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The City Booklet

Voluntary Local Review
The City of Lviv started the process of conducting its first Voluntary Local Review in 2021, and planned to submit it in March 2022. However, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this process has been delayed. Despite the war, the process of finalizing Lviv’s first VLR continues. 

The City of Lviv identified that a first challenge in the process of conducting a VLR was how to raise awareness about sustainable development within the city administration. Based on discussions with other cities, where methods and ideas were exchanged for how to bring the SDGs closer to the city administration, the City of Lviv developed a City Booklet to respond to this challenge. 

In a second step, the City of Lviv developed a roadmap for how to conduct the VLR.  To bring the SDGs closer to the city administration, they decided to translate the SDGs and categorize them into different topics to make them relevant to the local context. Thereafter, the City of Lviv conducted interviews with city officials to investigate how the different departments’ work responded to the SDGs. The City of Lviv collected information on the departments’ strategies, goals and principles. These were then compiled and presented in a table where the strategies were connected to different SDGs to evaluate which goals they deliver on as well as where they need to improve. 

The City Booklet
The lack of knowledge about the SDGs in general and the VLR in particular within city departments made the City of Lviv develop a booklet to bring the 2030 Agenda closer to the city administration. The booklet explains all the 17 SDGs and the 169 targets, and presents examples of how localized goals have been incorporated into VLRs as well as good practices from VLR processes. 

The City Booklet was spread to all city departments. It was followed up with interviews with 30 city officials, where they were asked about each SDG and what their department is doing in terms of achieving that specific goal. This proved to be a good way to acknowledge in what ways the different departments were already contributing to the achievement of the SDGs. It also acted as an educational tool for the officials, because they were equipped with more knowledge about the SDGs. 

Using the City Booklet as a tool to facilitate the dialogue about sustainable development within the city administration, and illustrating how the different departments are working with the 2030 Agenda, the colleagues within the city administration could better understand how their work is interconnected and how they are all working to achieve the global goals.

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Effective VLR process

Voluntary Local Review
The City of Uppsala submitted its first Voluntary Local Review in 2021. The purpose of the review was to illustrate in what ways the 2030 Agenda had been incorporated into the city governance. In the VLR, Uppsala demonstrated how they had incorporated the 2030 Agenda in the city’s work since they took on a new city strategy in 2016. The VLR focused on the organizational structure and the internal steering towards the Global Goals.

The City of Uppsala structured its VLR based on nine internal goals that are all meant to support the implementation of the SDGs. In the review, each goal is explained and defines what SDGs it is related to. This is followed by a description of what the City of Uppsala could do in order to accelerate the achievement of that city target – and by that also the related SDGs. Uppsala described what is specifically relevant to them in each goal, and also highlighted some of the SDG targets and explained in what way(s) Uppsala’s work supports the achievement of that target. Each chapter ends with a description of lessons learned and ways forward in their sustainability work. Throughout the review, city areas are compared in order to identify differences in progress. This was done as a way to identify how the city is working to incorporate the principle of Leave No One Behind. 

With the VLR, Uppsala wanted to share the stories that the politicians found especially relevant within each goal. They identified that qualitative examples were equally important as quantitative data – it was a way to show the city organization that they do work to achieve the SDGs even though they don’t always define their work as “sustainability work”.

Effective VLR process
Submitting a VLR can be a time consuming process – but the City of Uppsala conducted a comprehensive and detailed VLR within three months. The decision to conduct a VLR was made in December 2020 with the deadline in March the year after. The short timeframe affected the structure of the VLR process as a whole, as well as the review itself. In order to successfully conduct a VLR despite the approaching deadline, Uppsala analyzed already existing data. They did not make it into a participatory process, but rather saw the review as a tool for the internal management of the city: it was a way to identify what had been successful and what had been less successful in their work, and thereby create a foundation for learning.

Further reading:

Uppsala and Agenda 2030 – Voluntary Local Review 2021


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Structure of a Voluntary Local Review

Voluntary Local Review
The City of Malmö conducted its first Voluntary Local Review in 2021. The review focuses on how the city’s steering and management system connects to the SDGs. The review comprises an evaluation and analysis of a selection of the city’s steering documents, as well as an analysis of how the principle of Leave No One Behind is incorporated through development programs for the city. In addition to evaluating the city’s progress through steering documents, a survey was disseminated to the city administration and Malmö owned corporations. The city organization arranged several workshops to discuss the results.

