This Belmont Forum Pathways project will support the localization of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda through the development and testing of innovative policy tools, in order to engage local and regional actors from Africa in the design and implementation of required sustainability transformations.

The challenge ahead

Substantive evidence shows that the prevailing silo approach in public policy threatens the materialization of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Approaches to research SDG interactions are still in its infancy, and available ones fail to adequately incorporate the social and governance dimensions, which are instrumental in the implementation of sustainable development models. 

The hypotheses 

Supporting regions to get on the sustainability path requires a systems approach to map and untangle the links that emerge across sectors, policies, actors, and scales, by way of integrating different sources of knowledge, tools and values.

Project logo © Center for Systems Solutions (CRS)

The proposed approach

A combination of analytical tools with strong stakeholder engagement approaches that will: 1) lift local institutional capacities and support social learning, in order to drive the change in mindsets required to match our ambitions for sustainability; and 2) be used to design transformation pathways that match the capacities and socioeconomic-physical-governance contexts of focal countries. We will implement our approach in two African case studies facing multiple SDG challenges due to a number of drivers.: the Fimela district (Senegal) and the Swartkops catchment (South Africa).

The main research questions and objectives

SDG-pathfinding aims to develop novel tools and capacities that support a sustainable development pathway for African countries, which can be adapted to local capacities. We will pursue this goal by adopting inter- and trans-disciplinary approaches that will enable us to: 1) analyze multilevel governance structures and path dependencies; 2) develop and test an innovative, online and participatory SDG scenario policy tool that will support the development of inclusive and bottom-up narratives and transformation pathways; and 3) foster exchange and collective-learning experiences that will promote social learning on and innovation toward SDGs.

Project innovation

The SDG-pathfinding approach is an experiential and fully participatory process, engaging participants in defining their desirable futures, assessing trade-offs, and finding solutions within the chosen sustainability pathways. Main innovations are: 1) integration with a governance framework to identify impediments and enablers for SDG implementation, including vertical and horizontal cooperation; 2) flexible integration of the participatory tools developed by the consortium partners; 3) development of an approach suitable to support the localization of the SDG agenda; and 4) development of an approach that can be implemented online for situations in which face-to-face meetings are not possible.


The project is funded through the Belmont Forum and undertaken by a research consortium that is led by IIASA (Austria), with members from the Water Security (WAT) Research Group, and involves the participation of the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE, France), Groupe d'Action et d'Initiative pour un développement Alternatif (GAIA, Senegal), and Rhodes University (South Africa). The interdisciplinary scientists and practitioners involved in this project have a broad range of complementary skills required to identify and take into account essential interactions between SDGs and to translate them down to the field level in order to support action.