Interview with new trustee Peter Davies | Where next for the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act?

Peter Davies

Peter Davies has a wide range of roles working in support of communities, citizens and consumers. These include chairing the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, Welsh Water’s Customer Challenge Group and the Size of Wales charity, Director of Pembrokeshire Community Energy. He is also a member of the BT Wales Advisory Board and Community Custodian for River Simple. Peter is Wales’ former Sustainable Futures Commissioner and played a lead role in the development of the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act, particularly through leading the national conversation on the Wales we Want.

Peter was interviewed by fellow trustee, John Lotherington.

What was the intention behind the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act? Are there any early signs of impact?

In Wales the principle of sustainable development was set at the heart of the first Government of Wales Act making it one of the few administrations in the world with such a legal duty. The last Welsh Government built on this commitment with a fundamental reform of the legislative framework with the introduction of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act in 2015. This Act set out a framework of national goals, indicators of progress and operating principles. It also established a Future Generations Commissioner as a new institution in the devolved structure of governance, with responsibilities as an advocate for future generations.

The Act became law on April 1st 2016, alongside the appointment of the new Commissioner. Although it is very early in its implementation, there are encouraging signs that the legislation is a catalyst for changing mindsets and enabling new ways of operating that focus on long term preventative action and wider participation in decision making.

Specifically, the 44 public bodies with duties under the Act have to review their operations and set out objectives that will measurably contribute to the achievement of the national goals. The Act also introduced Public Service Boards that operate across all local authority areas, bringing together public service organisations responsible for improving local wellbeing. These boards are currently undertaking local wellbeing assessments with their local communities to prioritise action on joint working to deliver local wellbeing plans.

How can we know now what will be best for the well-being of future generations?

The Act emphasises the involvement of communities in shaping their future. However, this community-led process needs to be informed. There are requirements on the Welsh Government to produce future trend reports to ensure an understanding of the nature of the challenges likely to be faced by future generations.

The national goals also provide an overarching framework which links to the UN Sustainable Development Goals – so the WalesWeWant relates directly to the World We Want.

What ensures that the people of Wales will remain engaged in the workings of the Act, as opposed to a more tick-box exercise for public services?

The Future Generations Commissioner has a key role in this process with statutory duties and powers under the Act, to ensure that the principle of involvement is applied effectively. This is also reinforced by the role of the Wales Audit Office which has a duty to ensure that the principles of the Act are being applied by public bodies.

However, there is also a powerful civil society movement committed to the importance of the Act and focused on ensuring public bodies meet the raised expectations. There are formal channels for such pressure, such as through the SD Alliance of large and small NGOs, chaired by WWF Cymru.

Building on the Act, how would you hope to see the relationship between democracy and sustainability develop in the future in Wales?

The link between democracy and sustainable development has always been central to the thinking behind the Act. Political realities mean that democracy is too often driven by short-term expediency and electoral timetables. The Act is an attempt to introduce mechanisms that require a focus on the long term, but also directly link to the electoral cycle. For example, the Commissioner has to produce a report on the ‘Wellbeing of Future Generations’ in the year before the elections for the National Assembly. The intention is to provide an independent report on progress against our national goals and to contribute to a more informed electoral debate. It would be hoped that political parties then relate their manifestos more closely to the evidence of what is needed to improve long term wellbeing.

What do you see as the key challenges coming up for the link between democracy and sustainability, and what would you yourself like to focus on in the future?

There is a real challenge to bridge the trust gap between communities and the democratic process. I believe we need to focus on building bridges at community level, by ensuring that local people have more control in shaping the futures of their communities. We need to build the links between local democracy and active involvement in voluntary and community action. There are some great examples around the UK, such as the so-called ‘flat pack democracy’ model in Frome. It is why my personal priority is to support the work of the Wales Council for Voluntary Action as Chair of the Board and to work on other projects that can enable active communities.