The review had three purposes: the first one was to identify how the city’s strategy relates to the SDGs; the second one concerned how the principle of Leave No One Behind was made visible in the city’s work for equal rights and opportunities; and the third one was to report on the progress towards the SDGs on the local level. The goal was to identify how the existing city strategies, programmes, goals and other processes steer towards the SDGs. In accordance with recommendations in guidelines, the City of Malmö analyzed the same nine goals that were highlighted at the 2021 High Level Political Forum. These goals were also especially suitable for Malmö’s local context: a majority of them concerned the social dimension of sustainability, and based on earlier evaluations of the city’s sustainable development, Malmö has identified social sustainability as an especially pressing challenge for the city.

The analysis of how the City of Malmö is working with the SDGs is based on nationally identified indicators. It has also been complemented with data taken from city departments as well as regional and national authorities.

The Voluntary Local Review is voluntary in every sense of the word: it is voluntary in its implementation as well as its content and structure. The fact that the target groups for the VLR were city officials and of Malmö owned companies had an effect on the structure and content of the review. Since they focused on the internal steering and reported on how it connected to the SDGs, the target groups for participation in the process of developing the VLR, as well as who it was designed for, were employees within the city organization. The reason why the report targeted the city officials was because Malmö had experienced that their SDG work had lost some of its power – and they therefore identified the VLR as a tool to fuel their sustainability work. It gave them the opportunity to reflect over earlier efforts and their effectiveness, as well as develop a common guidance on how they would continue working with the SDGs.

Malmö demonstrates the importance of constructing a VLR that is suited to the city’s own context. The goals that are analyzed are within an area that the city experiences especially challenging, which is also why there is a need to examine what has been effective and not in order to identify how to proceed. Therefore, the VLR does not have to include all 17 SDGs and the sub-objectives in order to be successful. Rather, a successful VLR is one that supports the city in its continued work with the SDGs – which Malmö identified in their own VLR process.

Further reading:

Voluntary Local Review – City of Malmö 2021 – A review of the city’s steering towards the Sustainable Development Goals


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Translating the indicators

Voluntary Local Review
The City of Stuttgart submitted their first Voluntary Local Review in 2020. The review was based on the Association of German Cities and Towns’ model resolution 2030 Agenda, which Stuttgart joined in 2018 as a step towards starting to work actively to implement the SDGs in the city. Stuttgart’s VLR was developed in collaboration with the Bertelsmann Foundation and the German Institute of Urban Studies. 

The VLR was developed in a participatory manner: different departments of the city organization were invited to take part in the process. The review contains a description of the Association of German Cities and Towns’ project. This is followed by a presentation of the indicators, a description of how the City of Stuttgart decided on what indicators to include, as well as recommendations on how to develop indicators. With their first VLR, Stuttgart aimed to describe the city’s progress in social, ecological and economic sustainability – and by that also identify what areas were in need of further support. They also wanted to contribute with methods on how to develop indicators that are suitable – and valuable – in a local setting. The VLR contains an analysis of the sustainable development over time, and connects the SDGs to the City of Stuttgart through both quantitative data and qualitative best-practice examples. 

The City of Stuttgart published their second Voluntary Local Review in English in May 2022.

Translating the indicators
In 2017, seven German organizations initiated the project SDG Indicators for Municipalities. The project aimed to facilitate the quantitative monitoring of the SDGs at the local level by identifying how the goals could be interpreted in a German local setting. The City of Stuttgart, as one of the first in Germany, joined the project in 2018 and began pilot-testing the indicators that had been identified in the project the same year. 

When testing the indicators, cross-departmental discussions about the SDG indicators were held within the city organization, in order to expand the general indicator set to incorporate new ones that were relevant for Stuttgart’s specific context – as well as to modify some of the already identified indicators. When deciding which indicators to incorporate, they took into account the relevance for Stuttgart, the coverage and explanatory value, and available data. It was also important that the indicator set was not too large and in that way not manageable – and they therefore chose indicators that covered several of the SDGs.

Based on the SDG indicators that were chosen within the framework of the project, Stuttgart developed a cross-sectoral instrument for a structured monitoring of the connections between the social, ecological and economic sustainability. This will serve as a tool to support the further implementation of the SDGs in Stuttgart.

