Koi Tū’s contributions to advancing Sustainable Development Goals

by Sir Peter Gluckman
Close up view of solar panels in a city, with skyscrapers in the background.

Science is critical to progress on the sustainability agenda, however most focus of governments and UN agencies has been on roadmaps for using science and technology to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Rather, it became clear during 2018 in discussions between the INGSA secretariat based in Koi Tū and the International Science Council (ISC) with UNDP, UNESCO, World Bank, UNDESA, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and others that a major challenge was the overwhelming problem of priority setting particularly for LMICs but for all governments in facing 169 targets, many of which did not well match national development goals. The reasons for this are multiple:

  • the lack of understanding of the interactions between SDGs within policy institutions as discussed in the ICSU report,
  • the mismatch between national development plans and the SDGs,
  • the overwhelming and complex nature of SDG targets and indicators etc, and
  • the disparate nature of science advisory mechanisms.

The 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report suggested the need to move towards a smaller cluster of  transformations to aid in a path towards the goals, again highlighting the necessity to find a way to help policy makers prioritise their actions and see the SDGs as an integrated package rather than individual targets for science etc. to pursue. This was reinforced by similar conclusions in the World in 2050 report.

Further the inherent spill-over synergies and antagonisms needed to be understood in local context.

A working group led by the INGSA secretariat based in Koi Tū and ISC with UNDP, IIASA, JRC and SEI developed a proposed approach which had the secondary goal of institutionalising interactions, between the expert community and the policy community. INGSA was then charged with developing both the process and the toolkit (both which are central to the analytics), and formalising the processes. After some initial seeding from UNDP, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission undertook the initial software development for the input. The downstream analytics will use software being developed by Koi Tū – building off the work already underway for the societal resilience project.  Some beta testing has just been completed using the environment sector and the software is being refined. Discussion had been advanced in several teleconferences regarding the first complete assessment in a developing country but this is clearly delayed by the virus.

The basic steps are in a target country:

  1. Policy makers identify the targets they want to prioritise – this may include additional or replacement targets that are contextually appropriate. Ranking software is provided to assist if needed.
  2. Then separately and with facilitation, a group of local experts and a group of senior policy makers weight their assessment of the strength and nature of each interaction. An additional matrix is also used which assesses the interaction between the targets and national development goals.
  3. The variances within the group and between the groups require reconciliation and facilitation. This is what creates the science-policy interaction and institutionalises it in this context. INGSA supplies the facilitator.
  4. The policy makers make a final weighting and then the data are sent for processing for visualisation and returned to the client policy makers. Ongoing development allows it to be a dynamic tool to allow the policy community to the model interventions.

It is clear that we fill a needed gap in that unlike other processes we focus on the evidence informed priority setting by policy makers in relation to the transformational agenda. Beyond that, the toolkit creates a process and it is the process we wish to effectively institutionalise – namely a linkage between the policy community and the local academic and expert community.  The toolkit is a device to achieve that, as well as filling a known gap in policy development to inform the SDGs.

Koi Tū and INGSA secretariat are represented on the UNDESA-led discourses on SDG roadmaps and on the UNDP-UKRI STRINGS project, both of which are orientated towards the downstream considerations of how science helps implement the SDGs.

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