 

Children, Young People and Flooding: Recovery and Resilience | Report

children-floods-and-resilienceThe acute storms in the UK during the winter of 2013/14 and 2015/16 have revealed a problem that is now understood to be chronic: with climate change materialising more forcefully, severe flooding will become part of life for many communities across the UK. Recognising children’s perspectives – and capacities – will be a vital part of the process of building the necessary community resilience.

A new report by researchers from Lancaster University and Save the Children explores the role that children and young people can – and want – to play in recovery and preparation. Drawing on qualitative research into children’s and young people’s experiences of the UK winter 2013/14 floods, the study finds that kids need to be better integrated into information processes “during and after flooding as they have a right to know how to prepare, what to expect and how they can contribute”. Children and young people are citizens in their own right, the report argues, and their perspectives are valuable for policy and practice around flood risk management. Flood recovery and resilience should become a priority for government in order to meet the needs of children and young people, recognising their role not as victims but as “active contributors in flood response and recovery”.

The research showed that children help their communities during and after a flood and derive important benefit from this. Their particular perspective often highlight important gaps in the current policy and practice around flood risk management. “Children and young people could inform more effective policy, enhance resilience and reduce the impact of future emergencies”, Marion Walker wrote in an earlier FDSD provocation on resilience, they “have the right to be heard and actively participate in matters that affect them, in particular flood management.”

Related links

 

Now is the best time to embrace the futures: SDGs and strategic foresight | Blog by Cat Tully

This blog first appeared on silofighters.org (28 September 2016).
(CC BY-ND 2.0) Salvatore Vastano / Flickr

(CC BY-ND 2.0) Salvatore Vastano / Flickr

 

2016 is a unique, exciting time for the global development agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are now underway and UN country teams face the huge task of implementing them. So, who will get the best outcomes by 2030? My money is on countries that use strategic foresight. This blog will explain why, and how.

Foresight

Foresight is a form of strategic planning that enables us to think about futures*. We will never have hard data about what might happen in years to come, but in a volatile and rapidly changing world foresight can provide us with principles for understanding complexity, building resilience and setting direction.

Foresight is essential to achieving development goals because it enables us to implement policies based on a thorough and informed approach, as opposed to a set of assumptions.

Foresight and the UN

As the SDG agenda fires up, we embark on an entirely new policymaking approach, and UN country teams have the exciting opportunity to become leaders in the field of emergent strategic planning. This positions the UN in a unique, if not daunting role: to support communities and countries globally to implement strategic foresight. So how do we begin?

Foresight is not something that can be added on top of existing structures; it can’t be thrown in as a tick-box exercise. If we want robust development policies, the UN must embed foresight within UNDAF processes. This requires gradual, structural change in order to be successful.

First and foremost, decision makers must make sure processes are emergent. This means that they are participative, with governments acting as facilitators of other actors, as opposed to top-down controllers.

In general, there are five key principles of emergent strategic planning that stand any organisation in good stead:

  1. Examine the strategic context. Analyse trends and drivers of possible futures contexts, along different time horizons, e.g. one year, five years and 15 years, so it can inform but not be captured by budget and operational planning decisions.
  2. Openly engage with a wide set of views. Seek the opinions of the public, especially vulnerable and extremely poor citizens (i.e. the key “beneficiaries” of development policy design).
  3. Look at a set of issues with multiple lenses. Diversity and alternative perspectives are important for understanding and identifying weak signals, as well as developing common knowledge and ownership.
  4. Identify possible futures and trends. This includes trends that are desired or otherwise, that can be highlighted either through complete pictures of scenarios or snapshots.
  5. Build on policy implications. Reviewing what genuine strategic alternatives look like, and enabling resilience as well as pushing for desired outcomes.

Being emergent is vital. In our uncertain world where we face big, long-term threats like climate change, traditional policymaking and government structures fall short. The role of government is shifting and in order to effectively plan for the future in a strategic way, governments must move from being commanding controllers to “system stewards”.** The UN plays a key role in making this happen.

