Reading Between the Lines: An Interview with the editor of BCCIC’s latest SDG report
Kylie Schatz, BCCIC Digital Communications Volunteer, sat down virtually with Dr. Zosa De Sas Kropiwnicki-Gruber, BCCIC’s Senior Policy Analyst and Gender Specialist, to learn more about her key takeaways from the creation of BCCIC’s upcoming report Reading Between the Lines: Accelerated Implementation Agenda 2030. The following interview provides insights into the creation and impact of the report, including the intergenerational collaboration involved in the writing process and how it was informed by the current COVID-19 crisis.
Kylie: Can you explain the origins of this report? How did you decide on the theme and chapters, and how did it evolve?
Zosa: The idea for the report was conceived by our Executive Director, Mike [Simpson] and the Programs Director, Dan [Harris], and then fleshed out upon my arrival at BCCIC. It was informed by discussions at the HLPF [High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development] around interlinkages and the need for review and follow-up. BCCIC’s previous spotlight reports focused on Canada’s progress in relation to specific SDGs, but this one was intended to stimulate innovation and provide theoretical and practical ideas on how interlinkages could be used to accelerate the 2030 Agenda in the final decade of action.
K: Did the themes for each chapter, the different types of interlinkages, come directly from the HLPF discussions or were these created for the report?
Z: So, initially it was something that was created in discussions with Dan, Mike, and myself, looking at the various themes coming out of the HLPF. It was actually only after I started to do the literature review for the introductory chapter that I realized how in line they were with what was coming out at the international level.
K: Who was involved in writing this report?
Z: We selected researchers who were experts in their fields and/or who had worked with us on previous Shadow Reports. The report includes an executive summary, introduction and seven chapters. Different researchers wrote each of those chapters. Some of the senior researchers partnered with youth researchers to write chapters. We also received case studies and input from different organizations working in the field of the SDGs, and for Chapter 6 (LNOB), Indigenous youth were consulted by VIDEA. We also involved over 15 reviewers from different organizations and institutions to cross-check and validate the findings.
K: How were the partnerships between researchers and youth researchers facilitated?
Z: In some cases, such as Chapter 1 on SDG eco-system mapping and Chapter 4 on spillover, we needed help from youth with relevant expertise, and in this case Keila [Stark], a PhD student at UBC, put her vast GIS and scientific knowledge to use in the eco-system chapter. In the spillover chapter, Keila partnered with three other youth to look at the spillover effects of Canada’s technology, mining and fishery sectors on other countries. In other cases, such as my Leave No One Behind [LNOB] chapter, two interns, Emma Ramsden and Carly Rimell, conducted background research for the chapter, but what they produced was so amazing I felt that they should take on more of an authorship role, so they became co-authors on the chapter – without them, the chapter would not have materialized. So in some cases it was intentional, bringing in youth to lead certain chapters, but in other cases it emerged out of the fact that youth were proving themselves to be amazing. Without them, the report could not have been written. It has really been a very collaborative, intergenerational project.
K: At numerous points, the report emphasizes the importance of local knowledge, understanding, and context, and you share that one of the ‘good principles’ is developing localized understandings of interlinkages. As someone living in British Columbia, have you learned anything about local interlinkages, work being done in your own backyard, that surprised you?
Z: Yes, I learnt a great deal about the work that is being done in Kelowna, which together with other cities in Canada like Winnipeg, are very unique examples of the way that local municipalities have tried to engage with the SDG framework and localize the global indicators. Chapter 2 provides valuable information about the diverse stakeholders who were involved in this process, the way that political buy-in was obtained and the data this required. The Kelowna example also pointed to the importance of public engagement campaigns to raise awareness on the SDGs so that the public can hold their local governments to account for Canada’s SDG promises and commitments. That chapter also provides a fascinating example of the way a local university has conducted research on the SDGs, adopted the SDG framework and used it to raise awareness on local and global issues across campus.
K: Could you elaborate on the Kelowna example?
Z: The Kelowna project is actually being implemented by BCCIC in partnership with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions. We partnered with the municipality of Kelowna to develop an SDG Scorecard so Kelowna would be able to look at their progress and measure it against the SDGs. However, it was found that a number of the indicators and targets in the SDGs were not really feasible at a local level. So there was a long process of consultation, working with local stakeholders, both government and non-state stakeholders, to try and refine the indicators and adapt them for the local level.
K: How can the findings of this report be situated in the present context of the global COVID-19 pandemic?
