Executive summary

Achieving progress on the SDGs will require governments to work across policy areas. This is no easy task. The obstacles to joined-up government are well known. For example, immediate economic and social pressures often crowd out longer term strategic policy initiatives. Public budgets and accountability systems are usually aligned with departmental structures and have difficulty tracking outcomes that occur in multiple policy areas and across multiple levels of government. An unprecedented range of public and private actors will need to be consulted and participate in both policy formulation and implementation of the SDGs.

Multiplying this complex equation of complementarities and trade-offs across the whole spectrum of policy areas covered by the SDGs implies a need for prioritisation and negotiation involving all parts of government as well as the business sector and civil society. In short: delivering on the SDGs is a formidable governance challenge – irrespective of countries’ income levels. This report seeks to illustrate how public governance practices can be strengthened to contribute more effectively to the implementation of the SDGs.

Whole-of-government coordination and policy coherence help to ensure an integrated approach to SDG implementation. The integrated nature of the 2030 Agenda requires governments to work across policy silos and set ambitious and interrelated economic, social and environmental objectives that go beyond short-term political cycles. There is a need for a whole-of-government approach to strategic visioning, priority setting, and implementation. Robust coordination mechanisms are key in ensuring policy coherence and successfully addressing the multi-dimensional policy challenges that characterise the SDGs.

Stakeholder participation and open government strengthen the legitimacy of policy- making decisions for implementing the SDGs. Collaborating with citizens at every stage of policy and service design and delivery is critical for ensuring sustainable improvements that respond to nuanced public needs. By promoting the principles of transparency, integrity, accountability and stakeholder participation, open government strategies and practices can inform both the substance of SDG implementation – by directly contributing to the achievement of the goals – as well as to the process by which countries pursue the SDGs throughout the policy cycle, namely, during their design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

Budgeting for the SDGs promotes policy integration and ensures continuity of policy objectives beyond electoral cycles. The budget is a central policy document of government, showing how annual and multi-annual objectives will be prioritised and achieved. Adapting budget systems and processes can improve the extent to which resource allocation supports effective policy design and performance in support of national SDG agendas, at all levels of government. Linking budgets to the SDGs could also be used as a tool to assess overall government performance taking into account longer-term sustainability of the budget and help increase administrations’ accountability to civil society and Parliaments. An increasing number of countries are also using public procurement as a strategic policy lever to support broader outcomes consistent with the SDGs.

Monitoring and evaluation systems are essential for assessing to what extent policies and resource allocations for implementing the SDGs result in meaningful outcomes. Solid monitoring and evaluation and the strategic use of the information it generates throughout the policy and budget cycle can foster a range of objectives such as policies’ value for money, accountability and overall transparency of a policy-making process. Taking into account the complex and interconnected nature of the SDGs (including trade-offs), a sound monitoring and evaluation system is of particular importance. In addition, considerations such as inclusiveness and sustainability – as opposed to more traditional considerations such as efficiency or effectiveness – ask for innovative approaches when assessing the merit and achievements of policy initiatives in support of the SDGs.

Integrity in public policies strengthens the democratic process and reduces the risk of policy capture in SDG implementation. Integrity is vital to govern in the public interest and for the prosperity and well-being of society as a whole. It promotes economic growth by cultivating a level playing field for business, helps reduce socio-economic inequalities, and supports environmental sustainability goals. Strengthening integrity also helps make public policies more effective and is critical for restoring trust in government.

Equal access to justice enables the implementation of compensatory and control mechanisms in society to achieve all other SDGs. At its core, effective access to justice is central for ensuring the effectiveness of the rule of law, and promotes good public governance, policy design and regulatory performance. Strong, well-functioning justice systems reduce the scope for policy capture, corruption and mismanagement in the public sector. They increase trust in government and support governance systems that are conducive to achieve the SDGs. More broadly, access to justice and legal empowerment initiatives are necessary elements to achieve policy outcomes such as better health, education, gender equality, employment and housing.

Fostering public governance dimensions of gender equality in support of the SDGs can accelerate progress. Achieving gender equality is a complex, transversal and multidimensional task. It requires the involvement and buy-in from all actors as well as a broad array of stakeholders across society. In addition, given the diversity within the male and female groups and intersecting identity factors, (e.g., related to age, geography, culture, income, disability, ethnicity, etc.), an intersectional governance approach is critical for implementing gender equality while addressing economic, social, political and environmental aspects of gender gaps at the global, national and local levels. This goes hand-in-hand with the call to leave no one behind, which requires policy coordination and coherence across all dimensions of sustainable development in order to reduce global inequality – both within and between countries.

Improved performance across these key “governance pillars” can be expected to foster more transparent, inclusive and impactful SDG implementation. It will help governments to prioritise and set national targets and objectives across the policy spectrum, and to mobilise and allocate resources accordingly. Ultimately, sound public governance can support a shift from traditional siloed policy making to more integrated approaches that also balance short- and long-term interests in the pursuit of sustainable development.

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