Guest article written by Francisco J. Granados (PhD) is researcher at the Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals (IBEI) and Andrea Noferini (PhD) is researcher at Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and IBEI.

The 2030 Agenda aspires to be transformational in regards to policymaking and policy outcomes.  It was the result of a universal and inclusive process, and the hope is that stakeholders, governments and public administrations—who were able to shape the Agenda introducing “their” goals—will be supportive, motivated and committed to its implementation.  The global legitimacy of the 2030 Agenda can help in making the SDGs more successful than the previous Millennium Development Goals.

The transformative character of the 2030 Agenda will likely pose important challenges to its implementation. Policy reforms usually find resistance and raise confrontation among social groups and policy actors that are somehow negatively affected or threatened by them.  Therefore, attaining policy support becomes a central aspect in the implementation of the SDGs.

Regions are key actors for the success of SDGs-related reforms. But can regions make a distinctive contribution to the implementation of the SDGs?

In our study,[1] commissioned by the Generalitat of Catalonia (through its Agency for Development Cooperation) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), we consider how the implementation of the 2030 Agenda can benefit from the policy capabilities of subnational governments and local stakeholders to strengthen the effectiveness and legitimacy of localized policy processes, thus, generating the necessary policy support for a successful implementation of the SDGs.

We suggest that attaining and maintaining a persistent commitment to the long-term implementation of the 2030 Agenda is more feasible when policy processes generate highly effective and legitimate policies. Our main argument contends that the strengthening of policy legitimacy and effectiveness is facilitated by the localization of policy processes at the subnational level.

Our analysis focuses on three policy elements —all them central in the 2030 Agenda— fundamental to promote policy support by fostering effectiveness and legitimacy: stakeholder participation, monitoring, and institutional coordination. The study suggests that obtaining and maintaining constant policy support to implement the 2030 Agenda is more feasible if policy effectiveness and legitimacy is strengthened by (a) observing the preferences of stakeholders in the definition of SDG policies and making them participant of the policy process, (b) setting monitoring systems that contribute to the accountability of the political authorities responsible of implementing SDGs, and (c) fostering appropriate institutional coordination among government levels and policy domains involved in the creation of policies of multi-sectoral character.

The study identifies a set of policy benefits associated to the localization of policy processes that can be better achieved by subnational governments, thanks to their comparative advantage to adjust policies to the specific development and policy circumstances of their specific territories, as well as to their capability to involve the local stakeholders along all the stages of the policy cycle.

The relevance of the contextual character of SDG implementation precludes us from offering specific “one-fits-all” policy solutions valid for the wide variety of existing territories and subnational governments. They show great variation in size, development level, policy resources, autonomy and competences, or stakeholder configuration.  These differential factors can affect and importantly constrain the fate of policy processes. Nevertheless, it is safe to suggest that any action from subnational governments towards fostering inclusive stakeholder participation, institutional coordination and policy monitoring will likely favour an implementation of the 2030 Agenda that yields more appreciated policy results.

Our study indicates that the involvement of regional (and also municipal) governments in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda is not only justified by their extant policy responsibilities in sectors concerning SDGs but also because their relative position within the administration grants them a comparative advantage to set localized policy processes that favour policy effectiveness and legitimacy, thus ensuring the policy support necessary to implement the 2030 Agenda.

[1] The study is currently under revision and will be published between summer and fall of 2020.