 2030 Agenda and the HLPF’s thematic issues, and these can happen in cooperation with Member States and UN institutions. These events aim to review progress and implementation of the SDGs at the global level. They are also crucial for learning from civil society voices and spreading greater awareness about the 2030 Agenda at all levels. The events can be self-organised by civil society, or organised by Member States, the UN agencies or other participants at the HLPF.

Exhibitions can be organised during HLPF by civil society, Member States, private sector, UN agencies and other organisations. Civil society must have a Member State or UN institution to co-sponsor their exhibition. The exhibitions act as disseminators of information and showcase work or different perspectives regarding the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda

Use the hashtags for the conference, usually it’s HLPF and the year, like this: #HLPF2022, go to UN DESA’s twitter account and check which one they use. Some decision-makers just use the generic #HLPF. It can be strategic to alternate between the two, but keep an eye on which one has the most recent content.

If the negotiations on the Ministerial Declaration are not going the way we want, e.g. member states are moving back on their original commitments to Agenda 2030 and watering down the text, then the MGoS coordination mechanism and the constituencies usually write advocacy statements to raise their concerns. These are usually sent to heads at the United Nations as well as decision-makers.

Regional level: What does the regional engagement look like?

The regional dimension is key in translating the 2030 Agenda into national sustainable development realities. The UN Regional Commissions are convening Regional Sustainable Development Forums to follow up and review the 2030 Agenda, the outcomes are later presented at the High-Level Political Forum. The regional forums are multi-stakeholder meetings where Member States, UN agency representatives, and civil society (through the regional civil society engagement mechanisms) come together to share their reflections on progress. The aim of the regional forums is to strengthen the national governments’ implementation efforts, exchange experiences, promote cooperation and articulate regional inputs to the High Level Political Forum.

What is our role?

MGoS is also active at the regional level. Regional engagement of MGoS is coordinated by Regional Civil Engagement Mechanisms (RCEM) enabling stronger cross constituency coordination and ensure that voices of all constituencies from each region are heard in intergovernmental processes at regional and global level:

  • Africa Regional Mechanism of MGoS
  • APRCEM – Asia Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism
  • ECE-RCEM – Regional Civil Society Engagement Mechanism

During the regional forums, RCEMs organise pre-meetings, do interventions and statements, host exhibitions etc., depending on the format chosen by UN Economic Commissions. Regional forums are usually more accessible and inclusive than HLPF, as they are smaller and the chances to network with decision-makers greater.

UN regions


African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (ARFSD), convened by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

Asia and the Pacific:

Asia-Pacific Forum for Sustainable Development (APFSD), convened by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

Europe and Central Asia:

Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (RFSD), convened by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

Arab Region:

Arab Forum on Sustainable Development (AFSD), convened by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

Latin America and the Caribbean:

Forum of Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development, convened by The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

National level: What does the national engagement look like?

The Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) are reports that aim to facilitate the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, with a view to accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Countries are encouraged to participate in VNRs to be presented at the United Nations High Level Political Forum (HLPF), which should be ‘state-led, involving ministerial and other relevant high-level participants’ and should ‘provide a platform for partnerships, including through the participation of major groups and other relevant stakeholders.’ The outcome from national level processes are the foundation for reviews at regional and global levels. VNR reports are made available online.

Governments are meant to, according to the 2030 Agenda:

  • Develop a stakeholder engagement plan during VNR preparations which identifies key stakeholders
  • Develop methods of engagement (to consider offline and online options)
  • Establish awareness-raising and public outreach components to disseminate avenues for stakeholder engagement in the VNR process, making use of government communication services, social media, etc.
  • Make sure targeted efforts are made to reach groups that are marginalised and at risk of being left behind

Therefore, civil society can demand to organise proper engagement during the VNR process. During the High Level Political Forum, MGoS can make at least one intervention during the official VNR presentation of each Member State. The speaker delivering the intervention is identified through an inclusive process organised by the coordination mechanism’s working group on “VNR Engagement”.

How to influence the VNR sessions



Breaking down the acronyms

Understanding the UN letter soup

AP-RCEMAsia Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism
CSOCivil Society Organisation
COPConference of Parties
CBDConvention on Biological Diversity
CMCoordination Mechanism (of the MGoS)
ECOSOCEconomic and Social Council
ECE-RCEMEconomic Commission for Europe - Regional Civil Society Engagement Mechanism
EGMExpert Group Meetings
FfDFinancing for Development
HLPFHigh Level Political Forum
LGBTILesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex
MGCYMajor Group of Children and Youth
MGoSMajor Groups and other Stakeholders
MSMember States
OSOther Stakeholders (we try and not use this one though)
RCEMRegional CSO Engagement Mechanism
RFSDRegional Forum for Sustainable Development
SG-CDWDStakeholder Group of Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent
SDGsSustainable Development Goals
TGTask Group
UNUnited Nations
UN DESAUnited Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
UN ESCWAUnited Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia
UNECAUnited Nations Economic Commission for Africa
UN ESCAPUnited Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific
UNECEUnited Nations Economic Commission for Europe
UN ECLACUnited Nations Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean
UNEAUnited Nations Environment Assembly
UNHQUnited Nations Headquarters
VNRsVoluntary National Reviews
WMGWomen’s Major Group

Special thanks

Photo credit: Kiara Worth, IISD-ENB (All photos from the UN headquarters used on this website have been taken by Kiara). To our fab photographer Kiara Worth, from IISD-ENB – we see you running up and down the aisles at the High Level Political Forum! Thank you for always making sure civil society is visible through your reporting, and thank you for coming to our group photos and actions.