Knowledge of Sustainable Development Goal interactions for decision making–are current approaches fit for purpose?

Di Lucia, Lorenzo and Nilsson, Lars J and Khan, Jamil and Slade, Raphael (2020) Knowledge of Sustainable Development Goal interactions for decision making–are current approaches fit for purpose? In: Knowledge of Sustainable Development Goal interactions for decision making – are current approaches fit for purpose? GlobalGoals2020 symposium, 11 June 2020.

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Due to the interconnectedness of the SDGs, the potential to meet a specific goal is influenced by efforts to achieve other goals. To maintain the indivisibility of the 2030 Agenda, a growing number of approaches have been developed to provide knowledge of SDG interactions in the form of trade-offs and synergies. In this paper, we take stock of the rapid development, which has characterised the field, and conduct a critical review of the approaches available to support decision makers with the implementation of the UN Agenda. Our overall ambition is to provide a broad understanding of the support provided by existing methodologies to decision makers in light of the challenges emerging from the interconnected nature of the SDGs. To achieve the aim of the study, we elect three specific objectives: (a) identify and categorise the most prominent approaches available for understanding SDG interactions based on a review of the literature and experience of SDG interaction analysis for decision making; (b) evaluate the requirements of decision makers based on an online survey of representatives of private and public organisations committed to SDG implementation at national and subnational level in Sweden; (c) assess how the approaches comply with the requirements of decision makers based on the views and opinions of developers of prominent tools. Sweden was selected due to the widely shared ambition of becoming a front runner of SDG implementation, and also considering the research team’s familiarity with the local context. The focus on local and national organisations is justified by the recognition that, while the 2030 Agenda is global in nature, its implementation is expected to take place primarily at local, regional and national level. The results of the study highlight the existence of both methodological and conceptual challenges that are relevant to the empirical analysis of SDG interactions. To effectively contribute to decision making, approaches and tools need to be easy to apply, transparent in their logic, assumptions and limitations, but also flexible and adaptable to different empirical cases, while the knowledge generated should be directly actionable and easy to interpret by decision makers. Based on the opinions of the developers, 2 the tools evaluated perform very differently against the requirements of decision makers. Most tool are easy to use and to adapt to the analysis of new cases, while the results are directly understandable by decision makers. This applies also to less important requirements, such as the provision of knowledge sufficiently complete, accurate and precise. At the same time, most tools appear unable to provide results directly actionable to develop initiatives. The only criterion against which all tools perform relatively well is that of transparency. In the next steps of the research, we plant to assess the views of decision makers on the selected tools by conducting a focus group exercise with a representative sample of decision makers. Improved understanding of the limitations and potentials of existing approaches for studying SDG interactions is considered vital to advance their analytical validity and use in decision making and, ultimately, the usefulness of the 2030 Agenda as a means of national and global governance.

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