Further reading:

Stuttgart – a Livable City. The global Agenda 2030 at a local level

Stuttgart – a Livable City. The global 2030 Agenda at a local level. 2nd Voluntary Local Review


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Participatory processes in localizing the SDGs

Voluntary Local Review
The City of Mannheim published its first Voluntary Local Review in 2019. It is based on the city strategy, Mannheim 2030 Mission Statement. In the Mission Statement, the SDGs have been localized into seven overarching strategic goals that relate to the global goals. The structure of the VLR is based on those strategic goals, and describes which SDGs the strategic goal relates to. For each strategic goal, the VLR presents guidance for how Mannheim has worked – and will continue working – to achieve the goals. Key milestones for the strategic goals as well as specifically important aspects of that goal are also highlighted. 

With its VLR, Mannheim wishes to demonstrate how a city can incorporate the SDGs in their daily work as well as work inclusively with the 2030 Agenda framework. The citizens were able to meet with sustainability experts and city employees in order to take part in the debates on the SDGs in general and the development of the VLR in particular.

The City of Mannheim is in the process of conducting their second VLR, which will be submitted in the summer of 2022.

Participatory processes in localizing the SDGs
As a way to include all parts of society in the process of localizing the SDGs, the City of Mannheim developed its strategy, the Mannheim 2030 Mission Statement, together with the civil society in a broad participation process. The participatory process spanned from 2017 until 2019 and resulted in 1500 proposals for the new Mission Statement. The proposals that were submitted were based on the question: “Taking into account the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, what do we want life in our city to be like in 2030?”.

More than 2500 citizens participated actively when developing the Mission Statement. The City of Mannheim organized a so-called Urban Thinkers Campus, where 500 residents, together with international experts, discussed how the SDGs could be implemented and incorporated in the city. They facilitated workshops where citizens of Mannheim had the opportunity to discuss the SDGs and what was important to them with the mayor. An additional 10 000 citizens were involved through opinion polls and bigger events. The City of Mannheim disseminated surveys in order to collect ideas on how to implement the SDGs in the city. They used mass events like the May Fair as a way to reach the people: they requested input from the citizens on the SDGs. Furthermore, Mannheim engaged the community by putting out a photo box where they could get photographed with different SDGs and publish it on social media. With these events, Mannheim were able to communicate the SDGs to a wider audience.

Further reading:

The Implementation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in Mannheim 2030

Mission Statement Mannheim 2030


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Involving the citizens

Voluntary Local Review
The City of Bonn published its first Voluntary Local Review in 2020. Its structure is based on Bonn’s municipal Sustainability Strategy and focuses on six fields of action: Mobility, Climate and Energy, Natural Resources and the Environment, Labor and Business, Social Participation and Gender, and Global Responsibility and One World. Within the fields of action, several indicators have been identified and illustrate the development in those areas.

Bonn identifies the VLR as an important tool to spread information and education on the 2030 Agenda framework as a whole. The purpose of the VLR is to make the SDGs more accessible, and encourage a discussion about them between different societal stakeholders. Such a review can highlight and demonstrate the connections between the individual activities and projects that are organized by the city and the SDGs. Bonn’s VLR is meant to be read by local and national citizens as well as the international community.

The City of Bonn is in the process of conducting their second VLR, which will be published in June 2022.  

Involving the citizens
The City of Bonn has identified how the VLR can act as a tool to engage a dialogue with the citizens. The VLR presents a description of how the city is working with the SDGs by connecting them with the city’s fields of action. In that way, the VLR provides the residents of Bonn with necessary information and invites them to a substantiated discussion of the SDGs. However, the lack of knowledge about the SDGs makes it difficult for citizens to participate in their own cities’ localization of the global goals. The City of Bonn has tried to counteract this lack of awareness and knowledge by organizing events that puts the 2030 Agenda and sustainable development at the center of the discussion. Once a year, Bonn has the so-called SDG Days, during which they organize events that relate to the SDGs. The events bring the goals closer to the people by making them more comprehensible. The purpose is not so much to make the citizens understand the 2030 Agenda in general, but rather the idea behind it. 

The SDG Days is a way to achieve the city’s goal of spreading awareness regarding sustainability issues. During these days, parts of the city are decorated with bright colors in the spirit of the 2030 Agenda visual. Since the start of the programme in 2018, the events have always included a SDG wheel, on which the 17 goals are illustrated and explained; and the citizens have had the opportunity to engage in discussions about how the SDGs impact their daily lives, and to calculate their individual CO2 footprint. The events that are organized by the city are accompanied by other organization’s initiatives that also relate to the sustainability framework, and shops on the main street participate by decorating their windows and arrange events. 