Z: This report was not intended to focus on health issues or a pandemic of this nature, but COVID struck while we were in the middle of research. This had a significant effect on the scope of the report. The researchers tried to situate their chapters in the context of COVID-19, and we recruited two highly regarded health experts, Sameera Hussain and Dena Javadi, to write a chapter on COVID-19 in the context of the 2030 Agenda. In the Introduction to the report, I reflected on what this pandemic might mean for progress in relation to the SDGs. Some have argued that it has set us back substantially and there is evidence that those ‘left behind’ are the hardest hit by the pandemic, and will be pushed ‘further behind’ as a result. However, this might be an opportunity for us in Canada and globally to push the reset button, and strengthen the way that we work together to solve what Mike Simpson, the author of Chapter 3, described as a ‘wicked problem’ simply out of ‘sheer necessity’. It may therefore serve to stimulate innovation and accelerate the 2030 Agenda. From the perspective of public engagement it might provide clear evidence that global cooperation and global citizenship is in all of our best interests.
K: From your own experience, do you feel that there will be the political will, at the end of this pandemic, to return to the SDGs with renewed vigor?
Z: I certainly hope so. The pandemic has revealed the fact that the sustainable development goals are all interlinked – the SDGs have to be seen as indivisible and as part of a holistic framework in order to be truly effective. One of the challenges facing Agenda 2030 is a lack of public engagement and a lack of understanding on how the local and the global are so connected, in other words, what we are doing in our little community in Canada will have an impact on the bigger global scheme of things. COVID-19 truly highlights the way that the local and global are connected. If the public engages with this concept, they are more likely to buy into the SDGs and advocate for their local governments to do the same. And if they are holding their governments accountable, there is more likely to be a real push for progress.
It also points out the need for effective multi-stakeholder cooperation and COVID-19 has shown the ways in which a number of different stakeholders across borders and in different sectors can respond quite quickly and quite effectively around a crisis. I think we can build on those lessons and use or adapt some of the mechanisms that have been created to facilitate multi-stakeholder collaboration in order to drive the 2030 Agenda forward. There is a lot of learning that needs to take place to make sure that these types of multi-stakeholder mechanisms are effective, and we are conducting research with the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC) and the Global Forum for Multi-Stakeholder Bodies on this exact topic. This is discussed in detail in Mike Simpson’s fascinating chapter on multi-stakeholder collaboration drawing from his vast experience sitting on international and national multi-stakeholder bodies, his extensive philosophical knowledge and unique insights from the history of this type of collaboration in British Columbia specifically.
K: Do you think that legitimizing those connections is something that needs to come predominantly from government bodies?
Z: On the one hand we’ve got the SDG unit, housed in ESDC [Employment and Social Development Canada], which is a coordinating body that should be driving some of these processes forward but there should also be greater engagement and consultation with provincial and subnational authorities at the territorial and municipal level in order to obtain their buy in, coordinate implementation across levels and really accelerate the agenda and ensure that it is implemented on the ground. This is discussed in detail in Chapter 2 by an internationally-recognized SDG expert, Nora Sahatciu, and by our very own Laurel Wayne-Nixon. I don’t want to put it in the hands of one authority, but you always need a leader, an institution that can play a coordinating role and who can be held accountable. The Auditor General’s Office has played a very key role in the 2030 Agenda in Canada; as an accountability institution, they play a pivotal role in ensuring that we stay on target.
K: What are your key takeaways from writing the Leave No One Behind chapter for this report?
Z: This chapter cannot be seen apart from Tanya Wragg-Morris’ interesting chapter on gender equality and women’s empowerment, which has been prioritized by policy makers in Canada. ‘Leave no one behind’ is a cross-cutting concept in the 2030 Agenda. The LNOB chapter reveals that simply identifying categories of those left behind, as has been done in the interim national strategy, does not elucidate the intersectional and compounding disadvantages, deprivations and barriers that those furthest behind face. The chapter hones in on certain groups, including youth in the justice system, seniors from Indigenous communities, LGBTQ2IAS newcomers, youth with disabilities who are in care or living in a situation of homelessness, to highlight these intersecting disadvantages and barriers in relation to clusters (groups) of SDGs, which again points to the fact that focusing on individual SDGs is not very effective but that more of a holistic approach is needed to identify fulcrums of change and accelerator interventions. It is also important to note that even though the chapter focuses on risks, deprivation and barriers, it does emphasize the importance of adopting an appreciative, agentic lens and concludes with a powerful submission from Indigenous youth on their fight for social justice in British Columbia. We are incredibly grateful to VIDEA for consulting with youth for the purposes of this chapter.
K: If you could choose a key takeaway message for readers of this report, what would it be?
Z: Read between the lines! Focusing on individual SDGs, certain sectors or particular scales will not help us accelerate the 2030 Agenda; instead understanding and leveraging connections, relationships, interactions and cross-cutting themes will help us drive the agenda forward.
Reading Between the Lines: Accelerated Implementation Agenda 2030 is scheduled for release early in June 2020. Follow BCCIC on social media for more updates about the report’s release. For media inquiries, please contact BCCIC’s Communications Officer, Rowen Siemens, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blog post written by Kylie Schatz, Digital Communications Volunteer with BCCIC (B.A. in International Relations). Special thanks to Dr. Zosa De Sas Kropiwnicki-Gruber for her participation.