Guest Blog: Targets 16.6 & 16.7: Key for SDGs Implementation at City Level.

Raymond Saner & Lichia Yiu, of the Centre for Socio-Eco-Nomic Development (CSEND) aims at promoting equitable, sustainable and integrated development through multistakeholder dialogues, institutional learning and free flow of information.

This blog addresses the question of how SDGs can be successfully implemented at a local level particularly at the level of cities and larger municipalities. Specifically, the focus of this blog is about SDG 16 and two of its targets which provide the necessary instrumentality in carrying out the 2030 Agenda.  As such, two of the 169 SDG targets are of particular importance namely, Target 16.6 and Target 16.7. They set the institutional preconditions for a successful implementation of the SDGs. These two targets are aligned with good governance principles often deficient or under-developed in many countries. The two targets are:

  • 16.6 Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels
  • 16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels

Faced with the complex tasks of managing the transition to sustainability, the creation of viable local governance conditions, i.e., transparent, participatory and accountable, are crucial since an integrated and cross-sector approach to development is novel and little tested especially in the developing countries.  Institutional learning is urgently needed in this context, which relies on a steady and reliable flow of feedback loops from government to civil society and business stakeholders, and vice-versa. Countries with limited capacity and limited public policy competence have already encountered difficulties in collecting census data from their citizens and business organizations.  They will have even greater challenges to overcome when attempting to collect performance and impact related data or citizen feedback to improve their administrative processes and services.
One may also add, little work has been done on how governments learn and adapt in a structured coherent manner.  Hence, it is not clear how local administrations could gear up their management capability and respond innovatively to the needs and expectations of their stakeholders.  Without institutional adaptability to the rising performance demands and expectations, it is also difficult to imagine that local administrations could leverage the multitude opportunities that SDG implementation offers for smart and sustainable development.
The choices that countries and cities make today about managing urban growth will lock-in economic and climate benefits - or costs - for decades to come.  The lifespan of capital intensive, largely irreversible urban infrastructure investments such as waste and water treatment, roads and buildings typically range from 30 to 100 years, and the path dependencies created by urban forms are sustained over centuries. Historical path dependencies can be seen in the widely varying rates of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions today among cities with similar per capita income and climate, due to past policy decisions that have shaped their urban form, transport systems and building energy efficiencies. Over the next decades, this will be particularly important for cities in emerging economies. For example, 70–80% of the urban infrastructure that will exist in India in 2050 has yet to be built.
Hence, implementing the SDGs at subnational levels of government means knowing and working with policy trade-offs and seeking multiplier effects through bundling goals as much as this is possible. It is impossible to attempt implementation of all 17 goals the same time. Instead, the prioritization of development needs of a city or municipality is required which in turn requires a SDG implementation strategy that reaches towards 2030 (Boas et al, 2016), that can be financed, implemented by a sufficient number of able civil servants and negotiated with a city’s main stakeholders (citizens, business, academics, NGOs). How to maintain timely information flows and how to keep track of the state of affairs of their citizens and business community, becomes a challenge in itself.  Effective functioning of Information management as well as of knowledge management necessitates a systemic approach consisting of centralization of key information in a transparent manner but at the same time ensuring inclusivity and participation of the respective stakeholders.  Such an information management infrastructure could support a more integrated approach to sustainability and safeguard (hopefully) of coherence of the parts.
Policy coherence of SDG implementation requires that local government officials actively engage in inter-ministerial (cross-sector) policy coordination and at the same time in government to stakeholder policy consultations.  Policy coordination and consultation (inter alia PCC) requires know-how and ability to design and manage governmental policy mechanisms (Saner, 2009a, 2009b).  Without PCC mechanisms and practices, government officials will continue to work in silos and in a vertical manner at the expense of managing horizontal interfaces to achieve greater policy impact and desired outcome of enhanced sustainability.
These new areas of work resulting from implementing the 2030 Agenda in order to “leave no one behind” could be daunting for public administrations that have been used to operate behind closed doors taking decision unilaterally without consulting either citizens or other administrative agencies.  New competencies and capabilities need to be acquired in order to better manage the SDG’s inherent inter-sectoral interfaces and partnership arrangements.
Concerned citizens and government officials alike are looking for methods to find a common ground to assess the quality of public administrations be they based on NPM or NPA. Quality assessment methods offer a transparent method of assessing the performance of public administrations and provide feedback for continual improvement (Saner, 2002).
Often cities are confronted with three common issues which will become even more acute when more than 7 billion people will be living in urban areas by 2050.  These should be the priority areas for capacity building and competence development:

  1. Affordable housing: uncontrolled urbanization, slum formation (due to scarcity of affordable housing), informal land development processes, lagging investments in infrastructure, lack of housing planning and zoning by city and local governments
  2. Sustained Financing: weak capacity to levy and collect revenues, inability to apply land-based finance instruments, lack of application of modern tools regarding urban land management, and effective use of alternative financing instruments such as public-private partnerships for financing the SDGs.
  3. Generation of decent jobs and employment:  the density of populations too often creates exploitation and precarious working conditions.  Weak capacity in work force planning and skill development coupled with poor labour inspection and welfare administration have condemned many to the fate of working poor without minimum social protection. 

Understanding the underlining challenges of urbanizations and having tools and knowledge to solve them are key but not enough if the institutional and organizational environment, as well as the urban governance systems, are not developed along with the initiative to strengthen the capacity of individuals and cadres.
Capacity building should not be limited to the administration either. Other stakeholders need also to cooperate in order to create the systemic capacity needed by the local authorities which would in turn enable them to implement the SDGs, namely:
  • Local governments: technical skills, ability to connect different areas of urban development and manage conflict resolution between interests and demands on location and land use
  • Civil society organizations: technical skills, knowledge and the ability to meaningfully participate in decision making while exercising their rights and press for safeguarding the public goods
  • Private sector: capacity to participate in urban development and to contribute where they are best in terms of innovations, technology, finance and management tools
  • Universities: development of knowledge, practical skills and competencies required to understand and manage urbanization within a dynamic and volatile environment; ability to play an active role as a stakeholder in sustainable urban development.
As with other aspects of SDG implementation, collaboration, partnerships and exchange of experiences will be crucial to advance the integration of SDG implementation at local, national and global levels (Chaitanya et al, 2016, Coopman et al., 2016).
In order for the SDGs to be implemented in in an effective way, the authors propose that SDG targets 16.6 and 16.7 be given priority attention. SDG goal 16 aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. As such it should be given priority and research should be focused on the institutional aspects SDG 16 and its crosscutting implications should instead be highlighted, i.e., “building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” The buy-in and local leadership, well-coordinated with the work of other levels of governance.”. Establishing SDG 16 on a local level is crucial to ensuring a bottom-up approach, which could transform policies on a national level. Local and sub-national governments have a unique role and contribution to play in the advancement and implementation of global agreements and sustainable development laws, policies, strategies, standards, programs and  actions.”
Rio+20 follow-up document, Key Messages, and Process on Localizing the SDG Agenda, notes that “many of the critical challenges of implementing the SDG Agenda will depend heavily on local planning and service delivery, community

Corresponding author: Raymond Saner, Email:

Source: Raymond Saner, Lichia Saner-Yiu, Noah Gollub, Doudou Sidibé, 2017. Implementing the SDGs by Subnational Governments: Urgent Need to Strengthen Administrative Capacities, PAAP 20.2:23-40, 2017
Boas, I.; Biermann, F. and Norichika K. (2016). Cross-sectoral Strategies in Global Sustainability Governance: Towards a Nexus Approach. International Environmental Agreements (16) 440-464.
Chaitanya Kanuri, Aromar Revi, Jessica Espey & Holger Kuhle, Getting Started with the SDGs in Cities A Guide for Stakeholders, July 2016.
Coopman, A.; D. Osborn; F. Ullah; E. Aukland and G. Long (2016). Seeing the Whole: Implementing SDGs in an Integrated and Coherent Way. Stakeholder Forum. London. UK.
Saner, Raymond & Yiu, Lichia (1996)  “The Need to Mobilize Government Learning in the Republic of Slovenia”, The International Journal of Public Sector Management, vol. 9(5/6)
Saner, Raymond. (2002), “Quality Assurance for Public Administration: A Consensus Building Vehicle”, pp 407-414, Vol. 2, Public Organization Review, Kluwer Academic Publ, The Hague, 2002
Saner, Raymond, (2009a), “Trade Policy Governance through Inter-Ministerial Coordination: A source book for trade officials and development experts” Republic of Letters, Dordrecht, 2009a
Saner, R., Michaelun, V.; (Eds) (2009b); State actor versus Non-State Actor Negotiations, Republic of Letters, The Hague, NL,  (410 pp). 2009b
Yiu, L.S.; Saner, R. (2014). Sustainable Development Goals and Millennium Development Goals: An Analysis of the Shaping and Negotiation Process. Asia Pacific Journal of Public Administration, 36:2, 89-197. May.


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