Further reading:

Voluntary Local Review – Agenda 2030 on the local level. Implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Bonn


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A tool to fuel

Voluntary Local Review
The Municipality of Gladsaxe submitted its first Voluntary Local Review in 2021. The purpose of their VLR was to describe their main approach to the SDGs and present examples of how they have worked towards achieving the global goals within the city administration. Gladsaxe conducts a review of the municipality’s goals and targets every year. The VLR acted as a summary of important aspects and conclusions – with both quantitative and qualitative examples – from the two most recent municipal reviews.

The VLR is structured so that the first part covers the municipality’s strategic approach to the SDGs and the progress within sustainable development in Gladsaxe. In the subsequent part, guidance on their continued work with the 2030 Agenda framework is presented. Lastly, the municipal strategy is incorporated as well as the municipal goals and targets. 

The Municipality of Gladsaxe is now in the process of conducting their second VLR and are planning to submit it in the summer of 2022. 

A tool to fuel
The municipality of Gladsaxe has used the 2030 Agenda framework as a way to fuel their city’s sustainability work: by incorporating the SDGs into the city strategy and other steering documents, Gladsaxe has noticed that it raises the bar in their work towards achieving sustainable development.  

The SDGs and the strategy have provided a shared frame of reference for initiatives and actions in practice within the city organization, as well as a platform for ideas and initiatives in the local environment through partnerships and action at all levels. The cases and the development in Gladsaxe more generally shows a strategy growing within the organization and beyond as the mutual ambition of the city council and across the organization. Both political and administrative leaders highlight the importance of working together to achieve sustainable development.Gladsaxe has identified how the SDGs constitute a source of inspiration to leaders as well as employees in Gladsaxe: they get new ideas on activities and projects – and they offer incentives to work together with other local actors in a bottom-up approach. 

Because of the fact that the SDGs offer new ideas on how to work with sustainable development in a systematic way, the Municipality of Gladsaxe is ready to incorporate more of the goals in the city strategy. The VLR presents opportunities to evaluate these ideas and activities and Gladsaxe aims to make it into a part of their follow-up for the city.

Further reading:

The 2030 Agenda on the Local Level: a Voluntary Local Review from Gladsaxe, Denmark


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Raise the awareness of sustainability issues

Voluntary Local Review
The City of Tampere will submit their first Voluntary Local Review in the summer of 2022. While in the process of conducting it, they have had close cooperation with the six largest cities in Finland, including the four that have published a VLR.

Tampere’s first VLR is aimed for the internal organization: the purpose is to make the SDGs more accessible to the city employees and identify what the most important perspectives are for the City of Tampere. They are analyzing the city’s main steering documents and the city strategy, and connect them to the SDGs by using the same key indicators as in the strategy.

The purpose with the VLR is to serve as a guidebook for further discussion on the 2030 Agenda framework and the SDGs locally and internally. 

Raise the awareness of sustainability issues
Tampere’s development programme for 2017-2021, Smart Tampere, highlighted and boosted smart and sustainable urban development in Tampere. The programme consisted of three parts: Digitalization programme, Ecosystem programme and Sustainable Tampere Programme. The Sustainable Tampere Programme focused on the city’s goal to be carbon-neutral by 2030. Within the programme, Tampere established initiatives and projects that in different ways approached sustainable development in a more accessible way and incorporated all of the city. One of these initiatives was the Climate Partnership, which had the purpose of involving companies, associations and communities in achieving carbon-neutrality. The societal stakeholders that took part in the initiative were tasked to identify their key emissions and thereafter develop a plan for how to reduce them. The partnership offered both visibility for the stakeholders’ climate work, as well as guidance in their continued work. 

The Sustainable Tampere Programme also brought sustainability closer to the citizens and raised awareness of climate issues, by – among other things – releasing Tampere’s own version of the mobile game My2050. The My2050 game approaches climate change in an informative yet entertaining way. It takes the player on an adventure within Tampere’s city walls: the player explores the city and can collect coins from solving tasks. The game is similar to geocaching and escape rooms, and presents facts of the current climate crisis and possible future scenarios. Beside Tampere, the mobile game has been released in Espoo, Helsinki, Vantaa and Turku.

In the new city strategy, City of Action, Tampere has reinforced its commitment to work towards a sustainable future by incorporating the SDGs. Through the strategy, the 2030 Agenda framework has been brought into light and will be guiding the continued work with sustainability issues in the city.

