Collaborative Approaches to Achieving the SDGs in Your Community

Discover the Power of Collaborative Innovation for Sustainable Development! Dive into an insightful study examining sustainability-focused innovation initiatives across Belgium, Italy, Germany, and France. Uncover how multi-stakeholder partnerships, driven by non-profit organizations, play pivotal roles in pursuing sustainable development. Breach the barriers into collaborative innovations that fulfill the required steps taken into account to achieve sustainable development goals, going past their original intent, to further seep into the value that has the potential to reinforce needed roles and mechanisms. Roles such as cultural spreaders, enablers, relational brokers, service providers, and influencers. These findings will help policy-makers and practitioners in the public and non-profit sectors to identify and utilize emerging opportunities for value creation through collaborative innovation and to better design existing and prospective collaborative efforts aimed at sustainable objectives, thereby supporting progress towards the implementation of Agenda 2030.

Free Person's Left Hand Holding Green Leaf Plant Stock Photo

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly took a significant step forward by adopting the 2030 Development Agenda. This comprehensive agenda revolves around seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which serve as a blueprint for sustainable development worldwide. Central to this agenda is the idea that collaboration for sustainability plays a pivotal role (Schaltegger et al., 2018). It builds upon the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which, by setting specific and time-bound targets, effectively raised global awareness, fostered political accountability, improved measurement standards, encouraged social feedback, and generated public pressure (Sachs, 2012).

Both the MDGs and the current SDGs stem from a vision of sustainable development that encompasses the “triple bottom line approach to human wellbeing (Sachs, 2012). This approach integrates economic development, social inclusivity, and environmental sustainability (Hammer & Pivo, 2017). The roots of this approach trace back to the mid-1990s when the environmental agenda expanded to include the triple bottom line concept. During this period, there was growing consensus that partnerships involving businesses and stakeholders were crucial to address the broader and more challenging sustainable development agenda (Elkington, 1998).

Compared to the MDGs, the SDGs place greater emphasis on partnerships between public and private sector organizations, including for-profit and nonprofit entities, exemplified by the 17th goal, Partnerships for the Goals. Sustainable development is a complex concept that spans various timeframes and geographic scales and involves multiple stakeholders. Consequently, a pluralistic approach is necessary to accommodate diverse actors and viewpoints, foster a shared vision for the planet’s future, and resolve potential trade-offs (van Zeijil-Rozema et al., 2008). This integrated approach aligns with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, where the Goals and targets aim to drive action in five key areas: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnerships. An essential component of the 2030 Agenda is the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, which outlines concrete measures related to public and private resources, international trade and aid, science, technology, innovation, capacity-building, data, monitoring, and follow-up (UN General Assembly, 2015).

The challenges of sustainable development encompass issues like climate change, unequal access to healthcare and education, and the integration of immigrants and refugees. These challenges are often referred to as “wicked problems(Sørensen & Torfing, 2017; Torfing & Ansell, 2017). They require governance approaches that involve partnerships and multi-actor networks. In the framework of New Public Governance (Ansell & Torfing, 2014a, 2014b; Crosby & Bryson, 2010; Koppenjan, 2012; Osborne, 2006, 2010), such wicked problems can be effectively addressed through collaborative innovation. This approach entails integrating partners’ differences and resources constructively, thereby developing innovative solutions that challenge established practices. Despite its promises, the collaborative innovation framework primarily focuses on the collaboration’s “meso ” level the areas where collaborative processes occur, and the “macro” level of policy-making, rather than examining the “micro” level of the collaborating organizations. Moreover, although collaborative innovation is meant to involve both public and private (for-profit and nonprofit) actors, and private actors are acknowledged as potential meta-governors, the specific role of non-public actors within these processes remains relatively underexplored.

In light of these considerations, it becomes evident that understanding the role of collaborating actors, particularly non-profit organizations (NPOs), is essential. Such an understanding can shed light on the roles, activities, and processes that contribute to the outputs of collaborative innovation and the factors influencing these aspects. Consequently, we propose integrating insights from market/societal orientation literature (Duque-Zuluaga & Schneider, 2008; Hsieh et al., 2008; Kotler & Levy, 1969; Liao et al., 2001), stakeholder theory (Abzug & Webb, 1999; Fassin et al., 2017; Van Puyvelde et al., 2012), and grassroots sustainable innovation (Kemp et al., 1998; Seyfang & Haxeltine, 2012; Seyfang & Smith, 2007) into the collaborative innovation literature. This integration can help us explore the roles and dynamics facilitating collaborative innovation and its translation into sustainable development improvements.

In essence, multi-stakeholder collaboration is recognized as a potentially vital tool for addressing the wicked problems of sustainable development, as emphasized by both the SDGs and collaborative governance and collaborative innovation literature. However, the specific roles and mechanisms that collaborating organizations and individuals employ to advance sustainable development are not entirely clear. Therefore, we aim to address this gap through two research questions:

How can multi-stakeholder collaboration contribute to improvements in sustainable development?

What role(s) do non-profit organizations play within multi-stakeholder collaborations that contribute to sustainable development?

To answer these questions, we conducted a multiple-case study analysis of four collaborative innovation initiatives implemented across Europe. These initiatives are the result of collaborations among various actors, including NPOs, and they exemplify how “wicked problems” can be addressed. We refer to these initiatives as ‘collaborative innovations for sustainability,’ as they involve networks of actors generating novel solutions aligned with the interests and values of the communities involved (Smith et al., 2014). We aim to assess the potential of these networks to address complex problems through collaborative innovation, thereby contributing to sustainable development progress.

To write it off, verifying through these multiple sources and embracing strict implementation of such processes will help us sustain our development goals, adhering to the foundation that has been laid out is the key to achieving SDGs. For more in-depth write-ups on such vast topics please visit