How to Organize Civil Society Involvement in the Implementation Process of the Sustainable Development Goals

MIT Environmental Planning and Policy Lunch Series:

How to Organize Civil Society Involvement in the Implementation Process of the Sustainable Development Goals



Speaker: Frans Evers LLM

Chairman, Mutual Gains Network, The Netherlands

Host: Dr. Larry Susskind; Head, Environmental Planning and Policy Group, MIT

Date/Time: April 13th, 2016 12:30pm-2:00pm

Location: Long Lounge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 77 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA, USA


Session Summary:

After introductions by Dr. Larry Susskind of the presenter, Mr. Frans Evers began the session by outlining the planned activities with an emphasis on the underlying principle that the session be interactive, rather than lecture-based.

After a brief overview of the session, a short clip about public participation in the Netherlands, “Nuon Energy,” was shown, followed by a group discussion facilitated by Mr. Frans Evers. The film first looked at the organized resistance against a plan to build the largest on-land windfarm in the town of Urk, as well as the dynamics of the subsequent response, which was largely ineffective at incorporating local interests. To contrast, the film then showcased a second project which was effectively able to overcome resistance to gain unanimous approval: the Maasvakte 2 harbor project. The key difference between the two projects was that in the latter, stakeholders were involved at an early stage so that they could contribute as plans were being developed. Interest groups involved in the Maasvakte 2 harbor project included recreational users who were interested in a surf reef; the resultant project incorporated their feedback and included 25,000 hectares reserved for the environment.

Members of the audience were asked to identify several lessons which could be gleaned from the clip, which included:

  • ?  The traditional project management approach, following all legislative procedures including open documents, is no longer suitable: it is necessary to involve people in the decision-making process early to result in higher- quality decisions.

  • ?  For support of a project, joint fact-finding is an essential part of the procedure, in addition to the participation of varied stakeholders in the decision-making process.

  • ?  More successful approaches focus on negotiations where the discussion is on interests rather than positions; ie: negotiations focusing on the rationale underlying why a position is held rather than the position itself.

  • ?  When challenged in court, projects with early involvement of the stakeholders tend to be viewed more favorably by the court than those which did not involve stakeholders early on in the process.

    Transitioning from the dozens of takeaways from the video, Mr. Frans Evers asked the audience for their definitions of sustainable development. Beginning with thetraditional definition of sustainability as “taking care of the needs of the current generation without negatively impacting future generations,” and thetriangular model of social, economic, and environmental interests, Mr. Frans Evers emphasized that there are many different views of sustainability in addition to conflicting interests – and that sustainable practices should be conceptualized as a process of negotiation. He then presented two additional triangles of framework for thinking about sustainability, identified below:

    The session was then split into three groups of four, each given the task of developing advice to the representatives of the Netherlands on how to organize the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Europe, given that the current proposal to have an annual forum may be criticized as aesthetic rather than effectual.

  • Recommendations:

    Given the substantial evidence that projects are more likely to succeed if stakeholders are part of the early process of fact-finding and presenting interests for decision making, and that sustainability is a negotiation between social, economic, and environmental interests, our group recommends the following:

  1. Firstly, for each country in Europe to choose a limited number of representatives from the most prominent voices of each of the three sectors of sustainability stakeholders identified in the triangle above (government, NGOs/civil society, and private business interests). These representatives would then identify no more than two top priorities within the SDGs for the given country.

  2. Secondly, rather than the current model of a discussion forum, to create aproblem-solving session in which representatives of all three sectors from each country meet to present their two priorities, and develop cross-border solutions whereby countries can help assist each other by providing strength in their individual areas of technology, expertise, etc.

Furthermore, the session found considerations for each of the following components, with the overarching consideration that scale must be taken into account when identifying issues:

1. Stakeholders:

  1. Identify the populations/groups which may raise objections to ensure

    that they can be incorporated into the process at the beginning.

  2. On a country-by country basis, develop transparent mechanisms to

    choose stakeholders from caucuses of each of the three sectors (government, business, civil society/NGOs) that factor in leadership and representation in the constituency subgroup so that the larger interests can be adequately represented.

  3. Rather than have only political representatives, ensure that the stakeholders are varied from all three sectors (civil society, government, and private business).

2. Development of Priorities:

  1. Recognition that each country will have different priorities, and that,

    priorities from the SDGs should be determined at the country-level.

  2. Identify scale.

Minutes taken by: Meagan Cherita Patrick, Masters in City Planning 2017, MIT — April 13th, 2016 Minutes Finalized: July 19th, 2016