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.