System stewards facilitate a network of multiple actors with different perspectives: they guide an emergent, inclusive policy-planning process, which effectively plans for and responds to opportunities and risks. System stewardship is the only sustainable alternative to the traditional command-and-control government structure that currently fails to deliver for citizens.

The role of the UN in transforming government

The SDGs actually mandate the UN to transform the role of government in this way: SDG 16 demands “effective, accountable and inclusive institutions”. This is effectively describing a system stewardship model, but as you can imagine, this won’t happen automatically. Governments must first build the capacity to use strategic foresight to take the longer-term into account, and the UN is in the perfect position to help make this happen.

If implemented properly, SDG 16 has the exciting potential to transform the role of government for the long-term. System stewardship will enable governments to navigate an increasingly complex world, whilst keeping citizens at the centre of processes and long-term plans that genuinely work.

Ultimately, the success of the SDGs depends on our ability to start using foresight as soon as possible. The UN must seize this intervention point to strengthen governments as stewards, and ensure wider participation is integrated into strategic planning processes.

Foresight resources

Everything in this blog comes from a recent guide on how the UN Development Assistance Frameworks process can make better use of foresight. It was informed by consultations with development professionals (both within and outside the UN) and provides tools for improving processes and introducing strategic foresight into UNDAF.

The guide also includes examples of foresight and other public sector innovations to improve multi-year strategic planning, as well as case studies from UN in-country teams (Laos, Montenegro and Rwanda) who have begun to apply foresight to their UNDAF planning process.

To discover how to apply foresight, and to access a list of practical resources, download the guide here.

*We speak of “futures” in the plural, because there are many different alternatives for where the world might be in the next five, ten or 50 years.

**See Tully, C. Stewardship of the Future. Using Strategic Foresight in 21st Century Governance.  2015.

Economics for Everyone | The Citizens Economic Council

‘It’s the economy, stupid’! Governments rise and fall on the back of economic success or failure. For the public, the economy is consistently ranked among the top three issues of concern. Yet, few people feel literate enough to understand economic policy, to distinguish necessity from ideology, not to mention to actually contribute to the economic policy processes. The lack of transparency in the values and assumptions that underlie economic judgements, and the lack of democracy and creativity in the way economics is debated, constitute a real and deep democratic deficit in economic policymaking.

The Citizens Economic Council seeks to address this challenge “by demystifying economic concepts” and empowering citizens to discuss economic policy “with agency and authority”. With the aim “to create a stronger economic democracy in the UK through informed engagement and discussion”, the RSA will bring together a group of 60 randomly selected citizens from across the UK to bring the public voice into economic decision making. The panel will engage with economists, leading thinkers and policymakers, moving through a “journey of deliberation” and economic inquiry.

The two-year process is overseen by an independent advisory group, “convened to ensure a high-quality engagement process, as well as balance, independence and impartiality in the materials presented to the Council”. Members of the Advisory Group include Prof Graham Smith, Chair of the FDSD board of trustees and Simon Burall, Director of Involve.

The Council aims to work as “a catalyst for sparking a broader public discussion about the goals and priorities of economic policy, through an open online course and by promoting citizen deliberation over economic policy at events in communities up and down the country.”

For further information, visit the RSA website. You can follow the deliberations of the Council via live-streams of CEC seminars, and participate in the conversation on Twitter with #citizenseconomy @citizenseconomy.

Related links

Switzerland to vote on Green Economy legislation

CC BY 2.0 :: Mike Haller / Flickr

CC BY 2.0 :: Mike Haller / Flickr

On 25 September 2016, the Swiss electorate will vote on the popular initiative: ‘For a sustainable and resource-efficient economy (Green Economy)’. The successful adoption of the initiative will oblige the confederation, cantons and communes to ensure that the Swiss economy “makes efficient use of natural resources from home and abroad and does as little harm as possible to the environment.” Industry will be required to use raw materials sparingly and ensure that it creates as little waste as possible. Waste should be recyclable and be used again as raw materials in the economic cycle.

