Now that the dust has just begun to settle after the self- and mutual congratulations of last week’s launch of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) era, it is time to ask: what now? In a paper we release today (click here to download a pdf version) Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven and I raise some basic conceptual questions regarding global development goals: Why have them at all? What function, if any, might they serve, and under what conditions could they do so successfully?
Based on our answers to these questions, we identify serious inadequacies in the contemporary approach to development goals and relate these to weaknesses in how the goals were conceived and formulated. Despite these failings, higher-level goals could imaginably play a useful role if the practical approach to them is embedded in a holistic and integrated vision of a better world. We recommend a focus on goals rather than targets in order to open needed space for flexibility, innovation, and fuller democratic accountability. See also our earlier short piece on global goals. This short piece by Stephan Klasen, which recently came to our attention, makes a very important complementary argument, calling the SDGs a “disservice to the world’s poorest”. Ingrid frames our arguments in a different way here.