Human hands protecting the earth. Elements furnished by NASA

Caring about our health and our environment. Elements of this image furnished by NASA. Photo: Boonyachoat / iStock /Getty Images .

Challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has created a variety of challenges for people seeking health services, due to requirements for physical distancing. Yet physical distances have long been an obstacle for people living and seeking care in rural and sparsely populated areas.

The geographic distribution of health facilities and the need for patients to travel long distances has often made getting care more difficult, more expensive and less timely. The pandemic has exacerbated these challenges, but also been a catalyst for testing new tools and methods that can bridge physical distances, whether these have been imposed by a pandemic or by geography.

Identifying ripple effects

Actions taken to address one set of policy problems often entail side effects
that impact other policies and goals. This reality was a key driver in the development of the UN Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In this project – Bridging the Knowledge Gap between Distance Health & Social Care Solutions and Environmental Impacts: Via the Lens of SDGs – two different approaches are taken towards identifying and understanding these ripple effects.

The first employs a focused lens, using scenario analysis to estimate the potential climate benefits of reduced transport resulting from deploying distance health solutions. The second uses a broader systems lens, using the SDG Synergies tool to identify likely synergies and potential conflicts.

In each instance, project constraints have limited the analyses to an exploratory effort. Nevertheless, each produced valuable insights that can be further developed in the next phase of research.


Thinking systematically and comprehensively about a policy initiative’s likely synergies and conflicts is best done via broad collaboration between people with different kinds of expertise and with cognitive tools that support systematic examination of possible interactions.

The idea of evidence-based policy development suggests that choosing strategies and compromises with a good understanding of their potential synergies and expected conflicts improves effectiveness for three key reasons:

  • Identifying likely synergies offers important potential for pursuing win-win options and maximizing the benefits of important policy initiatives.
  • Identifying potential goal conflicts helps to avoid or mitigate undesirable side effects, or at least to make conscious decisions regarding trade-offs.
  • A better knowledge of likely synergies and conflicts is often helpful for identifying potential allies and opponents based on interest in issues other than the policy’s main focus.