Sensemaking of the Global Goals

Espoo, Finland

SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communitiesSDG 17: Partnerships for the goals

Voluntary Local Review
Espoo published its first Voluntary Local Review in 2020. The VLR takes the entire Sustainable Development Goals framework into account and is organized into three parts based on what dimension of sustainability it addresses. The first part, Leave no one behind, deals with social and cultural sustainability, and focuses on how to develop a city that is inclusive and engages all citizens. The second part, Let’s do it together, focuses on economic sustainability. It addresses the city’s goal to reach the SDGs by co-development and innovative management that has a positive impact on sustainability. The third part, Accelerated action, focuses on ecological sustainability and describes how Espoo is improving areas in built infrastructure and living environment to be more sustainable.

Espoo approached the VLR process through a phenomenon-based principle: they analyzed the work of the city organization based on the city’s strategy, the Espoo Story – and how it connected to the SDGs. Espoo invited different sectors of society to take part in that process: sustainability experts as well as citizens were encouraged to share insights on how city projects could be represented in the VLR. Each unit in the city office was also asked to identify projects and activities that helped to implement the Espoo Story. The relevance of the project and activity was assessed by SDG-experts based on three aspects: relevance related to the SDGs, future potential and handprint potential. Depending on the relevance, the project or activity was included in the review.

Sensemaking of the Global Goals
The lack of methods and tools on how to meaningfully relate the SDGs to local priorities made the City of Espoo together with the six largest cities in Finland develop the SDG Sensemaking Tool (SST). The SST offers ways to explain what the SDGs mean in the local setting: it is meant to clearly link a city’s own strategic, tactical and operative goals with the SDGs. The tool is a step by step iterative procedure to identify how particular conditions in a local setting can be interpreted and related to ecologic, social and economic sustainability.

The purpose of the SST is manifold: it can be used by the city administration to identify areas in need of support as well as to measure and fuel action in the city’s sustainability work. The SST can also be used when trying to identify local indicators. Through its context-driven approach, the SST enables stakeholders to identify what should be done in a specific urban setting.

When developing the SST, the City of Espoo facilitated workshops and meetings with sustainability experts from different parts of the city. The SST has been tested by other cities in Finland and globally – and has proved to be a valuable tool for local and regional stakeholders in their sensemaking process. Their ambition is to develop the tool into a software that can be scaled globally.

Further reading:

Voluntary Local Review – Implementation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 2030 in the City of Espoo

Seven Steps to Strategic SDG Sensemaking for Cities


Photo: Mathias Malka/Unsplash

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Project: The Sustainability Lab