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SDG Interactions and Policy Interventions in Developing Countries (NWA)

This research programme aims to encourage research focusing on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) interactions and policy interventions in developing countries. The consortia will work in an inter- and transdisciplinary manner, internationally and across the entire knowledge chain.

  • Aim and objectives

    The research programme on the theme ‘SDG Interactions and policy Interventions in Developing Countries’ is part of programme line 2 of the Dutch Research Agenda (NWA) programme. The initiator of this research programme is the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

    The aim of the research programme is to gain new insights into the interdependencies between the  Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the way in which they can influence each other - positively or negatively - and what and their effects and impact is on policy interventions. The Dutch foreign trade and development cooperation policy is partly based on assumptions on this process, but they need to be further investigated. For example, we expect the research to provide tools for integrated and better substantiated policies for achieving the SDGs worldwide.

    Three themes

    Three themes are elaborated within the programme.

    1. Governance and decision-making regarding the SDG process: underlying questions focus on knowledge and advice on SDG policy coherence in a multiform context in developing countries.
    2. Synergy and trade-offs between individual SDG objectives, especially in the field of interventions to promote food security and the agro-sector.
    3. Climate change as a security risk: climate is often seen by policy makers as a threat multiplier for conflict and instability. But under what circumstances does this apply or not and how can early warning / early action processes in peace missions be improved?

    One consortium will be funded within each theme. The research teams must use a flexible working method, whereby they frequently contribute to policy dialogues and knowledge sharing, and to the synthesis and use of the insights gained during the implementation of their project.

  • Background

    Inclusive global development is a ‘wicked problem’. Insecurities, opposing values, changing conditions and mutual dependencies may complicate the pursuit of coherent solutions; partial solutions in one sector may evoke new challenges elsewhere. The separate Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) therefore have to be addressed comprehensively and new approaches are needed.

    The aim of this research programme is to generate new insights into the ways in which SDGs interact – both positively and negatively – and about the impact on policy interventions and outcomes. This research programme aims to rigorously map, analyse and explain the complex interactions of SDGs to inform integrated and evidence-based SDG policies in the Netherlands and around the world. Evidence-based knowledge is needed to test and investigate the assumptions of the Netherlands BHOS policy.

    In particular, the research programme focuses on the following three themes:

    Theme 1 – SDG governance and decision-making

    Research under this theme will address the challenges of SDG implementation with a focus on effective results in the developing world and with a specific (and changing) role for Official Development Assistance (ODA).

    Theme 2 – Addressing trade-offs between food security and nutrition (SDG2) and other SDGs

    Research under this theme will identify and analyse SDG trade-offs in the selected local food systems, main value chains and most important interrelated domains. It will compile good practices on how specific SDG trade-offs are addressed in other contexts and explore how local practices already partially deal with such trade-offs. Moreover, research will also investigate how to enhance potential synergies. Finally, research will focus on operationalising policy implications, in interaction with policy makers and other public, private and civil stakeholders, and on developing pilot interventions to address specific SDG trade-offs and enhance synergies.

    Theme 3 – Climate change (SDG13) and conflict (SDG16)

    Climate change is often assumed to be a ‘threat amplifier’ for violent conflict, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected settings. Research under this theme will focus on unravelling these mechanisms in order to identify clearer intervention points for conflict prevention and peacebuilding. It concerns the mapping and analysing of specific contexts, existing conflict dynamics and tipping points towards violent conflict and the role of climate change therein.

    NWA Line 2

    Part of this programme will be realised in the context of programme line 2. Programme line 2 covers thematic programmes suitable for a broad NWA approach and that are developed in consultation with the ministries.


    A focus on knowledge transfer, knowledge utilisation and application of results throughout the duration of the projects is of vital importance for this call. This optimises the societal embedding of the call and creates support for the results to be used for policy and implementation.

  • Budget and duration

    A total budget of 6.15 million euros is available for this call for proposals.

  • Knowledge brokering project

    The 'Knowledge Brokering and Synthesis' project serves to bring their insights together and ensure that the research results become more than the sum of its parts.

