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Three horizons for the SDGs: A cross-scale participatory approach for transformative pathways

David Collste

Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden

One of the current challenges of human society lies in navigating the safe operating space defined by the planetary boundaries while reaching the aspirational Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is not a challenge that can be tackled everywhere in the same way. It is thus vital to ground the pursuit of the SDGs in locally prevalent worldviews and reflect specific contexts in developing coherent pathways. In addressing the need to couple global concerns with local aspirations and conditions, this paper introduces a stakeholder-based approach for visioning and exploring sustainable development pathways to meet the SDGs, inclusive to marginalized voices and facilitating a context-sensitive exploration of alternative futures. The approach departs from the Three horizons framework, a participatory approach developed for groups to think about transformative change. We present the benefits and challenges of the adapted approach in relation to an illustrative case study, the 2018 African Dialogue on The World In 2050, deliberating future pathways for agriculture and food systems in Africa. The key contribution of the paper is twofold. First, we detail the premises and steps of the Three Horizons for the SDGs (3H4SDG) approach. Second, we summarize the results of a pilot application of the approach -four alternative pathways for how food systems and agriculture can contribute to meeting the SDGs in Sub-Saharan Africa, integrated with the worldviews entangled in the narratives of the participating stakeholders. We conclude that participatory approaches grounded in systems thinking represent a promising way to link local aspirations with global goals.

Trois horizons pour les ODD: une approche participative à plusieurs échelles pour les voies de transformation.

David Collste

Centre de résilience de Stockholm, Université de Stockholm, Suède

L’un des défis actuels de la société humaine consiste à naviguer dans l’espace d’exploitation sûr défini par les frontières planétaires tout en atteignant les ambitieux objectifs de développement durable (ODD). Ce n’est pas un défi qui peut être relevé partout de la même manière. Il est donc essentiel de fonder la poursuite des ODD dans des visions du monde localement répandues et de refléter des contextes spécifiques dans le développement de voies cohérentes. En abordant la nécessité de coupler les préoccupations mondiales avec les aspirations et les conditions locales, ce document présente une approche basée sur les parties prenantes pour concevoir et explorer des voies de développement durable pour atteindre les ODD, inclusives pour les voix marginalisées et faciliter une exploration contextuelle des futurs alternatifs. L’approche s’écarte du cadre des Trois horizons, une approche participative développée pour que les groupes réfléchissent au changement transformateur. Nous présentons les avantages et les défis de l’approche adaptée par rapport à une étude de cas illustrative, le Dialogue africain de 2018 sur le monde en 2050, examinant les futures voies pour l’agriculture et les systèmes alimentaires en Afrique. La principale contribution du document est double. Tout d’abord, nous détaillons les prémisses et les étapes de l’approche des trois horizons pour les ODD (3H4SDG). Deuxièmement, nous résumons les résultats d’une application pilote de l’approche – quatre voies alternatives pour la façon dont les systèmes alimentaires et l’agriculture peuvent contribuer à atteindre les ODD en Afrique subsaharienne, intégrées aux visions du monde enchevêtrées dans les récits des parties prenantes participantes. Nous concluons que les approches participatives fondées sur la pensée systémique représentent un moyen prometteur de relier les aspirations locales aux objectifs mondiaux.

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4 Responses

  1. Great video! These kind of exercises are challenging. What do you see as the main outcome, the scenarios for the future, or a potential change in mental models of the participants? Since you talk about “we” in the creation of the scenarios, can you elaborate who “we” are, especially since in 2050 a large part of the adult population by that time is not able to participate in your exercise.

    1. Thank you for the comment, Marco Janssen. This is a very good question. From these type of exercises, it is often repeated that the participatory process is just as important as the concrete outcome (e.g. in the form of pathway elements). It is crucial both that the 2030 Agenda is interpreted and perhaps conquered at the local level, and to move away from deterministic or business as usual futures to explore how alternative futures may look like. I think the process we have developed does this well as also some of the participants’ feedback indicated. However, also in the specific case study of the 2018 African Dialogue on the World In 2050, the goal was on the outcome in order to compare the different pathway elements to the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways. This comparison is further discussed in Aguiar et al. (in review, available as PrePrint https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/pa3bc): Co-designing global target-seeking scenarios: a cross-scale participatory process for capturing multiple perspectives on pathways to sustainability.

      I was mostly referring to “we” as either we the authors, but also as a collective humanity. Just as you say, a large part of the adult population of 2050 cannot participate in todays’ exercises. However, if anything I believe that this exercise brings more of the future to the present and make us to a larger extent consider the views of future generations.

  2. Very good presentation.

    Related to Marco’s point, who takes the findings forward? Did you engage the African Union or some African countries?

    1. Thank you very much for your comment and question. The findings from the case study discussed has been taken forward within the World In 2050 initiative https://iiasa.ac.at/web/home/research/twi/TWI2050.html, not at least by referring back to the dialogue outcomes in the first report. Also, as part of the focus is on the actual process our hope is that the participants bring the results forward. We are nevertheless looking for alternative venues and I would be grateful to hear if you have any suggestion.

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