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Collaboration between cities

Voluntary Local Review
The City of Turku conducted its first Voluntary Local Review in 2020. For the review, Turku chose to incorporate all 17 SDGs and the targets that were relevant for the local level. However, they focused on four goals: clean water and sanitation; reduced inequality; climate action; and partnerships for the goals. The goals were chosen based on the premise that Turku has great knowledge about and experience working with such issues as well as strong indicators for measuring them. 

In the VLR, Turku’s strategy document, Turku 2029 City Strategy, as well as city projects and activities that implemented the strategy are analyzed. The report also analyzed a few central activities that had been implemented in each of the five city departments and strategic units. The VLR was constructed together with officials and experts from different departments within the city organization: they were invited to participate in workshops and interviews, as well as answer survey questions on how they are working with the SDGs. 

Turku identified the VLR as an instrument to communicate the city’s sustainability work with the citizens. They also saw the review as a way to inspire Finnish cities as well as cities outside the country on how to work systematically with the SDGs, by presenting good examples from their own experiences. 

The City of Turku is in the process of developing their second VLR, which will be submitted in the summer of 2022.

Six City Strategy
The need for collaboration between cities in issues concerning sustainable development has made the City of Turku join national platforms for cooperation – one of them being the Six City Strategy. The network consists of the six largest cities in Finland: in addition to Turku, the members are Helsinki, Espoo, Tampere, Vantaa and Oulu. The Six City Strategy is a joint strategy for the cities, with the purpose of working together to overcome the challenges with sustainable development in urban settings. The cities cooperate on a strategic as well as operational level. 

Within the network, activities and projects are organized with the common goal of accelerating the achievement of the SDGs. The six cities share the objective of being carbon neutral. One of the many projects that has been organized to achieve this is the establishment of a national network for circular economy hubs.

Within the network, the cities have had the opportunity to share experiences on working with the SDGs and discuss how cities could and should work to achieve the goals. The network proved to be an important forum for the City of Turku, because it offered a way to discuss mutual goals and challenges with the 2030 Agenda framework.

Further reading:

A Voluntary Local Review 2020 – The implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the City of Turku

Six City Strategy


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Strong indicators

Voluntary Local Review
The City of Helsinki has identified the Voluntary Local Review as an important step on the way to successfully implement the SDGs on the local level. Helsinki was the second city in the world to conduct a VLR: by the time they submitted their first VLR in 2019, only the City of New York had published one. The first VLR described the Helsinki City Strategy and how it connected to the SDGs, as well as how the city was working to promote and monitor the implementation of the global goals. The projects highlighted in the first VLR were chosen based on their importance for the realization of the City Strategy. Helsinki chose to focus on five of the SDGs in their VLR. The purpose of the review was to produce information about the city’s SDG work in an accessible way and act as a strategic tool for the city administration.

The City of Helsinki published its second Voluntary Local Review in 2021. In contrast to Helsinki’s first VLR, their second one was more comprehensive: it incorporated all SDGs and went beyond analyzing the strategy to instead cover the entire organization. The purpose of this review was to review progress through indicators as well as present qualitative descriptions of the city’s activities. A new city strategy was adopted after the second VLR had been published. In the strategy, Helsinki highlighted their work with evaluating the SDGs and confirmed their commitment to continue to monitor the development in the city.

In order to decide on what indicators to include in the VLR, the City of Helsinki established a working group with the purpose of creating an indicator set for the city’s monitoring. The working group consisted of officials from different departments of the city organization. They started with hundreds of indicators, and ended up choosing 50 of them – including a selection of key indicators that were based on the Helsinki City Strategy. Helsinki realized during the process of identifying indicators that it was important not to exclude too many: it may be easier to have a smaller indicator set – however, it does not do reality justice since it may result in that important aspects are excluded. 

The progress of the indicators are highlighted and discussed in the VLR. In addition to that, the indicators are also presented on an electronic dashboard on a website where anyone who would like can follow the sustainable development in Helsinki. The indicators are presented in three main categories based on what dimension of sustainable development they address: social, ecological or economic sustainability. The indicators are updated continuously.


Further reading:

Helsinki Voluntary Local Review: From Agenda to Action – The Implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Helsinki 2019

From Agenda to Action 2021 – Implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Helsinki

Are you interested in seeing how Helsinki is doing on the Sustainable Development Goals? Click here to follow the development within social sustainability, ecological sustainability and/or economic sustainability.


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Sensemaking of the Global 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


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