SDG Synergies

Making effective policy often means balancing sets of highly connected but very diverse targets. Striking the right balance can unlock synergies that bring multiple targets closer. The wrong one can see momentum lost, and progress on one target pushing others out of reach.

SDG Synergies is a practical tool for understanding how groups of policy areas and targets interact, using systems thinking. Designed by researchers at Stockholm Environment Institute originally to support governments in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, SDG Synergies could be invaluable within and beyond the field of sustainability.

SDG Synergies is now being developed as a free online tool.

What is SDG Synergies?

SDG Synergies helps you record, visualize and analyse how multiple targets are likely to interact in a given context. In doing so, it reveals deep patterns and relationships that would not be seen by simply looking at interactions between pairs of targets.

Based on a participatory, discussion-based scoring process, SDG Synergies develops a cross-impact matrix of interactions between all the targets being considered: how progress on one might affect progress on the other, and vice versa. With intuitive controls it is then possible to regroup and rank these interactions to explore different aspects of the system.

Using advanced network analysis and visualization capabilities, SDG Synergies can surface more complex relationships, such as how the effects of one interaction could ripple through the larger system.

The visualizations and analyses can, for example, inform decisions about how to prioritize or sequence implementation of different targets, or how best to manage potential trade-offs between them. They can also help to identify what cross-sectoral collaborations would be most productive.

Who is SDG Synergies for?

SDG Synergies is invaluable for anyone who needs to make strategic decisions that involve multiple interacting targets and interests. To date it has been used by national and regional governments around the world, universities and more. But it could equally add value in the private and non-profit sectors. In 2016 SEI worked with the Swedish steel industry, applying a process building on the same basic methodology as SDG Synergies, to explore how the industry can maximize the value it brings to a more sustainable society over the coming decades.

The SDG Synergies tool will soon be available free to use at this website. Sign up below if you want to be notified when it comes online, and about webinars on the tool.

SEI is also interested in hearing from potential beta partners to help us develop the tool further through real-life applications.

Using SDG Synergies

Every application of SDG Synergies is different, tailored to the context, the targets, and the resources available. But typical SDG Synergies processes feature three stages:

• Design
• Interaction scoring
• Analysis

Design

  • The design stage sets the overall parameters for the process: how will it be done, which targets will be examined, who will be involved. This is also when to decide what expert input is needed to support the interaction scoring stage.

Interaction scoring

  • Interaction scoring can be done by experts or – especially when the aim is policy setting – by larger groups representing different sectors and stakeholder groups, usually in a workshop. This way, SDG Synergies uniquely combines scientific evidence with participants’ subjective experience and contextual knowledge, so the results reflect the limitations and opportunities of the context in which the policies will be implemented.
  • In this stage, interactions between pairs of targets are scored on a seven-point scale, reflecting the degree to which they potentially support or hinder each other, and these scores are entered into the SDG Synergies tool. The rationales behind the scores are also recorded in the tool to support later discussions and verification.

Analysis

  • The analysis stage involves network analysis to identify policy-relevant patterns in the interactions, and discussion about their implications for policy.

Experiences

Read about how SDG Synergies has already been used around the world.

Suzanna Sumkhuu

Senior Development Policy and Planning Specialist

National Development Agency of Mongolia

“Legislating SDG Synergies as the common approach for ensuring a ‘whole-of-government’ and ‘whole-of-society’ approach has helped to change the discourse around policy-making in Mongolia. Today, discussions around integration, coherence and SDGs are much more robust compared to previous years. It has been interesting to see how everyone has started to see their own sector from the perspective of other sectors. It also reveals the lack of understanding of the complex and interdependent nature of the SDGs before we applied the Synergies framework.” 

Sugath Yalegama

Director General

Sustainable Development Council, Ministry of Finance, Economic and Policy Development of Sri Lanka

“Budgetary constraints make it very difficult for us to invest in all projects, despite their importance. This makes prioritization of targets a sensitive issue. The SGD Synergies framework provides a systematic approach to prioritizing targets and analysing how policies can complement one another in the implementation process.”

Marcela Bonilla-Madriñán

Former Adviser to the General Director

Mining-Energy Planning Unit of Colombia

“Colombia needs to align its national development strategies with the different international agendas that the country has committed to, such as the SDGs. In this regard, the exercise using SDG Synergies between SEI and UPME has been of crucial importance for the country’s mining-energy sector, exploring how targets from different agendas interact with each other. The use of the tool helped us reveal which targets and issues need to be prioritized by the sector in order to achieve policy integration.”

Heide Hackmann

CEO

International Science Council

“The world is looking to the scientific community for actionable research that can deliver much-needed guidelines for coherent SDG implementation. This tool is a step forward in providing a scientific basis to the 2030 Agenda and creating spaces for discussion between science and policy.”.” 

Måns Nilsson

Executive Director

Stockholm Environment Institute

“Policy coherence is at the heart of successful SDG implementation. Policymakers need to learn how to think systemically and prioritize targets while minimizing trade-offs. SDG Synergies is a cutting-edge tool that facilitates this process, while producing data that can be used for integrated policy design and research.” 

Juan Bello

Head, Colombia Project Office, Focal Point for Ecuador and Peru

United Nations Environment Programme, Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

We need to be able to identify how the SDG targets impact each other in order to formulate synergic and integrated strategies. Every country must be able to identify what needs to be prioritized to reach its development goals, while also considering environmental management and conservation. In this sense, the SDG Synergies tool is an extremely useful resource that helps outline the interactions between environmental and economic policies.” 

Learn more

Read a selection of articles, reports and more about the scientific basis behind SDG Synergies and how it has been used to date.

Scientific articles

Peer-reviewed papers on the SDG Synergies approach

SEI reports and briefs

Reports, briefs and fact sheets about SDG Synergies

Other resources

Feature stories and perspectives from SEI

Development of SDG Synergies

The SDG Synergies tool, and the broader SDG Synergies approach, have been developed by Stockholm Environment Institute.

They have their scientific basis primarily in articles by Nilsson et al. (2016) and Weitz et al. (2017). But a series of real-world case studies in collaboration with committed partner organizations have been invaluable in their development, and in translating theory into practice. We will continue to incorporate improvements, methodological innovations and additional analytical perspectives to meet demand from partners and fill research gaps.

The SDG Synergies team gratefully acknowledges the financial and technical contributions of UNDP Asia and the Pacific, UN Environment, Puntoaparte and Showntelldata in the development of the tool.

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