A framework to harness effective partnerships for the sustainable development goals

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Sticks arranged in a framework for supporting climbing plants.

First published in Sustainability Science (2022)

The sustainable development goals (SDGs) offer a broad, holistic framework of interdependent economic, social, and environmental objectives to enable integrated and collaborative approaches to their implementation. A key obstacle for operationalizing such an approach is knowing the right actors to engage on specific challenges.

It is acknowledged that linkages across sectors, scales, and actors could provide an evidence base to assess and forge participation in multistakeholder partnerships for implementation.

However, technical tools that could help to identify relevant actors and discussions of institutional arrangements to bring these actors on board are notably lacking in the extant literature. To support an evidence-based and systematic approach to coalition-building that accounts for synergies and trade-offs across goals and targets, this paper proposes broad-based partnerships and a framework that lead actors can use to help harness collaborative SDG implementation:

  1. define the partnership’s scope,
  2. identify the main interlinkages,
  3. assign responsibilities,
  4. select the best available indicators,
  5. assess the challenges, and
  6. forge a broad-based partnership.

After describing key decisions at each step, the article discusses applications of the proposed analytic partnership-building framework to problems that warrant the approach at global, regional, and national levels covering issues such as policy coordination across line ministries, global partnerships for SDG13 implementation in SIDS, energy compacts for SDG7 implementation, and integrated multilateral responses to crises.

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David Horan
Dr David Horan
Marie Curie IRC Caroline fellow at | + posts

Dr David Horan is a Marie Curie IRC Caroline fellow at UCD's School of Politics and International Relations. He was Visiting Researcher at the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network in New York. His specialisms are in sustainable development, the UN 2030 Agenda, SDG data and indices, multi-stakeholder partnerships and the environmental SDGs. He is particularly interested in the role of the state, international organizations, and transnational cooperation and collaboration in enabling urgently needed transitions to sustainability. David has published on problems with bottom-up frameworks for partnerships, policies to support orchestration, portfolio approaches to partnerships, the role of economic compensation in governance reforms, composite indices for integrated SDG assessments, and data-based tools for coherent policymaking and effective partnerships. He has been conducting a qualitative database study of 500 environmental partnerships in the SIDS database for climate action (SDG13), sustainable oceans (SDG14) and biodiversity protection (SDG15) to further understand partnership frameworks. David has considerable experience in UN engagements on sustainable development. He was invited to speak at the UN Expert Group Meeting on SDG17 Partnerships for the Goals in 2019 and the UN Sustainable Development Transformations Forums 2020-21. He is a member of the UN Friends of Governance for Sustainable Development, Advisor to Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future, Research Associate of UN SDSN, and participant in Ireland’s National SDG Stakeholder Forum.

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