BY Ana Moraru, Valeriu Prohnitchi | November 1, 2018
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a beautiful vision for a better world, where people have equal access to food, health, public services, education, equal rights and pay. It’s a world where oceans and air are clean, fish are happy, and forests are preserved. Comprehensive? Certainly. Complex? Beyond any doubt. No matter how you want to see it, the stakes for achieving the SDGs are high. The clock is ticking. How are governments going to make the SDGs happen in the next 12 years? How do policy makers translate these goals into real outcomes for people? Look at things differently: think systems At first glance, it might be tempting to eat the elephant one bite at a time. The standard approach for analysis is to decompose phenomena into manageable pieces, which can be easier to grasp. The puzzle is then solved when all the pieces are put together. With this approach, the whole equals to the sum of the parts. However, this is not the optimal strategy in complex systems, where a standard approach would only encourage silo-based and piecemeal solutions. In complex systems, the uncoordinated actions of actors would result in suboptimal outcomes for the whole systems. Let’s take Goal 1: No Poverty, for example. How do we expect to achieve Goal 1 without touching upon Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being or Goal 4: Quality Education? At the UN in Moldova, we looked at the Global Goals from a different lens, that of multiple causes, effects, feedback loops, and actors. With such an approach, the whole may equal more than the sum of all parts. Our hypothesis was this: by uncovering the fundamental causal loops and relations among the SDG targets, we can help the government and the UN in Moldova identify the “leverage points” – policy priority areas. In turn, this will help us to make progress over multiple goals at once, and prioritize policy actions and investments of scarce resources in the short, medium, and long term. In our last blog post, we shared our experiences working with the government in ‘Glocalizing’ the Sustainable Goals in Moldova. After that exercise, we supported the Republic of Moldova to update the national strategic planning framework to encompass the SDGs. During the early stages of the strategy development, the apple of discord happened to be a persistent one: among of the many development challenges, how should the government decide which ones to prioritize? Once again, the systems analysis perspective came in handy. If we look at SDG targets from the perspective of systems dynamics, we can analyze the connections and the causal and feedback loops among them. Some targets will even prove to be more connected than others; progress on these targets would most likely generate a multiplier effect. We like to call these “SDGs accelerators”, or “leverage points”. If we attained progress on these accelerators, then we would help the country progress on the Global Goals as a whole. This was our theory of change. It takes a village to raise a child (or a country) One of the criticisms of the national strategic planning policies is that these don’t reflect the needs of the people and vulnerable groups. This time, as we say in Moldova, we tried to avoid stepping on the same rake twice. We convened different players, including representatives of ministries, MPs, governmental agencies, civil society organizations, including representatives of vulnerable groups, academia, donors, and development agencies. This process helped us to reach a common vision and understanding that helped us set the priorities for the actual National Development Strategy. The systems thinking approach was helpful, yet again. What we did to untangle the SDGs To untangle and analyze the SDGs, we used the stock-and-flow and causal links diagrams, an approach from the field of System Dynamics developed at MIT. Within this analytical framework, a stock of some elements varies due to inflows increasing the stock and outflows diminishing it. What does this mean exactly? Let’s take Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being (see Figure 1). The rectangle “Healthy People” denotes a stock variable. In systems dynamics, stock variables represent variables that accumulate or that can be depleted. To better understand how it works, imagine a bathtub. The inflow from the “Wellness Rate” increases the stock of “Healthy People”, while the outflow of “Disease Rate” or “Accidental Death Rate“ will decrease the stock because more healthy people will get sick due to diseases or die of accidents over time. Arrows represent a primary or secondary causal direction moving from a cause to an effect. Figure 1. SDG3: stock-and-flow causal loop diagram Source: Moldova SDGs system map. The solid lines conventionally denote that the cause and effect move in the same direction holding all else constant; e.g. an increase in the “3.8 Universal Healthcare Coverage” will cause an increase in the “Treatment Rate”. A dashed line denotes the cause and effect moving in the opposite directions, e.g. an increase in 3.3 Communicable Disease Reduction will decrease the Disease Rate. In the SDGs complexity mapping, the first major decision was where to begin. In our case, we started with the SDG1: No Poverty, for which we have conducted a prima facie analysis of the immediate causal links (Figure 2). The central stock we are trying increase is “People with Good Quality of Life”. People move from the stocks of “People in Extreme Poverty” to “People in Poverty” and then to “People with Good Quality of Life”, following the flows of 1.1 Extreme Poverty Eradication Rate and 1.2 Poverty Elimination & Quality of Life Improvement Rate. We then add a new layer of analysis, by incorporating the