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Sustainable Development Agenda

and Information and Knowledge

(Alexandru Toma, IS & KM Expert)
Project office under UN DESA
• 1. What does UNOSD do?
• 2. The Sustainable Development Agenda
– history and post-2015
• 3. Information and knowledge needs and
issues in SD, our approach
• 4. Conclusions, Q&A
What does UNOSD do?
• Mandate
– Help UN member states
to use knowledge for
sustainability transitions

• Small office (6 persons)

– Broker knowledge, build
capacity, advise, do
targeted research,
establish partnerships
Some illustrations
• www.unosd.org
– Our “corporate” site
– Mission, about us, our activities
• www.sdtweb.org
– SD knowledge aggregation and analysis
– Focus on networks, knowledge flows and SD
capacity building
2. The Sustainable Development
• What is Sustainable Development (SD) –
Wikipedia image
A Short History of the SD agenda
• Stockholm, 1972
• Brundtland report (1987)
• Rio Earth Summit 1992
• Johannesburg, 2002
• Rio + 20 (2012)
• Establishment of the OWG (2013)
• OWG sessions, convergence of
development and SD, proposal of SDGs
Brundtland, Stockholm and before
• “Only One Earth”, “Limits to Growth”
• Stockholm 1972: recognition that
environment and development are related
• Stockholm principles
• Creation of United Nations Environmental
Program (UNEP)
• Brundtland report (1985): SD is “development
that meets the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs”
Rio Earth Summit 1992
• Biggest UN conference ever at the time
(20000 attendees)
• Involvement of civil society, negotiations,
international soft legislation (Agenda 21,
Rio Principles, UN Principles on Forests,
Convention on Biodiversity, UN
Framework Convention on Climate
• Positive and negative echos
Leblanc and Roehrl 2013 (Summer School)
Leblanc and Roehrl 2013 (Summer School)
Rio + 20
• 2012: Rio+20, Johannesburg +10…
• Objectives:
– Secure renewed political commitment for
sustainable development
– Assess progress to date and the remaining
gaps in the implementation of the outcomes
of the major summits on SD
– Addressing new and emerging challenges
• More than 40000 participants, 500 side
events, thousands NGOs
Rio + 20
• Tough negotiations on green economy,
institutional framework, means of
• Initial negotiation text
– 20-page initial text from 6,000 pages of official
inputs submitted by governments, NGOs,
international organizations
– all submissions accessible online (first time ever?)
• Text turned into 280 pages of negotiating
text after first reading…
• Finally, 72 pages and 273 paragraphs
document, “The future we want”
• Mixed perception of results
Leblanc and Roehrl 2013 (Summer School)
Convergence with development
• MDGs for developing countries
• Partly successful
• End in 2015
OWG sessions, proposal of SDGs
• Establishment of the OWG (2013)
• Sessions (2013-2014)
• Huge amount of sumbmissions
• Negotiations with a lot of partners
• Proposal for SDGs July 2014 (17 goals,
169 targets)
• Will (most probably) be approved
September 2015

1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
• 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable
• 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
• 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning
opportunities for all
• 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
• 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
• 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
• 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive
employment and decent work for all
• 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and
foster innovation
• 10 Reduce inequality within and among countries
• 11 Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
• 12 Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
• 13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
• 14 Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable
• 15 Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably
manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt
biodiversity loss
• 16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to
justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
• 17 Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for
sustainable development
Source: The Road to Dignity 2030, Synthesis report of the Secretary-
General on the post-2015 sustainable development agenda
SDG process & SDGs - summary
• Long and complex process
• Complex result (17 goals, 169 targets)
• Additional difficulties in implementation,
integrated approach, monitoring and
evaluation (Global SD report
• Difficult negotiations
• Some criticism
What are some of the
• Caricature of (economic) schools of thought:
• Mainstream: What we need is growth and free trade –
when we are richer we will clean up. GDP
• Environmental economics: main issue is externalities.
Internalizing them in the economic system will do the
job. Economic incentives. Goal: achieve absolute
• Ecological economics: the size of the economy has
become too big (growth is “uneconomic”). We have to
aim to stop material growth of the economy (strong
decoupling). Steady-state economy.
• Deep ecology: the space taken by the human species
is so hue that it will lead to ecological collapse in the
next century. Need to drastically reduce human
Leblanc and Roehrl 2013 (Summer School)
If there are limits… how to share?

Leblanc and Roehrl 2013 (Summer School)

(Fortier 2013)
(Fortier 2013)
SD and SDGs – extremely complex
“object” with possible different
frames of reference
• One possibility to view
these frames: Boland
and Deal’s Reframing
Organizations: Artistry,
Choice and Leadership
Source: http://www.slideshare.net/PhilVincent1/fourframe-model
Relevant frames for SD & SDGs
• Technical – logical frame (structural):
scientific modeling (biophysical,
economical, social)
• Politico-economic frame: what interests
are at stake, how do I push my own
• Symbolic frame: what is “good”, has
meaning, I should believe in?
Relevant frames for SD & SDGs
• Politico-economic frame seems to be
the dominant
• Technical and symbolic arguments seem
to be used to push politico-economic
• The rest of the presentation – on
information and knowledge – takes a
technical perspective
Some (verified) additional
resources on SD & SDGs
• Official site of DSD
( sustainabledevelopment.un.org )
• Coursera courses The Age of Sustainable
Development (or the short version
Introduction to Sustainable Development,
available continuously) by Jeffrey Sachs,
former adviser to Kofi Annan and manager
• For an alternative view, the Copenhagen
Consensus Center
3. Information and knowledge
needs and issues in SD
• SD is a fashionable yet poorly defined
term (think "big data")
• Increased momentum (post-2015 agenda)
• Complex, integration, multiple facets
• Lots of political issues (purely political
related to implementation, economic,
greenwashing, territory)
• Lots of duplication of efforts
Information and knowledge
gaps: HOW to find what we know exists?

