The SDG Knowledge Hub: Communications for SDG Action

GWP Central America (GWP CAM) recently worked with journalists to highlight the importance of communications around the landmark 2030 Development Agenda and, in particular, the Sustainable Development Goals. GWP CAM invited IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub to submit an article to an issue of Entre Aguas that focused on this subject. It is written by Lauren Anderson, Writer/ Editor, SDG Knowledge Hub.


In 2015, the global policy community adopted the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as its roadmap for sustainable development. The Agenda is wide ranging, with 169 targets spanning interlinked objectives related to the social, economic, and environmental prosperity of the world’s people.

Since the Agenda’s inception, stakeholders have stressed that development gains can’t be made in isolation. There has been an emphasis on understanding how the SDGs interrelate, and how multiple development objectives can be achieved in tandem; as well as how to avoid a zero-sum game, where one Goal is achieved at the expense of another. For instance, the ‘Synthesis Reports’ on water and urbanization just released for the July 2018 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) highlight how achieving objectives on water and sanitation (SDG 6) and on sustainable cities (SDG 11), respectively, requires and spurs progress on multiple other SDGs. The reports offer the joint position of relevant UN agencies, which ask for their respective issues to be treated as cross-cutting.  This means they should be considered in every possible facet of policy making and implementation.

Yet, given the historically fragmented approach to sustainable development – by the UN with its separate agencies, by the Member States with their separate treaties, by national governments with their separate ministries, and by numerous other stakeholders – the need to now capitalize on linkages, to mainstream issues across and within sectors, and to take the broad-based approach the SDGs demand – presents an enormous challenge. Think of a government ministry on agriculture suddenly tasked with water conservation priorities. Or a UN agency addressing conflict incorporating biodiversity conservation into its agenda.

These are not small jumps to make, but make them we must if we are to achieve the SDGs as they are intended – all of them together, with no one left behind. To do this, we have to knock down the color-coded towers and rebuild rainbow style. We have to share, and we have to exchange. We have to communicate.

The SDG Knowledge Hub

This is where platforms like the SDG Knowledge Hub have an important role to play. The Hub, managed by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), reports across the continuum of SDG implementation. It is a virtual space that tracks and analyses progress on the SDGs, so stakeholders can gain an understanding of the linkages between the Goals as well as the policy and processes that influence their implementation. The Hub does this through weekly SDG Updates that feature news written by policy experts as well as commentary authored by experts external to our organization. We strive for fact-based reporting that keeps the pulse on the development agenda, its influencers and its implementors.

It is this well of knowledge, which spans the Goals and the globe, that supports implementation of the development agenda. Sound reporting – on who is doing what and why to achieve the SDGs – provides stakeholders the ability to traverse the Goals; to see what is working as well as what is needed. We’re knocking down the silos, and we are handing out bricks of knowledge in every color to our readers. By doing so, we are bringing the development community closer and encouraging collective responses to vast global challenges.

The SDG’s resounding and primary objective is “no one left behind.” In the context of what we do, this means assuring transparency. Achieving 17 Goals with 169 targets by 2030 is a mammoth undertaking, and no single entity has the capacity to follow everything that is unfolding. This is where transparency is compromised. For instance: governments may lack the resources to place delegates in every negotiating room of a Climate or Biodiversity Summit, but they need to know what is happening. Similarly, civil society organizations may not have the staff to patrol the numerous side-events launching research results and initiatives, but they need to be apprised of outcomes. And many others – with varying roles and responsibilities – need to know, so they are not “left behind.”

The SDG Knowledge Hub helps to address this challenge by lifting the veil on international policy fora and bringing our readers a synopsis of the initiatives, events and outcomes that are influencing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Our contribution to leaving no one behind is assuring that anyone, regardless of their location or status, can get the best information possible on the development issues that affect them.

We believe our approach is working, as stakeholders have told us that the SDG Knowledge Hub has inspired them to act. In one instance, our example led to the establishment of a regional knowledge hub for agriculture, food security and natural resources. Others have used our reporting to find new stakeholders working within their field of practice and taken a more interdisciplinary approach as a result of the Hub. This is evidence that communications beget action.

Communications also drive behavior change, and this is critical when it comes to progress on the Goals. Many of the SDGs, if not all of them, require each of us to think and act differently – to stop using single-use plastics, to stop buying illegal wildlife products, to stop wasting food, to seek peaceful resolutions to conflict, and so on and so forth. The success of the 2030 Agenda depends on all of us making better choices, and sound communications can arm people with the information to act and the will to change. Just look to initiatives like the #CleanSeas campaign to stop marine plastic pollution, the #WildforLife  campaign, which addresses consumer demand for ivory that fuels elephant poaching, and the Eat.Think.Save campaign, which tackles food waste. Each of these raises awareness and encourages people to make small changes that have big impacts.

In this regard, the SDG Knowledge Hub is one more foot soldier on the ground, helping to spread the word, through our two-million+ page views per year, our calendar of events, and through our social media engagement. While we will never know the true reach and impact of the Hub, we will keep working towards the knowledge provision, transparency and communications on which, we believe, achievement of the SDGs depends.

The SDG Knowledge Hub is indebted to our contributors, our readers, and our funders – the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). For more information please visit or follow us @IISD_SDGs.

About globalwaterpartnership

The Global Water Partnership's vision is for a water secure world. Our mission is to advance governance and management of water resources for sustainable and equitable development.
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