It is a widely shared notion that time is running short to meaningfully deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The task at hand is big and complex but can be addressed successfully if Governments and stakeholders master new and innovative ways of action. Governments, in the South and in the North, are looking for appropriate entry-points on how to speed up SDG implementation, and how to effectively engage a broad range of societal actors.
The creation of Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), a highly recognized and fruitful HLPF exercise throughout the world, is increasingly featuring whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches. This need for new approaches has sparked our initiative to assess the appetite for and value that a Global Forum for National Councils and Commissions for Sustainable Development and similar multi-stakeholder bodies could offer.
During a one-day workshop on the sidelines of the 2019 HLPF, representatives from national governments and relevant stakeholders discussed how National Councils for Sustainable Development and similar bodies can add to the governmental delivery of the 2030 Agenda. A primary focus of the day was the discussion about the value for a network of National Councils for Sustainable Development (NCSDs) and similar bodies.
In countries where NCSDs and similar bodies exist, they are showing that they add value to the national implementation, follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda. Acting as advisor and gatekeeper to the government or forming a partnership with the government, and as a facilitator for multi-stakeholder processes, they function to identify new entry-points and carve out pathways of action and provide stewardship for sustainable development. These bodies are invited to join the Forum to foster co-creation of knowledge, develop common grounds and support context-sensitive learning. Members will jointly act towards supporting their respective governments in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in reasonable continuity.
In 2019 we are entering a new “Decade of Action” wherein the HLPF, national governments and stakeholders need to speed-up activities and deliver towards implementing the SDGs until 2030. Establishing a Global Forum for National SDG advisory bodies for collective knowledge allows its members entry into a broad and ever-growing range of bi- and multi-lateral research and good practice exchanges by individual countries and institutions. The Forum adds value to the individual efforts of those linked in; by realizing and contextualizing similarities and differences, the Forum creates new momentum and supports national sustainable development policy-making.
Institutional arrangements for NCSDs might differ according to national political contexts, the national narrative for sustainable development policy-making, as well as the extent of challenges to achieve SDG-implementation. Those differences are seen as a source for innovation and for learning, as there are varying complexities of tasks but there is no blueprint for national SDG-architectures to meaningfully implement the SDGs.
Benefitting from the collective knowledge of this envisioned Forum, national governments, and their advisory bodies or partnership fora respectively, may be better positioned to deliver SDGs and foster action, in particular through focusing on the three layers of implementing the SDGs ‘in’ a country, ‘by’ a country and ‘with’ a country:
Firstly, the Forum supports issue-based collective knowledge on national sustainable development policy-making, based on trustful working relationships and herewith focusing on supporting the SDG-implementation ‘in’ countries through collective knowledge creation. The Forum would provide easy access to shareware tools, and to what works in other contexts to accelerate sustainable development policy-making, and what does not, and can provide easy access also to the ‘whys’. Among others, countries face for example immense challenges in timely, disaggregated and reliable data. The Forum provides a platform to foster learning and peer-exchange about what steps to take to tackle these challenges and move forward towards SDG-implementation.
Secondly, the Forum provides for peer-exchange across members to allow shortcuts to learning about policy cycles and national SDG Councils for impactful sustainable development policy-making. This includes for example institutional capacity building for national SDG Councils and similar bodies that might help ensure continuity and empowerment of institutions where this is needed for SDG-delivery and foster partnerships across countries.
Thirdly, the Forum supports identification processes of spillover effects, externalities, or other leverages to remedy impacts from within the country and to their partner countries. Gaining a common understanding of these transboundary effects can facilitate effective translation into action. Living up to world leader’s pledge for common action, partnership, and prosperity demands new forms of alliances.
The Forum is unique in easily accessible and relevant knowledge sharing and creates viable and empowered entry-points and pathways on SDG-delivery through trustworthy partnerships. Members can improve their performance and clout once they are able to broker experience from elsewhere.
The benefit for governments includes a more direct route to possible options and solutions, and to be positioned to act faster and in partnerships, where applicable, based on collaborative knowledge of practitioners in the Forum. The Forum elevates and enriches access to members from sustainable development policy-making across the world and also to other SDG-relevant networks. Entering into a decade of action where the momentum of the high ambitions of the 2030 Agenda have to be maintained through intensification of concrete, meaningful and accelerative action, this Forum allows for a pool of knowledge and experience of practitioners in all kind of contexts and to build capacity for inclusive advisory bodies to support governments national and local sustainable policy-making.
Modality (How to)
The Forum will supplement the national mandate and political functioning of national Councils, similar institutions and regional networks. Issue-based dialogue requests by a regional group of members within the Global Forum will be guided to the existing regional network. However, experience and the value-added of regional networks is a unique asset, considered to be an issue in itself in the Global Forum for exchange and capacity building towards regional networks.
SDG Units and similar bodies, as they are being set up in the context of Voluntary National Reviews, may include participatory processes and thus, might want to join the Forum. The Forum will facilitate and improve the work of the mandated bodies while abstaining from acting as a political body in its own right. In particular, the members of the Forum will help national Councils and similar bodies to better inform or serve their country’s national agenda-setting function.
The Forum’s work will be demand-driven and bottom-up. Responding to demands from the national level, the Forum – through tapping inspirational action examples that are available elsewhere – will produce concrete and timely pieces of information and collective knowledge. This is how the Forum assures the quality of advice given by the national bodies. It can even improve the accurateness and relevance of pieces of advice or the engagement of stakeholders, respectively, by adding value through referencing what works and what does not elsewhere.