While some of the 169 SDG targets are very specific, others are idealistic, visionary and somewhat vague in terms of what is expected, even at global level. The SDGs and their accompanying political declaration make it clear that countries are expected make this national interpretation – setting their own goals, targets and priorities for implementing the SDGs, in response to national conditions and capabilities. Yet countries have received little guidance on how to do this, or how national SDG agendas will be coordinated to ensure that in aggregate, they constitute a viable plan for achieving the transformative global vision behind the SDGs.

The essential work of turning them into a national agenda is thus far from straightforward – and appears to be underestimated by many countries. In response, SEI carried out an experimental review of the SDGs to see how the national interpretation process could look, and what challenges it might face. This report provides illustrative findings and insights from this experimental review, focusing on the implications of the SDGs for development within Sweden’s borders.

The review found that 81 of the 107 targets not dealing with means of implementation (which mainly concern development cooperation) would require at least some work to achieve in Sweden by 2030, distributed among all of the goal areas. Many of them deal with issues that are central to political and social debate in Sweden – the SDGs are far from a marginal add-on to current policy and action.

The review also carried out more in-depth interpretations of a selection of targets to see what issues were most relevant to Sweden; what we could learn about the current status and recent trends in Sweden in relation to the target and its achievement; and what policies are currently in place. This information would be vital for planning national action.

The Working Paper summarizes some of the main common challenges encountered in the interpretation process, mostly linked to the wording and focus of the targets themselves. It emphasizes the fact that this interpretation is by its nature a highly political process; data and scientific analysis are an important input, but only rarely point to national targets or means of achieving them. The interpretation process needs to be led by government, but with the full involvement of parliament and other sectors and stakeholders, in order to ensure that the SDGs become an agenda for real action at national level.

Finally, the authors discuss where the SDG agenda would fit in relation to current government policies and structures.