Exploring localisation of the Sustainable Development Goals : Focusing on municipal organisations in a Swedish context

Abstract: Adopted in 2015, the 2030 Agenda and the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for integrated approaches and aim to “leave no one behind”. This licentiate thesis focuses on localisation of the SDGs in Swedish municipal organisations, and more specifically at early stages of SDG localisation processes. It investigates how the SDGs can be operationalised into municipal organisations and in what ways municipal organisations can engage with other actors in SDG localisation. The thesis takes it theoretical point of departure in governance, strategic planning, and management connected to sustainability and municipal organisations. This cover essay is based on three qualitative studies, mainly built on interviews but complemented with observations and document studies. The three studies explore SDG localisation from different perspectives. The first study focus on SDG operationalisation in a municipal organisation, the second on regional SDG collaboration and the third focuses on the intersection between SDG operationalisation and collaboration in municipal organisations. The findings (in this thesis) reveal that all studied municipalities showed ambitions to operationalise the SDGs holistically across sustainability dimensions (and sectors) through strategy and practices in the municipal organisation. The examples also show different levels and ways of how municipal organisations can engage with external actors in SDG localisation, from no specific external engagement to communicating the SDGs or initiating local SDG networks. In short, the SDGs can serve as a common denominator and contributes to learning, in both external and internal sustainability efforts. Moreover, the SDGs give municipal organisations an opportunity to approach a leader role to forward local sustainability. However, there is a tendency wanting to operationalise the SDGs internally before engaging with external actors, and hence, to act as a good example to have the credibility to engage other actors. Yet, this is challenging as the SDGs cover many areas. There is also a risk to get stuck in the details regarding operationalisation, hampering the municipal organisations to take a more active role in externally in SDG localisation. To manage this, it is suggested that SDG operationalisation and actor engagement should be approached as parallel (and intertwined) processes. This, and SDG localisation overall, puts a lot of pressure on municipal (SDG) process leaders, who need to have the mandate to act (i.e. placed centrally, organisational and political support) and have a generalist, flexible and open approach. This research contributes with knowledge and examples of SDG localisation and forwarding sustainability in municipal organisations, additionally it contributes theoretically to further understanding of the connections between sustainability management and local governance.

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