Forging a common understanding: Insights from the mid-term workshop on SDG Interactions

Governing SDG Interactions,Knowledge brokering15 May 2024Charlotte Stam

In April the mid-term workshop of the SDG internations programme convened online, bringing together principal investigators from four projects to present their preliminary findings. This event not only showcased project progress but also revealed emerging connections between outcomes, leading the knowledge brokering and synthesis (KBS) team to identify three cross-cutting issues. Key among these themes is the need to establish a shared understanding of inclusive development to foster inclusive practices effectively. This mid-term workshop marks a significant milestone in the SDG-Interactions programme’s trajectory, serving as a catalyst for interdisciplinary collaboration and knowledge exchange. Through discussions and presentations, participants deepened their understanding of SDG interactions and the importance of inclusive development, highlighting the need for establishing a shared language understanding on SDG interactions and inclusive development. 

Governing SDG’s: incremental change rather than full-fledged integration

Thus far, the KBS team’s preliminary insights on the governance of SDG interactions shows signs of incremental change on project level, rather than a full-fledged integrated approach. Policies and programmes initiation typically does not have a broad scope including various target SDGs and their potential. Instead, it often begins with a single focus or a combination of two SDGs. It’s only through processual knowledge on trade-offs and synergies between SDGs, including those initially overlooked or sidelined, that additional SDGs can be gradually integrated in follow-up phases. The initial findings also suggest a predominance of economic goals/targets (e.g. productivity, job creation) over social and environmental ones. Inclusive development seems to be an afterthought, rather than a priority policy objective. 

Additionally, preliminary insights show signs of a fragmented policy landscape in the study countries, including The Netherlands. This fragmentation is marked by historical legacies and political influences shaping thematic focuses and policy domains, operating in isolated silos. In theory, the SDGs framework is supposed to be integrated, but in practice, this integration happens gradually through ad-hoc alignment mechanisms at the project level. Critical building blocks to progress into the direction of a more transformative and integrated approach are: 1) social learning, 2) integrated frameworks that guide complex trade-off analysis between SDG goals, and 3) political will. 

Based on the preliminary findings, the KBS project by now has identified three key emerging themes cutting across the three thematic SDG projects, which will provide input into the future extrapolation of findings. 

  1. SDG interactions: what types (synergies or trade offs) of SDG interactions can be identified and at what level? 
  2. Policy coherence: what alignment mechanisms are in place domestically or internationally to address and/or strive towards policy coherence?
  3. Inclusive development: how are the most marginalised targeted?

During the discussion that followed the presentations, the need was addressed to develop a common understanding on what is development inclusion and how it can be achieved. But also questions were raised on how to deal with external challenges like the changing political context in The Netherlands after last year’s elections results.

These questions together with the identified emerging themes, cutting across thematic SDG projects will shape the agenda of the upcoming SDG Interactions conference on November 13, 2024, where stakeholders will delve deeper into these themes and translate preliminary findings into actionable policy outcomes. As the SDG interactions programme progresses, it aims to bridge the gap between research and policy, fostering transformative change towards sustainable development. 

For more information on the research project, you can visit the project page on our website.

Updates on the three research projects:

Theme 1 – SDG governance and decision-making

Governance and decision-making processes related to SDGs in developing countries, aiming to enhance policy coherence Dr. Prof. Art Dewulf, Public Administration and Policy group, Wageningen University and Research.

Art Dewulf introduced a novel approach to conceptualising SDG interactions, both synergies and trade offs, by distinguishing between internal (interactions between SDGs within a policy or programme) and external (interactions between SDGs outside the scope of the policy or programme) interactions. Another distinction can be made between ingoing (how outcomes of a specific SDG policy can interact with your SDG project/policy) and outgoing (how outcomes of your SDG project/policy can interact with other SDG policies)  interactions. This conceptual framework could potentially help to understand how SDGs interact across various policies and programmes, facilitating policy coherence.

Theme 2 – Addressing trade-offs between food and nutrition security (SDG2) and women’s empowerment (SDG5)

The effect women’s empowerment has on food security, dietary diversity, and women’s BMI Prof. Robert Lensink, Professor of Finance and Financial markets, University of Groningen.

Robert Lensink’s preliminary findings shed light on a potential interaction between the increased agency of women and an increased dietary intake. Additionally, the preliminary findings suggest a backlash effect of male relatives faced by women participating in empowerment programs, and that pre-emptive measures were incorporated into the psychological training design.

Theme 3 Climate change (SDG13) and conflict (SDG16)

The relationship between climate change and security risks, analysing when and how climate change acts as a threat multiplier for conflict and instability Dr. Karlijn Morsink, Utrecht University School of Economics, Assistant Professor.

Drawing from an extensive literature review, Karlijn Morsink’s research prepares for field research aimed at testing the hypothesis that combining insurance and conflict mitigation interventions could effectively mitigate conflicts within and between pastoralist communities in Ethiopia and Kenya. Building on the suggested positive causal relationship between climate change and conflict, the team will explore to what extent and how climate-induced weather shocks and weather-related insurance impact conflict.


The SDG interactions programme is a research programme funded by NWO. The Broker, in collaboration with Dr. Nicky Pouw (University of Amsterdam) and Prof. Dzodzi Tsikata (University of Ghana), will carry out a ‘Knowledge Brokering and Synthesis’ (KBS) project aiming to synthesise and disseminate the research results to policymakers, development workers, academics, and other stakeholders.

Examining the Literature on SDG Interactions
18 Oct 2022 | Martha Kapazoglou, Jorrit Oppewal