In arguing that “if everyone in the world were to use as many natural resources as people in Switzerland do, we would need three planets like Earth to produce the resources required”, the Initiative plans to reduce this consumption by 2050 so that it does not exceed the Earth’s projected natural capacity.

Disputing the achievability of these targets, the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment FOEN openly opposes the initiative, and  instead submitted a dispatch for the revision of the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) (German language), focusing on voluntary contributions to change in a ‘step by step’ manner.

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The UK under a ‘hard’ and a ‘soft’ Brexit | Expert Review

brexit-expert-review

“Brexit means Brexit,” said Theresa May in one of her first public statements as Prime Minister. But what does that mean – for agriculture, fisheries, the environment and climate change in the UK?

These were the leading questions in a recent study by Dr Charlotte Burns (University of York), Prof Andrew Jordan and Dr Viviane Gravey (University of East Anglia), whose Expert Review compares two main scenarios. A ‘soft’ detachment from the European Union, they assume, will see the UK remain as close as possible, establishing a new relationship with the EU akin to Norway’s. Conversely, a ‘hard’ Brexit would see the UK trade with the EU under World Trade Organisation rules.

The report concludes that the options will result in radically different impacts on policies, systems of governance and levels of environmental quality in the UK – “key issues that should inform forthcoming negotiations to affect Brexit.” More work is needed to sort through the detail of both scenarios, say the authors, arguing that the policy landscape must be mapped in order to determine which EU policies are covered by domestic legal equivalents, as well as to detect policy gaps and reflect on potential responses.

Furthermore, while a ‘soft Brexit’ comes with the benefit of maintaining a degree of policy stability, warn the authors, the risk is that policymaking actually becomes less – not more – democratic, with the UK becoming a policy-taker rather than a policymaker.

The full report can be downloaded at http://environmenteuref.blogspot.co.uk/p/the-report.html

Related links

For further analysis on Brexit, please see our Essay collection on Democracy, sustainable development and Brexit.

A Divided Britain

(CC BY-NC 2.0) courtesy of urbanartcore.eu / Flickr

(CC BY-NC 2.0) courtesy of urbanartcore.eu / Flickr

 

Amongst many other things, the UK’s vote to leave the EU was a cry for recognition from people with very different lives and opportunities across the UK. It was also a stark reminder of ‒ or, for some, a sudden insight into ‒ different priorities and viewpoints and the deep inequalities between people and places.

Lord Ashcroft’s poll on Referendum day revealed some of reasons why leavers and remainers voted as they did. It exposed the already much-discussed divisions of age, education, employment status and place. Less famously, it also showed polarised attitudes about whether or not the following approaches were forces for ill (majority leave) or good (majority remain): multiculturalism; social liberalism; feminism; the green movement; globalisation; and capitalism. Attitudes to the internet split evenly across both groups.

The spatial map was gradually coloured in over a long but increasingly inevitable night. It revealed the unsurprisingly different average views of Scotland and Northern Ireland, but perhaps a more startling divide between some (but not all) large cities, particularly London, and everywhere else.

As is now fairly clear, some of the strongest leave votes came from those places that have not done well out of globalisation. In many cases the sense of detachment from the preoccupations and success of many (but obviously not all) of those in cities, has developed over decades. Having lived half my life in a seaside town and half in London, I’ve felt, and no doubt been part of, the personal and wider impacts of these cultural and economic divides drifting further apart.

The EU referendum was in some sense a release valve, an opportunity to make a point. Whilst much of this is known to anyone who lives in these places or travels without blinkers around the UK, some metropolitan commentary was at times pretty shocking and prejudiced, reflecting a real lack of understanding and empathy. This was not helped by the fact that reputable data, crunched into various scenarios, could not be broken down to the local level in order to reveal how different places were actually affected. Instead we got generalisations, often at the level of the UK as a whole. (And in some cases the point being made was a recognition that, on balance and despite subsidies, some places have not benefited from EU membership and free movement of people, and that change is happening too fast.)