    The research project will follow a transdisciplinary approach to knowledge brokering and synthesis over the next five years. The consortium - consisting of Dr Nicky Pouw (University of Amsterdam), Prof. Dzodzi Tsikata (University of Ghana) and Yannicke Goris (The Broker, The Hague) - will analyse, synthesise and share the research results with a wide audience of policy makers, development workers, academics and other relevant stakeholders. But as the practice of knowledge brokering implies, this project is about more than just synthesis and dissemination. Building bridges between different fields of knowledge - science, policy and practice - and stimulating closer cooperation and mutual knowledge exchange is central to the project. All with the aim of developing innovative solutions to optimise SDG interactions for inclusive development.

  • Projects

    Theme 1 – SDG governance and decision-making

    Beyond cherry-picking: aligning development actors and efforts for inclusive and effective governance of trade-offs and synergies between SDGs in East Africa

    Project lead: Prof. Art Dewulf, Public Administration and Policy group, Wageningen University and Research.

    Geographical focus: Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda

    This project analyses how governance mechanisms for cross-level and cross-sector alignment can transform a fragmented SDG governance context into an inclusive and effective polycentric governance system that allows trade-offs to be addressed and synergies to be built between SDGs. Transdisciplinary research platforms will be set up around multi-level case studies on synergies and trade-offs with life on land (SDG 15) in Ethiopia, with zero hunger (SDG 2) in Kenya, and with clean water and sanitation (SDG6) in Uganda.  The project will contribute to transforming a fragmented SDG governance regime into an inclusive and effective polycentric governance regime, where development actors take account of one another and strive to coordinate efforts to address trade-offs and build synergies.

    Theme 2 – Addressing trade-offs between food and nutrition security (SDG2) and other SDGs

    Improving food and nutrition security by enhancing women’s empowerment

    Project lead: Prof. Robert Lensink, Professor of Finance and Financial markets, University of Groningen.

    Geographical focus: Bangladesh and Ethiopia

    Women’s empowerment affects household food security and dietary diversity as well as women’s own BMI. However, women’s empowerment has many dimensions and not all are conducive to better nutrition. This project analyses in what ways women’s empowerment may affect nutrition security and effect zero hunger (SDG 2). This study is innovative as it provides a new pathways framework of how women’s empowerment relates to food and nutrition security. It is also the first study that tests a combination of conventional economic interventions with newly developed modules focusing on psychological constraints as well as gender norms.

    Theme 3 – Climate change (SDG13) and conflict (SDG16)

    From Climate Change to Conflict: Mitigation through Insurance?

    Project lead:  Dr Karlijn Morsink, Utrecht University School of Economics, Assistant Professor.

    Geographical focus: Kenya and Ethiopia

    This study asks how and to what extent conflict is impacted by climate-induced weather shocks and insurance. Based on a mixed-methods research design we study a well-established drought insurance product for pastoralists in Ethiopia and Kenya which is being considered for scale-up across the Sahel and Horn. The scientific breakthroughs will be an understanding of the complex relationships between climate-induced weather shocks, insurance, and conflict and cooperation, as well as the design of an insurance-based intervention that reduces conflict. The envisaged societal breakthroughs will be a reduced impact of climate-induced weather shocks (SDG13) on conflict (SDG16), increased adaptation to climate change (SDG 13), financial inclusion (SDG9), increased productivity (SDG8), and a reduction in inequality (SDG 5, 10) for those insured, as well as their communities and societies.

  • Partners

    The initiator of this programme is the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is being developed within the 'SDGs for inclusive global development' route of the Dutch Research Agenda (NWA).

Approaches to study SDG interactions

Literature review of relevant frameworks

This is the first knowledge product produced by the project team responsible for the Knowledge Brokering and Synthesis project (KBS project). By identifying and outlining the most relevant and recent scientific approaches to study SDG interactions, it serves a dual goal: 1) acquire a first insight into the state-of-the-art-literature and current scientific debates on SDG Interactions; 2) provide the three selected research consortia with a ‘springboard’ from which they can commence their literature reviews targeted to their own thematic foci.


Dr Martijn Wienia - NWA

Dr Martijn Wienia - NWA
Senior Policy Officer

+31 (0)70 3494352

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