SDG2: Zero Hunger. The target 2.4 “Resilient Agricultural Practices” shifts the “Vulnerable Food Production” towards “Resilient Agriculture Food Production”. Further on, an increase in “Resilient Agriculture Food Production” will help raise 2.3 “Agricultural Productivity & Incomes of Small-scale Food Producers”, which in turn increases 10.1 “Income Growth of Bottom 40 percent”. Therefore, the resilient agriculture looks like an important poverty reduction strategy and achieving SDG 2: Zero Hunger helps achieving SDG 1: No Poverty having SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities as intermediary. Layer after layer, we arrive at a densely packed map revealing the most essential mutual influences among the Moldovan SDGs targets and related policies. From this comprehensive exercise, we narrowed down the common vision for Moldova in 2030 to three main poles: People with a good quality of life, with decreased emigration and progressive values, have to be put at the centre of the development vision – i.e. development should be for the people rather than by the people. Effective, accountable and inclusive institutions able to put an end to corruption are essential for unleashing the potential existing in the wider society. Sustainable production and sustainable industrialization is the most promising economic model enabling a decisive and lasting reduction in poverty and in providing equal opportunities for all to achieve high standards of living. We found some answers and have more questions Overall, systems analysis proved to be a great method for looking at the big picture. It helped identify the most connected elements which served as a basis for defining the development vision for the National Development Strategy Moldova 2030 and for prioritizing key areas of intervention. As such, we made the first step towards understanding the causal links between SDG targets. However, what we couldn’t see is how these links reproduce over time. The next step in this analysis would be to check how these links change over time, allowing us to understand the dynamics of the system. Similarly, we would want to see the strength of the links to understand the magnitude of influence. This would represent a highly ambitious exercise, requiring a different time-frame and more solid data. Are you trying using a similar approach to untangle the Sustainable Development Goals? Share with us!
November 9, 2016
Following the UN Sustainable Development Summit where the President of Turkmenistan demonstrated his support to the 2030 Agenda and the country’s commitment to realize the SDGs, the country established a joint government–UN SDG Task Group consisting of 20 national agencies. The Task Group includes the Mejlis (Parliament) of Turkmenistan, diverse sector ministries of Economy and Development, Finance, Health, Education, Labour and Social Protection, Agriculture and Water, Justice, the State Committee for Environment Protection and Land Resources, the Turkmen National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights and the State Statistics Committee. The Task Group immediately approved a structured three-stage roll-out process including: national consultations, focused on each of the SDGs, to discuss and agree on the goals and targets to be adopted; incorporation of goals and targets into the next Presidential Socio-Economic Plan for 2017–2021 and sector plans and programmes; and creation of a national system to measure progress in implementing the SDGs. Reviewing existing plans and adapting the SDGs to the national context The Government of Turkmenistan hosted 17 days of national consultations during March 2016 in collaboration with the UN. This was a novel beginning to the country’s journey towards 2030. Each full-day session was jointly led by a government ministry and the UN and provided an opportunity to adjust the SDGs or define national indicators. On average 9 to 10 national ministries and departments were represented at each meeting, along with two representatives from the National Statistical Office. These consultations led to 121 out of 169 global targets being recommended for adoption without modification, while an additional 27 targets were modified; 109 of the 231 global indicators were recommended for adoption without modification, and 50 were modified. In addition, 39 national indicators were formulated, resulting in a total of 198 indicators. This list of recommendations is being submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers for formal approval. Through the consultations, line ministries were able to openly exchange views and hold intersectoral discussions on sensitive topics, including discrepancies in data and HIV/AIDS indicators. The consultations provided an opportunity for capacity development by discussing in depth what each goal, target and indicator meant for the national context. They also contributed to building trust between the government and the UN for the work to follow. Inclusive participation During the process of defining the 2030 Agenda, Turkmenistan, with support from the UN, held country consultations to discuss the lessons learned from the implementation of the MDGs, to inform the public of the global discussions on the SDGs and seek their inputs into the 2030 Agenda. These consultations engaged with diverse stakeholders such as parliamentarians, academics, youth and school children (the Youth Union), women (the Women’s Union), private-sector actors (the Union of Manufacturers and Entrepreneurs), and NGOs working with persons with disabilities. The consultations resulted in a very high level of government awareness of the SDGs and contributed to moving quickly to roll out the SDGs with a whole-of-government approach.
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