Mapping SDGs for intersection and synergies: Transformative sustainable development - beyond business as usual

Dr Keren Winterford

25 Mar, 2018

This post forms part of ACFID’s blog series in the lead up to and following the Australian Sustainable Development Goals Summit 2018. To learn more about this series, read the introductory blog post. To learn more about ACFID’s work on the SDGs, visit the ACFID website.

Kick-starting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the then United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the need for transformative development. It was a call to action for government, business and civil society. No longer could we work in silos of economic development, environmental concern and social justice, but we needed to start with all agendas together, to ensure that development of the future is concerned with planetary health and realises positive social justice outcomes.


Already we are seeing efforts to shape new ways of thinking and working that bring together multiple concerns for people, planet and economic development, but there is still more to be done.

The Institute for Sustainable Development (ISF) at the University of Technology has been working to create change towards sustainable futures for the last 20 years and now the SDGs has provided us a new framework to understand our work and to see what more we need to do. In 2017 we undertook a mapping exercise of our research against the 17 goals and 169 targets. We found that ISF’s 10 areas of research contribute knowledge and evidence to support every one of the 17 goals. Each of our research areas align with at least five goals. This work cuts across research and consultancy activities both in Australia and internationally, highlighting the transient nature of development challenges.

Our research and consultancy activities in international development work across all but one of the 17 goals (we are yet to work with life below water!). We illustrated how much of our research works at the intersection of sector goals, such as clean water and sanitation + gender equality + reduced inequality; climate action + clean water and sanitation + reduced inequalities. The list goes on…All of our work does and must work to link concerns for multiple sustainable development goals.

The mapping exercise created new appreciation and champions for SDGs within the Institute. We asked each of our research managers to consider recent and current projects and mark the extent to which SDG targets were being met through each of our many research projects. It wasn’t a scientific exercise and it also wasn’t a quick exercise, but it is essential that we go below the rhetoric of goal statements to the specific measures of SDG achievement.


We would love to share the mapping tool within anyone interested and are keen to support others in efforts to employ the SDG framework to their own organisation. Our next efforts will be university wide – with plans in train to carry out a mapping exercise university wide! Not a small task, but important and aligned to the University of Technology Sydney’s commitment to the SDGs, signed in 2016.

A key question for the SDGs is what does ‘not business as usual’ look like? This was a theme that resonated during the recent SDG Summit in Melbourne. And this is where a mapping tool such that ISF developed and used comes into the picture and is the start for transformative development. First, a recognition that we can’t work in sector / discipline silos, that we need to consider as a collective, concerns for planetary health, social justice together with economic prosperity. Second, to go beyond this to make more informed decisions based on recognition of trade-offs and synergies in the achievement of any one goal. What does it mean to strengthen gender equality, to ensure no one is left behind within a program of improving water services?

These are the questions that ISF asks as part of its core practice and seeks to address through production of practical guidance and resources. These types of questions are being asked project by project, but we need to ask them broadly and systemically within all sectors of government, business and civil society.  Approaches such as transdisciplinary research, system thinking, and working in partnership, all approaches that ISF employs are great foundations and practices that all development practitioners can and should employ, to keep the whole picture in view, in order to maximise potential of synergies for transformational development.

This post has been adapted from a submission collected by ACFID on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to Australia’s Voluntary National Review on the 2030 Agenda. Australia will deliver its first Voluntary National Review (VNR) on the 2030 Agenda at the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in July 2018.

  • Dr Keren Winterford
    Dr Keren Winterford



    Dr Keren Winterford is from the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney. Over the last 20 years Dr Winterford has worked in international development within the NGO, consultancy and research sectors. Her areas of expertise include community development, training and facilitation, local level advocacy and citizen participation, research partnerships, and program/project design, monitoring and evaluation. In 2013 Keren completed her PhD titled: A strengths perspective on social accountability: informing citizen and state action for improved services and development. Her current areas of interest include development effectiveness and exploring the notion of 'an evidence base of practice' to inform accountability and learning and improvements to planning, design and management of development programs. She has worked in more than 20 countries in Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, South America, former Soviet countries and Indigenous Australia.


3 others found this useful.


    Add new comment

    This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
    Image CAPTCHA
    Enter the characters shown in the image.