SEI Tool Predicts “Ripple Effects” of Each SDG Target

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CATHERINE BENSON WAHLÉN
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15 May 2019: The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) released a brief presenting a practical approach to prioritize action on SDG targets. The approach enables decision-makers to identify how interactions between different SDG targets shapes policy outcomes, and promises to help users generate shared understanding of opportunities and challenges, and identify effective collaborations and partnerships between actors and sectors.

The brief titled, ‘SDG Synergies: An approach for coherent 2030 Agenda implementation,’ describes the three-step ‘SDG Synergies approach.’ First, SEI states that every use of the SDG Synergies approach is “necessarily unique,” depending on the actors using it and the context in terms of natural resources, governance set-up, current policies and practices, economic conditions, technological options available and prevailing ideologies. These factors shape how decision-makers perceive the relevance of each SDG target. Consequently, SEI recommends choosing a subset of targets to focus on as a key first step, and provides suggestions on how actors can select a key set of targets. SEI states that between 20 and 40 targets is usually practicable.

Second, actors score interactions among selected targets by entering targets in SEI’s cross-impact matrix. Users answer a guiding question on each target to derive an interaction score. For example, when a user wants to support priority setting and collaboration, a question could be, “If progress is made towards Target A, how does this influence progress towards Target B?” SEI recommends documenting scoring decisions for future reference.

Third, the ‘SDG Synergies approach’ recommends going beyond analysis of direct interactions to identify clusters of interacting targets, patterns and network effects. SEI describes how such an approach can uncover indirect “ripple” effects when progress towards Target A amplifies or reduces the ways Target B influences over targets.

To illustrate this point, SEI presents network analysis that shows how SDG target 6.6 (protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems) makes a larger contribution to the 2030 Agenda because of positive ripple effects, including contributions to climate adaptation (SDG target 13.1), which in turn has a positive effect on progress on social protection systems (SDG target 1.3). SEI explains that identifying such ripple effects can help to increase understanding on how progress on some targets can affect the entire 2030 Agenda as well as help avoid surprises in implementation in the future.

SEI recommends using the results from the SDG Synergies approach to inform policies and implementation strategies. The authors recommend, for instance, prioritizing resources to support progress on targets that have a strong positive influence on many other targets. SEI also recommends specific policy support for targets that will not be helped by progress on other targets. SEI concludes that the ‘SDG Synergies approach’ offers a “smarter, more robust and likely more cost-efficient way” to plan for SDG implementation.

SEI has tested the ‘SDG Synergies approach’ with national governments and international agencies. [Publication: SDG Synergies: An Approach for Coherent 2030 Agenda Implementation]

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