Any council interested in using the SDGs must decide how it wants to involve other organisations and the wider community. Given how wide-ranging and cross cutting the SDGs are, there is limited value in any council engaging with them as a purely internal exercise.
Partnerships are essential if councils are to respond to increasing demands with their limited resources. Sometimes it has been local organisations or alliances of organisations who have taken the initiative on the SDGs in their community, such as the Liverpool 2030hub or Canterbury SDG Forum, who then tried to involve their council as a key local player.
- Decide how to work with your stakeholders and partners
The objective would be to set down how all the key strategies, policies and plans affecting the locality – not just the council’s own – are mapped onto the SDG targets. A partnership approach would then be adopted for choosing which SDGs and targets matter most to the local community, analysing the findings of the mapping exercise and deciding on the next steps. This sort of multi-stakeholder approach is strongly encouraged by Agenda 2030 and recognised as an important way of creating action in support of the SDGs. Partnerships can help a council to decide why and how it engages with the SDGs, as well as encouraging action and a sense of shared responsibility from across society.
- Consider setting up an SDG partnership with key partners
Councils could use a combination of surveys, meetings, workshops or larger events to move forward with partners. It could set up a local SDG partnership, with representatives of the council and its key strategic partners making decisions on SDG engagement and providing oversight. Newcastle City Council have taken a similar approach by embedding the SDGs in the existing Wellbeing for Life board.
These approaches involve some awareness-raising around the SDGs, explaining them and their local relevance. Many organisations and individuals are likely to find them an attractive proposition and give their local council credit for supporting the goals. In many places across England, it is local stakeholder partnerships that have encouraged councils to engage with the SDGs, including in Canterbury, Bristol, Liverpool, and Cambridge.
- Engage with citizens
Councils will also need to consider the role they play in engaging citizens in the SDGs. It’s important to note that local people are arguably the council’s most important partner and working with them to agree priorities is a vital component in open and transparent decision-making. Councils around the world have delivered creative public engagement and awareness raising activities, such as Utrecht’s ‘4 Global Goals’ website, with resources and downloadable posters. Similarly, in the UK, the 2030hub Liverpool has focused on awareness raising and business entrepreneurship to encourage greater uptake of the SDGs in the city.
Partnership does, however, bring risks. There is the risk of a council losing control of the agenda if SDG-related local goals and targets are called for which the council feels are unachievable or not in accord with its own priorities.
But if a council engages with the SDGs in isolation and without local partners, it is unlikely to be able to support or endorse many of the targets. There are significant parts of the local economy, society and environment where it cannot achieve much in the way of sustainable development on its own.
- Case studies
Newcastle City Council