Let’s have a little game:

Who is this man?

(Google would know)

Wikipedia image
Information and knowledge
gaps: HOW to find what we know exists?
Now you probably know…

Wikipedia images
Scott Adam’s medical condition
• "...how could I find a name for a condition that was
unfamiliar to two ear-nose-throat doctors, two voice
specialists, a psychologist, a neurologist, and my general
practitioner? There was only one creature smarter than
all of those doctors put together: the Internet."

• "I opened a Google search box and tried a variety of voice-

related key words. I found nothing useful. My searches were
too broad. And then something interesting happened. It's a
phenomenon that people in creative jobs experience often,
but it might be unfamiliar to the rest of you. Suddenly, out
of nowhere, two totally unrelated thoughts - separated by
topic, time and distance - came together in my head."
“New” characteristics of knowledge
(“Too big to know”- DW)
• Abundance
• Links
• Permission – free
• Public
• Unresolved

• ? Awareness + Trust
Changes to the knowledge
landscape (Jonas Sachs)
• Broadcast era:
– Survival of the richest
– Transmission is one to many
– Ideas are proprietary
• Digitoral era:
– Survival of the fittest (ideas)
– Transmission is a web
– Everyone owns ideas
So what?
• Networks (all senses) are important
• Microcontent is important (“is your goal
• Stories, short movies, blog posts…
• Tags, the intelligence of crowds / tribes,
• How people use information is new
information (digg, del.icio.us,…)
• Aggregators - Do what you do best, link
to the rest (WWGD – Jeff Jarvis)
Other interesting trends in KM
• In addition to the known and usual (and not
always successful) ideas of DIKW pyramid,
tacit/explicit, knowledge cycle
• Concentrate on flow, not stock
• Crowdsourcing human microactivities
• Information link aggregation and information
• Boundary domains and know-do gap
• Non traditional thinking (behavioral economy,
black swans, storytelling, non apocalyptic
Other interesting trends in KM (2)
• Change from authority to link filter
• Everything and its contrary (DW)
• E-learning and MOOCs, democratization of
educational video
• Global village and increased tribalization (cultural
relativism, echo chambers)
• Linked open data, mining or aggregating data
from existing sharing platforms, organizational
Web sites and search engines
• Semantic web / folksonomies to deal with
human-solvable ambiguity
sdtweb.org: networks & links
What communication to what
Contributors Facilitators

• General public: less interesting, but still
would need education
• Contributors (government employees):
main target, need access to knowledge,
CB, communities…
• Facilitators (experts): can help with
knowledge brokering and validate our
What issue(s) are we trying to solve?

• Information / knowledge awareness

– Resources (informational, educational, financial)
exist but potential users are not aware
• Different discourses (“clusters” and
interests, priorities) - political
– GG, GE, DG,…
• Know-do gap (boundary issues) - political
– What should be done is known but not done
What type of information /
knowledge already exists?
• Lots of sites (and physical repositories)
containing information artefacts: reports,
studies, “stories”, case studies,
organizational process documents, …
• Generally searchable (on each site!) using
incompatible criteria
• Additional artefacts: organizations and their
links, web sites, web pages, blog posts,
events, courses, CB programs, tools, best
practices, actors (people, organizations)…
• Links and tags
What are the issues / solutions
with existing information /
• Lots of not coordinated sites and other
information sources
– Semantic Web (not going to happen)

– Metadata extraction / creation
• Incommensurability, overlapping,
duplication of efforts
– Ontologies (NGTH), folksonomies,
communication, taxonomy mapping
• Sheer size / number of artefacts
– Indexing, compression
Components of our knowledge
platform project
• Container
– Data architecture (actors, artefacts, events,…)
– Better visual presentation / search /
navigation (all artefacts are related)
• Contents
• Community
Components of our knowledge
platform project
• Container
• Contents
– Most interesting objects (artefacts, events)
change often
– Extract information from the Web, social
– Tag contents
• Community
Components of our knowledge
platform project
• Container
• Contents
• Community
– Attract and retain users
– Get users to help in maintaining contents by
checking automatic extraction, tagging,
adding content
Ideas for future work
• Container: better visualisation / navigation
• Future)
Ideas for future work
• Contents: Web mining / intelligence
• Use NLP / data mining techniques
• Identify / extract actors, artefacts, events,
• Compress information and tag them

• Some pioneering applications (military /

intelligence): Palantir Technologies,
Recorded Future…
Ideas for future work
• Community: use gamification / serious
games / crowdsourcing techniques to
engage users

• Don’t re-write Google!

4. Conclusions, Q&A
• SD & SDGs history / agenda
• A real world problem, with its
characteristics (important, messy,
complex, ill structured)
• Interface between knowledge, action,

• Questions and comments?

• toma@un.org