As you unpack your assumptions and begin exploring how to start a lab, it’s important to understand the Mindset of the 2030 Agenda in terms of the three paradigms of Integration, Collaboration and Innovation. Because we'll never find new, sustainable solutions if we only look at challenges in an obvious, compartmentalised way.

In this short video, SDG Lab Director Nadia Isler relates her experiences of how to advance the 2030 Agenda through Integration, Collaboration and Innovation.

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Mapping your network

Once you have confirmed your basic assumptions about the initiative you want to build, you can map the network of actors and stakeholders who are relevant to your SDG focus.

Key areas to cover include:

  • What value does each actor add? 
  • What is the strength of your network?
  • What is the weakness of your network?
  • Who is missing?
  • Who is a 'champion'?
  • Which key stakeholders still need to be convinced?
Top Tip: if everyone agrees with you and looks like you, it’s a problem!

New relationships

You will potentially have some stakeholders who are already known to you. But you are also likely to want to connect with many new people, too.

Look at which people and relationships are missing from your network, so you can generate a bird’s eye view. Remember to test your assumptions. Who might you have missed? Cross-check with others – never hesitate to share your analysis with other people.

Start by looking at who’s active on the SDGs, but then go more granular in terms of understanding what drives them and what their mandates are. What are their incentives (or lack of incentives) to collaborate and engage?

Building relationships

To build a community, you need to start by being genuinely interested in what others are doing, before you can expect them to show an interest in you. Seek to understand their constraints, priorities and challenges before you seek their inputs.

The reality is that it takes a lot of time to build relationships, so you would be wise to plan for this. If you want to connect with people, go to a lot of the events that are happening in your community, so that you know why they're happening and what other people are doing.

Always remember to treat people like human beings. Support their efforts, and try to get to know them as people. Remember - when you are trying to create a community, you need to be approachable.

It’s best to start small and informally, with people likely to support the SDGs – and your specific focus. Later on, you can start to talk to people you have to convince (e.g. potential sceptics) but at the start, it’s best to prioritise people who want to engage.

Test your ideas

Once you have established some relationships, the key thing at this stage is to get feedback on your basic assumptions.
Gather feedback BEFORE starting to actively convene a community around the SDGs, in order to advance your Goals.
It’s time to start testing your ideas with other people – and the act of doing so brings its own benefits, whatever feedback you get, as people like to be consulted. Run your current assumptions past an informed audience, and carefully note their ideas, opinions and suggestions.
Tip: Pay attention to who does not agree with your assumptions and approach. Could any of them block your efforts? If so, spend time with them to protect your space to operate. Not everyone needs to be a cheerleader, but take measured consideration of their points.

Suggested Approaches

You may have to ‘start small’ by having coffee with individuals, and just chatting.

Then, once you have built an initial network of people you can talk to, one useful approach is to hold an initial visioning exercise around what you should be doing. Facilitate a meaningful, inclusive workshop to create a trustworthy community space. You can then have a constant dialogue with people, being open about what you know – and don’t know.

Framing yourself as a lab should help with this, as people understand that experimentation means risk, as well as learning as you go.

Strive to really listen to the feedback you get, from as many diverse stakeholders as possible. This could take weeks or months – but once you have really listened to what your community thinks about what you have to offer, you will have some invaluable intelligence to reflect on.
Tip: If you’re comfortable, you’re not growing! You want people to challenge you, as this is how to expand your knowledge.
It can be really helpful to look to the experience of other organizations, to see how what they’ve learned through experience might apply to your own situation.

What approaches to integration, collaboration and innovation might also work for you?

  • Do you have multiple sectors represented?
  • Do you have diversity in your meetings?
  • Do you have an interesting meeting plan or innovative tools? What are things you could try to help people think outside the box?

Please consult these links and additional resources to learn more:

  • We were inspired by a book called ‘Sprint’ by Jake Knapp, where he describes how innovation sprints were used to solve challenges. We modified the key principles of this book to fit our situation and timeline
  • If you’re looking for an academic paper covering these issues, we recommend this one
  • We really like the creativity of this article on implementing the SDGs
  • Learn more about how to innovate with better meetings here
  • Here are some comprehensive guides/tools covering integration and collaboration
  • What innovation actually means in the context of an SDG Lab
We’re always interested in benefitting from the experiences of others. If you have any case studies or other learnings you would like to pass on to us, please send them to SDG Lab Geneva.