What have we learned applying the SDG interactions framework?

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UNDP Mongolia

In a post last November, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) presented a framework for assessing interactions between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to help countries design more coherent policies to achieve them. Since then, SEI and UNDP have started to test the framework in Sri Lanka and Mongolia. What have we learned so far?

Framework basics

The 2030 Agenda recognizes that developments in one policy domain can influence developments in a range of others, positively or negatively. Better understanding these interactions can help governments prioritize highly influential targets and strengthen cross-sectoral coordination.

The SDG interactions framework supports this understanding. The framework uses a seven-point typology to assess how progress in one target affects progress in another. When the interactions between SDG targets have been assessed, systems analysis methods are then used to better understand the network of direct and indirect interactions between these targets.

Colombo, via Ulaanbaatar

In December 2017, SEI and UNDP worked with the Government of Mongolia to apply the framework in a first test-run workshop with a specific focus on water related targets. The process in Sri Lanka is more comprehensive. SEI, UNDP and CEPA (a Sri Lanka-based research institute) are working closely with the government to use the framework to support the national planning process. This is done by assessing interactions between SDG targets across multiple sectors. The process is ongoing, but a few observations can already be made.

Commitment and wide sector participation is crucial

The SDG interactions framework demands strong government commitment from multiple ministries and departments to ensure sufficient expertise and avoid sector-driven biases. If key stakeholders are missing from the process, this can risk the quality and credibility of the results.

Selecting targets for scoring

The impact of the exercise will likely be affected by the level of government ownership in the selection of targets to be analyzed. Strong commitment and a more formal process might strengthen policy impact but risk a political and time-consuming exercise. Conversely, framing the selection process as one input into a broader investigation of SDG target interactions can make it easier to execute but may limit the potential impact of the analysis.

Flexible to national needs

A core strength of the framework is its ability to be adjusted to different national contexts. In Sri Lanka, it is being applied on SDG targets to support overall national planning. In Mongolia, it was applied on a set of targets derived from their national development vision and focused specifically on water.

The process itself is valuable

The process of applying the framework may be just as important as the resulting analysis. By bringing together government stakeholders it provides a new platform for cross-sector dialogue and can contribute to consensus building around policy priorities.

We must avoid over-complication

The exercise requires considerable investment of time. Perhaps our biggest challenge going forward is to find a balance between a process that is inclusive and comprehensive, and based on sound arguments and evidence, while at the same time not being overly complex and time-consuming.

Regardless, the experience has been encouraging, and we look forward to testing and refining the approach further, together with UNDP country offices, government partners, and other stakeholders.

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