None of this discussion denies the misinformation in the campaigns. But it is dangerous to think that people unthinkingly followed the polarised and media-reinforced campaign. Some of the most thought-provoking commentary and feelings come from the people interviewed in a series of videos by John Harris from the Guardian in the run up to the vote. You can’t listen to the final video, EU Referendum: welcome to the divided, angry Kingdom, without feeling that we really do need to stop and reflect how little we all know, and possibly even care, about the diversity of other people’s lives and experiences.

But it is very unclear how these divisions are going to be addressed in the coming years. Theresa May recognised some of these implications in her first speech as Prime Minister when she outlined the challenges facing many people in the UK, and added: “The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of a privileged few, but by yours.” There have also been subsequent hints that there would be a renewed focus on industrial policy. But we also need to start thinking about places in their own terms, and make sure politicians and policymakers understand and are responsive to these differences. Devolution may be an important part of this shift, but alongside increased powers comes an increased danger of losing the sense of togetherness necessary for any kind of democracy, as well as the difficulties of decision-making when you don’t have adequate resources to do much.

John Lotherington, FDSD trustee, raises the challenge in What future do we want? We need to rethink how our democracy engages people, otherwise “the solidarity necessary for democracy to flourish will be undermined”.

It often takes outsiders to cut through the confusion. An article in the New York Times by Steven Erlanger sums up this lack of cohesion and draws John Harris’ views together with some from the other side of the political spectrum, James Bartholomew’s blog in the Spectator, when he says: “Amid the overwhelming confusion about the next few years, it will take more than a few reassuring words about a festival of democracy to begin to bring Britain back together”. He was referring to representative democracy. The referendum was direct democracy.

What we are missing is the bit in the middle. At the very least, the divisions exposed by the Referendum show that we need to create spaces where we can all discuss different views and visions, as well as crucially problem-solve our futures. This means negotiating ways forward with anyone who is relevant to a problem or affected by it. And we need to understand more about the people and places we live with and in, well beyond party walls.

There also needs to be a rebalance in the current tendency to focus political and policy attention on ‘cities’. The recent policy trend of ‘city regions’ presumes this focus will lift income levels and job opportunities for the surrounding areas – a new version perhaps of ‘trickle-down’, more accurately perhaps called ‘trickle out’. But that doesn’t necessarily work for areas such as the northwest coast or Cumbria, which are relatively far (or linked by very slow and intermittent trains) from the city centres of Manchester, Liverpool or Newcastle, for example.

The redefinition of some towns to ‘cities’ reinforces this not-so-subtle dash for cash and support. By implication, it reduces the relevance of other places – rural areas, market and seaside towns. You might reply that this approach is justified by the inevitable global trends for populations to move to cities. But some example international statistics provided by The Guardian seem to focus on ‘urban centres’, not large cities. Again, we need to get a bit more sophisticated in our analysis and start breaking information down to what is happening at particular times in particular places. And it is pretty clear that some people are not happy with what is happening, with the clustering of UKIP voters around the east coast as just one example.

Widening participation and reducing inequalities are key parts of sustainable development, made more concrete in the recently agreed international Sustainable Development Goals with their overarching principle of ‘no-one left behind’. It might seem a bit naïve to talk about a UN initiative in the current political climate. However, it was interesting to see that when Wales had its Wales We Want national conversation, the seven objectives that resulted mapped pretty closely to the SDGs, and both are now embedded in national legislation. On the other hand, Wales’ split referendum result revealed some polarised and deeply-held views that were probably not raised in those fora. We still have a lot to do.

Charting the course for post-Brexit Britain: Lessons from Wales

(CC) globalgoals.org

(CC) globalgoals.org

 

“What we need are conversations about the future we want,” says the FDSD in response to Brexit, citing the Wales We Want conversation as precedent. As a new FDSD Trustee and the former Commissioner for Sustainable Futures in charge of leading that conversation, which played a key role in shaping the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act, I have been asked to share some learning.

The year-long national conversation started in February 2014, with Michael Sheen providing both stardust and inspiration.

“This is an opportunity for us as a nation to speak our truth, to describe our experiences, to be clear about what is important to us and to lay out our hopes for where we want to be heading, to tell our story.”

