Multi-stakeholder initiatives for sustainable development, such as advisory bodies for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), can serve as a compass to guide the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. They can help to facilitate the adaptation of national plans and activities to reconstruct economies and societies, and they can instigate collective action geared towards shared and socially acceptable solutions. Therefore, partners and the development cooperation alike should take a closer look at SDG advisory bodies as strong partners in creating solutions for recovering forward.


Some countries have long-standing SDG advisory bodies, while others have employed multi-stakeholder processes during their Voluntary National Review (VNR) preparation. And still other countries have excellent experience with ad hoc commissions for contested issues, such as phasing out fossil fuels in a socially just manner. Many of the latter are therefore increasingly establishing institutionalised and permanent mechanisms for “whole-of-society” engagement. Such mechanisms can support consultations on developing national priorities and provide advice on national strategies for sustainable development.


In a nutshell, SDG advisory bodies provide forums for consensus-building and incorporating the different societal perspectives. They can create a space for collaborative action that is necessary to deliver practical and socially accepted sustainable development solutions, such as COVID-19 recovery plans, that will set the course for recovering forward. The structure of these SDG advisory bodies varies from context to context and is closely related to the existing preconditions and demands for sustainable development in the respective country.


SDG Advisory Bodies Enter the Stage

Due to the interconnected nature of the SDGs, a whole-of-government approach has become common in implementing the 2030 Agenda. Many countries have integrated the SDGs into their development plans, and the mandate for their implementation has often been placed at the highest levels of government. Coordination and collaboration across government institutions have become the basis for integrated policymaking. As a result, coordination committees have been initiated across government institutions to manage coordination processes, such as the VNR mechanism.

Concurrently, a “whole-of-society” approach to constructively engage with governments on development priorities became popular as well. Various multi-stakeholder national SDG committees emerged to coordinate national responses to the VNRs, and mechanisms such as multi-stakeholder platforms were established to engage with the VNRs processes.


Development cooperation must take into account that pathways for sustainable development are complex and vary from country to country. SDG advisory bodies are as heterogeneous as their political and societal environment. Over time it can be observed that these structures are sometimes consolidated and sometimes reactivated whenever the process of creating a VNR is launched. The different SDG advisory bodies therefore vary accordingly in terms of their institutional development, set-up, mandate, and role. However, they all aim to constructively engage with their governments and create a space for action and social acceptance of challenging development pathways. SDG advisory bodies can play an important role through reciprocal relationships with their governments to deliver on the 2030 Agenda in a cyclical and continuous manner at the national level.


The Functions of SDG Advisory Bodies

Multi-stakeholder SDG advisory bodies can perform various functions when institutionalised and mandated by their government as a continuous advisory platform for stakeholders. Functions can vary from consensus-building on controversial issues to raising awareness, collecting data, monitoring advancements, and advocating for sustainable development using a collective approach, or even implementing concrete activities and programs for sustainable development.


With these various functions they fill an important gap in national governance architectures for sustainable development delivery. The most distinct feature of institutionally established SDG advisory bodies is their continuity and the long-term processes they can initiate as a result. Thus, they can act as a valuable broker between governments and society for the implementation and acceptance of sustainability developments.


SDG advisory bodies play a pivotal role in accelerating SDG delivery and driving a better recovery forward. Their core function is to convene representatives from different stakeholder groups and provide constructive advice on controversial issues relating to sustainable development that transcends and also includes these multiple views, thereby building consensus on transformational topics. SDG advisory bodies play an active role in:

  • Advising on policies and national strategies, such as national sustainable development strategies providing constructive advice to the government and compiling Voluntary National Reviews and recovery plans.
  • Monitoring and accountability processes, such as the nationalisation of indicators and collecting data to monitor reporting on SDG progress.
  • Mobilising domestic resources in key areas that are prioritised in recovery plans and 2030 Agenda implementation strategies.
  • Making sustainability a public issue of vital importance through campaigning, national conferences and bringing the issue into the media.


Multi-Stakeholder Engagement: A Fast Track to Recover Forward


Far-reaching changes are controversial and thus require dialogues and negotiations to be facilitated among a broad mix of diverse stakeholders, not least in the interest of social acceptance of forward recovery. Multi-stakeholder advisory bodies, such as sustainable development commissions and councils, are well equipped to act as permanent governance formats to negotiate that change and thereby help to navigate transformational changes and suggest pathways forward. Therefore, it is essential for governments to put an institutional architecture in place alongside their national sustainable development strategies, and to embrace permanent stakeholder engagement for sustainable development.