Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and Systems thinking

The issue of the modular approach

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) are an attractive list for organizations and people to work on a better world. I really encourage this. It also seems to be appealing for people to pick a certain goal and focus on this. This is a quite modular approach that works for many organizations in their current setting. However, as someone who likes to think in systems and approaches the world problems a bit more holistically, I think this is quite an issue. For example, an organization that doesn’t really want to do anything could just pick “8. Good jobs and Economic growth” and maybe “4. Quality Education” to teach children about the beauty of their product” while ignoring the rest of the SDG’s and just keep on destroying 14. life below water, contribute to 2. people in hunger, and 5. treat gender unequal. This modular approach is a big issue to me.

The ill formulation of the SDGS

The other issue I have with the SDG’s is the ill formulation. Some SDG’s seem to be rather outcomes, like 5. Gender equality, or 14. Life below water. While other SDGs seems to be about things we need to change, or means how to get there. I know, there are many of pages of subgoals and probably better argumentations about what these goals mean exactly. But 90% of the people with busy corporate jobs just look at the list of SDGs and won’t dive into the details. the poor formulation of the goals lacks a strategic approach. 

My Systems thinking attempt to map the Sustainable Development Goals

SDGS in a systems think way

My Systems thinking SDG model

The SDG strategy

The main challenge I had was taking the SDGs as a start-off perspective but altering them into a way that is rather holistic. Goals are to me focused on outcome. But to get there, we need to think about what we want to change and how we can do that (where to change). Of course, you can argue that these ways of getting there are also goals by themselves. But some of them are means to get somewhere “4.Climate action” for example is not a goal on itself, it should lead to something. The model I created is rather formed in a practical strategy that makes a path towards the beautiful outcomes outcome goals. Furthermore, I also believe that when being in the process of reaching these goals, this further improves the world. In fact, I believe working on this goals is a continuous process that will never really find a satisfying outcomes. Most of the goals are rather open-ended. So, the process of reaching these goals will be a cycle. We will find new things we want to change, or improve even further, recycling the process.

Adding and improving

But while reshaping it more into a strategy, I noticed that we are then also missing SDG-goals. So I added a few goals (in black) to create a more holistic outcome. Later I noticed there are also some SDGs to add in the way to get there, and what we should change, but I reckoned that would be a bit too far off from the original framework.

I also noticed several goals are poor formulated. Although many of them are quite poor formulated, I was really irritated by 8. Good jobs and economic growth, and 9. Innovation and infrastructure. Again, the sub-goals might be better formulated but these two just suck. They further promote our explosive expansion and energy consumption without considering any consequences (in the other SDGs). Of course, the SDG-researchers will probably argue you have to take the goals holistically, but people don’t do this, and focusing on all of them doesn’t fit in their modular mindset.

Secondly, what does “good jobs” mean? Self-obsessed narcissists will read it as well-paying jobs with high recognition that brushes their ego. Could we please make it a bit more meaningful? I’m sorry, I got a little bit irritated while writing this. How does a gigantic organization as the United Nation, with a beautiful mission, backed up by so many scientists, managed to make this their final framework? I don’t really get it. But I don’t want to create a big backlash.

The SDGS are great

To back it up a bit, I think the SDGs created a beautiful momentum and seem to be very practical useful for many organizations and companies. Everyone gets them and they seem very good goals in general. However, as I showed, when looking at them in more details, there could be some improvement and be reshaped in a more useful holistic strategy. Arguing against the SDG’s like I do could result in more dysfunctional debate, while we should be working on achieving these goals. Luckily, I just have a little power and this blog won’t result in enormous backlash, so I got that going for me which is nice. So overall, don’t get distracted from making the world a better place. You know what to do, and you might not even need to know the SDG’s to get to a better world. 

If you don’t know yet, you could consider reading my Future section. Where I paint a picture of a beautiful utopian world that might offer inspiration for your work today.