The Agenda 2030 SDGs include 17 Goals and 169 underlying targets. However, a general lack of data constrains the scope of analysis to the overarching goals, ignoring the targets altogether. Most published SDG interaction studies, whether focused on literature-informed conceptual models or indicator-informed quantitative models, do not include specific analyses of the targets or any real accounting of policy effects at more local levels.

The proliferation of these methods has created a gap in the literature encompassing subnational target-to-target SDG interactions.

In this paper, we report on an experiment designed to assess potential interactions between specific SDG targets as defined at the national level in Colombia and at the subnational level in the department of Antioquia.

We refer to this as the “SDG Synergies approach,” or “soft systems thinking.” This approach characterizes interactions based on gathering of stakeholder and expert opinion, breaking dependence on unstandardized published literature and unavailable subnational socioeconomic indicators.

Finally, we address the question of whether our soft systems thinking approach merits more widespread use. We present some theoretical aspects of the hard vs. soft systems debate. We argue a preference for soft systems thinking approaches to characterizing SDG interactions regardless of the analysis scale.