-Michael Sheen speaking at the launch event

Set in the context of the UN’s global conversation on the World We Want, which led to the establishment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, our own process of developing the legislation recognised our duty to promote sustainable development, established in the Government of Wales Act.

The national conversation directly engaged more than 7,000 people, working through communities of place such as the Llanelli We Want, and communities of interest such as Young Farmers and the Women’s Institute. It had a strong online presence and piloted a range of engagement models. The conversation was informed by a picture of the ‘Wales we have’ and the trends that would impact future generations.

The results of the conversation were distilled into seven key foundations for the wellbeing of future generations:

  1. Children need to be given the best start in life from very early years.
  2. Future generations need thriving communities built on a strong sense of place.
  3. Living within global environmental limits, managing our resources efficiently and valuing our environment is critical.
  4. Investing in growing our local economy is essential for the well-being of future generations.
  5. The wellbeing of all depends on reducing inequality and placing greater value on diversity.
  6. Greater engagement in the democratic process, a stronger citizen voice and active participation in decision-making is fundamental for the wellbeing of future generations.
  7. Celebrating success and valuing our heritage, culture and language will strengthen our identity for future generations.

Looking back now and reflecting on current events, probably the most significant conclusion from the conversation was that people felt disconnected from the decision-makers that affected their daily lives. Decisions felt removed, imposed from the top down and separated from outcomes.

Those who had been engaged reported an increased sense of fatigue and frustration around the effectiveness of current consultative exercises, adding that by the time they had been approached for their views most of the key decisions had already been made, rendering the consultation no more than a ‘tick-box’ exercise. This sense of disempowerment often became stronger the greater the distance from Cardiff, while young people in particular felt isolated from government processes of decision-making.

In short, there is still a hugely long way to go in order to truly engage and empower people and communities who feel that their voice has no influence, and perceive a ‘them and us’ relationship with government initiatives. The importance of effective involvement and engagement at all levels is necessary in overcoming a history of ineffective consultation exercises and short-term, top-down projects that parachute in and disappear just as quickly. And yet there is a strong sense of communities wanting to be part of the solution.

That communities across Wales voted to leave the EU despite being net beneficiaries of EU funds was a further and dramatic example of this disconnection. A paucity of involvement and local ownership of top-down EU-funded interventions left voters with very little reason but to take an opportunity to “poke a remote Westminster (and Cardiff) elite in the eye”.

Critically, the national conversation was not a one-off exercise. It played an important role in shaping the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act that became law this April, setting out a framework of seven common national goals, underpinned by indicators of progress, and a set of common operating principles that put involvement at the heart of sustainable development.

The Act also introduced a new role, the Future Generations Commissioner. Sophie Howe as the new Commissioner has put involvement at the heart of her programme, carrying forward the principles of the conversation on the Wales we Want. She will not only be a voice for future generations, but a voice to ensure that communities have the opportunity to shape their own future.

When the Act received Royal Assent a senior UN official said, “What Wales is doing today the world will do tomorrow”. Perhaps the least we can hope for is to help shape post-Brexit Britain by sharing our learning. It’s a task made more difficult by the demise of bodies such as the UK Sustainable Development Commission. Now more than ever, civil society organisations that can stimulate local community conversations and connect across regions and nations will have to step up.

Brexit Britain and the SDGs

@UKSSD / Shutterstock

@UKSSD / Shutterstock

 

One month on and questions are still being asked about how we got here. The only thing that’s clear, it seems, is that Brexit suggests a deep division between inward- and outward-facing worldviews: control our borders and attempt to reduce the strain on our resources, or embrace a spirit of international collaboration that recognises the interconnected and increasingly interdependent world we live in. Coupled with the mind-boggling developments within our main political parties, the struggle to unify British society will be momentous.

