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Exploring mechanisms for systemic thinking in decision-making through three country applications of SDG synergies

The authors analyzed three applications of a decision-support approach called SDG Synergies, which aims at building capacity in systems thinking among decision-makers and implementing agencies. Drawing on empirical material from Mongolia, Colombia, and Sri Lanka, they identified three sets of mechanisms that seem important for enabling more systemic thinking: system boundaries, rules of engagement and biases.

Karina Barquet, Linn Järnberg, Ivonne Lobos Alva, Nina Weitz / Published on 5 October 2021

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Barquet, K., Järnberg, L., Alva, I.L., Weitz, N. (2021). Exploring mechanisms for systemic thinking in decision-making through three country applications of SDG Synergies. Sustainability Science.

Translating knowledge into practice on the interactions between Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires increased systems thinking capacity, or the capacity to consider systemic effects of policies and actions. Various models and tools that seek to support more evidence-based policymaking have been developed with the purpose of exploring system effects across SDGs. However, these often lack integration of behavioural aspects and contextual factors that influence the decision-making process.

The authors explored how behaviour and context influence whether and how knowledge is taken up and acted upon when making decisions. They used three country case studies, which pointed to three important sets of mechanisms: system boundaries (time, scale, and space), rules of engagement (ownership, representation, and purpose), and biases (confirmation biases and participation biases).

Results highlight some key challenges, including the importance of localizing SDGs and incorporating this knowledge into national-level assessments, an unwillingness of stakeholders to acknowledge trade-offs, the challenge of addressing transformational as opposed to incremental change, and striking a balance between the flexibility of the approach vis-à-vis scientific robustness.

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SEI authors

Karina Barquet
Karina Barquet

Team Leader: Water, Coasts and Ocean; Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Linn Järnberg
Linn Järnberg

Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Ivonne Lobos Alva

Team Leader: Sustainable Transitions; Senior Expert

SEI Latin America

Nina Weitz
Nina Weitz

Team Leader: Global Goals and Systems; Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

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