The 17 SDGs are integrated in nature, and according to the 2030 Agenda, a principle of indivisibility should guide their implementation. Yet the Agenda itself does not offer guidance on what indivisibility means in practice, how the SDGs interact, or how to assess these interactions.
The fast-emerging field of what could be referred to as SDG interaction studies seeks to provide such guidance, but as yet there is no general agreement on what it means to take an integrated approach to the SDGs. Hence, navigating the diverse research landscape on SDG interactions might prove challenging.
This article seeks to decipher the literature on SDG interactions by providing an overview of the current research, based on a sample of 70 peer-reviewed articles. The review explores four themes in SDG interaction research: (i) policy challenges typically addressed, (ii) how SDG interactions have been conceptualized, (iii) data sources used, and (iv) methods of analysis frequently employed.
The authors identify research gaps, such as policy innovation and integrated monitoring and evaluation. Further, few studies consider actor interactions, account for geographic spillovers, analyse how SDG indicators interact, employ participatory methods, or take a whole-systems approach to the 2030 Agenda. Failing to address these gaps could lead to inefficient SDG implementation and delay achievement of the goals.
The paper also makes a valuable contribution as a reading guide, proposing a way to decipher the literature along the themes emerging from the review, and offering a structure to code future papers.