Not nearly as momentous as another struggle, however. According to NASA 2015 was the warmest year on record. 2016, it says, is set to be even warmer. Arctic sea ice is declining at a rate of 13.4 percent per decade (with fears there may soon be none left) as sea levels rise 3.4mm every year. While we in the UK were immersed in pre-Brexit rhetoric the citizens of the Solomon Islands were seeing their homes disappear into the ocean.

Closer to home, extreme weather events such as the floods that hit the UK in December 2015 are likely to become more frequent. Comparing the demographics of leave voters with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s research on climate change and vulnerability, it is clear that some of the same groups who voted Leave are the most vulnerable to the impacts of these events, as well as those most likely to struggle to recover from them. The impacts are likely to increase social instability unless the root causes of Brexit are addressed. Those causes, principally, are inequality, resilience and disadvantage.

But that’s not the only reason to be worried. Should Brexit and the resulting divide continue to absorb our attention, the UK risks inactivity on the massive and rapid decarbonisation required to avert runaway climate change. Organisations are already actively trying to remedy this risk, with 30 leading NGOs and trade bodies calling on the Prime Minister to remain committed to the EU 2020 carbon emissions reductions targets.

The question, then, is not how to unify British society, but how to bring about mass unified action. And not just on climate change. Equitable, just and sustainable development must also be part of the conversation. Could the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer us a solution?

Looking to the SDGs

Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs are universally applicable. High-income countries must reach the same goals as middle- and low-income countries. The SDGs’ crosscutting message of ‘leave no one behind’ underpins its goals and targets. As Andrew Norton of IIED suggests, Brexit places even more emphasis on this mantra nationally.

Unfortunately, the current Government appears to neglect this notion of universality, choosing instead to park the SDGs with the Secretary of State for International Development – despite a recent report from the International Development Committee calling for leadership across government. We will need to wait to see the implications of PM Theresa May’s newly formed Cabinet and how the new Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel MP, chooses to respond to the IDC recommendations.

Thankfully, other actors are considering the SDGs’ domestic importance through the newly launched UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development. Composed of businesses, civil society organisations and academics, this group is trying to form the partnerships and solutions required to address SDG implementation and exceed the ambition of the framework.

Coherent policymaking to implement the Goals affords the UK an opportunity to start to right some of the wrongs that led to Brexit. This is because the Goals provide an integrated framework that recognises the interdependent world we live in, and the relationships between social, environmental and economic concerns.

The SDGs also present an opportunity for the government, and indeed all actors in British society, to unify and not just knit together post-Brexit recovery, but cement it and turn it into positive action. Institutions and mechanisms that enable participation in implementing the Goals are necessary, but the shock and scare tactics of both sides of the referendum campaign demonstrate the risk of mass engagement in political debates if rational discourse is neither ensured nor widely accessible. The SDGs can help frame that dialogue but this opportunity requires us to use a common language and speak to shared values.

Lessons from the private sector

There are lessons to be learnt here from the private sector, which understands that consumer trust is essential for success. Creating Shared Value is a relatively new concept, but business is quickly recognising that traditional CSR is no longer up to the job. Instead, businesses need to demonstrate a direct relationship between its operations and the positive impact on society of its products, supply chains and operations. It is essential that they communicate this in a way that talks to people’s values. Business is excited by the SDGs because they offer one way of doing this. It is how to communicate the impact they are having that is important to creating shared value, and where significant questions remain.

While measuring progress against the targets is going to be a challenge it does not stop us from identifying messages in the framework to speak to shared values.

This does not mean we need to prioritise one goal or target over another. In the same way that businesses are recognising a need to take customers on a journey and respond to purchasing power, we can nurture shared values by turning connected and linked goal areas into messages and communications mechanisms that translate across demographics, localities and income levels.

The New Economics Foundation is challenging the government to use five headline indicators that go beyond GDP to inform better policymaking. The SDGs offer us a similar challenge: to use a wide-angle lens and collaborate on a broader spectrum of issues, with a greater range of actors, that crosscut all sectors of society. When we do this it will bring out our similarities and shared values, offering a way to constructively manage critical issues and bring about change in an inclusive and unifying manner.