Policy coherence to achieve the SDGs: using integrated simulation models to assess effective policies
Special feature: original article
Coherently addressing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals requires planning tools that guide policy makers. Given the integrative nature of the SDGs, we believe that integrative modelling techniques are especially useful for this purpose.
In this paper, the researchers present and demonstrate the use of the new System Dynamics based iSDG family of models. The researchers use a national model for Tanzania to analyse impacts of substantial investments in photovoltaic capacity. Their focus is on the impacts on three SDGs: SDG 3 on healthy lives and well-being, SDG 4 on education, and SDG 7 on energy. In their simulations, the investments in photovoltaics positively affect life expec- tancy, years of schooling and access to electricity. More importantly, the progress on these dimensions synergizes and leads to broader system-wide impacts. While this one national example illustrates the anticipated impact of an intervention in one specific area on several SDGs, the iSDG model can be used to support similar analyses for policies related to all the 17 SDGs, both individually and concurrently.
The researchers believe that integrated models such as the iSDG model can bring interlinks to the forefront and facilitate a shift to a discussion on development grounded in systems thinking.
This analysis shows how integrated models can be used to explore systemic relationships between SDGs. It thus demonstrates a flexible, adaptable and suitably transparent approach to generate actionable information that complements the SDG interaction scorings of the Nilsson et al. framework. For models to correspond better to reality and to reflect the ongoing academic and policy debates on integration of SDGs, the behaviour of relevant development indicators needs to be modelled endogenously. Without this, it is difficult to enable broad, cross-sector and long-term analyses of the impact of alternative policies.
Yet integrative modelling is just one part of a shift towards an informed systemic discussion of sustainable development and how best to attain it. An effective analysis process goes beyond the desk study of the published literature and data on causal links to include the exploration of policy options with decision-makers and stakeholders. They bring knowledge of their own contexts that informs the model development and may improve the model’s correspondence to reality.
Research on the attainment of multiple SDGs is growing, but without structured systems understanding there is a risk of repeating the silo approach seen in the implementation of the millennium development goals. Integrated tools such as the iSDG model can bring interlinks to the forefront and facilitate a shift to a development discussion based on systems thinking.