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World Development Vol. 34, No. 12, pp.

20472063, 2006
 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved
0305-750X/$ - see front matter


Coordination, Challenges, and Innovations in

19 National Sustainable Development StrategiesI
European Environment Agency, Copenhagen, Denmark
International Institute for Sustainable Development, Winnipeg, Canada
Environmental Policy Research Centre, Berlin, Germany
Stratos Inc., Ottawa, Canada

International Institute for Sustainable Development, Winnipeg, Canada
Summary. In this article, we study 19 developing and developed countries to identify key challenges, approaches, and innovations in strategic and coordinated action for sustainable development at the national level. We are interested in the institutional fabric of implementing
sustainable development. What are governments actually doing to organize the processes required
for this? What are the institutional innovations in this regard and what kind of typologies can be

The opinions expressed here do not reect any ocial opinion of the European Environment Agency. They reect
personal opinions of the author and have been developed when the author was aliated with the Environmental
Policy Research Centre, Berlin.
* The paper has been developed as part of the project National Strategies for Sustainable Development. Challenges,
Approaches, and Innovations in Strategic and Coordinated Action that has been funded by Deutsche Gesellschaft
fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Foreign Aairs
Canada, and Environment Canada. The nal project report and all country case studies can be downloaded at: An earlier version of this paper has been presented at the 2004
Berlin Conference on the Human Dimension of Global Environmental Change, December 34, 2004 in Berlin. We
would like to thank all discussants for their comments. We are grateful for valuable comments provided by three
anonymous reviewers of World Development. We acknowledge the support and information provided by Jan-Peter
Schemmel and Harald Lossack of GTZ from the Government of Canada; Lynn Berthiaume, Lyn Ponniah, John
Eby, Gary Pringle, Nancy Hamzawi, Sandra Scott, Cynthia MacRae, Jennifer Moore, and Catherine Coleman from
IUCN; Andrew Deutz, Tabeth Chiuta, and Kirsten Rohrmann from the UN Division for Sustainable Development
and by all government ocials who provided input and feedback toward the development of the case studies.
Furthermore, we would like to thank all case study authors: Mary Jane Middelkoop, Barbara Sweazey, and Julie
Pezzack from Stratos Inc., Canada and Simone Klawitter, Doris Tharan, Stefan Lindemann, Mireia Tarradell,
Roland Zieschank, and Aleksandra Zlobinska from the Environmental Policy Research Centre, Freie Universitat of
Berlin, Germany. Final revision accepted: March 13, 2006.


Despite some true progress made, our ndings indicate that countries are still at the early stages
of learning toward eective action for sustainable development. This applies both to developing
and developed countries. Key unsolved challenges include (a) coordination with the national
budget, (b) coordination with sub-national level sustainable development strategies, and (c) coordination with other national-level strategy processes.
 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Key words sustainable development strategies, developing and developed countries, model of
strategic management, tool box

For over a decade now, the United Nations
has been asking countries to pursue strategic
and coordinated action for sustainable development through the creation of national sustainable development strategies (NSDS, see for an
overview UN DSD, 2004). Whereas the concept of sustainable development has established
itself successfully as a central guiding principle
for many dierent political institutions at all
levels of public and corporate decision making,
its translation into concrete action proves to be
a much more dicult challenge (Laerty, 2004;
Laerty & Meadowcraft, 2000; OECD, 2002).
Five years after the Earth Summit in 1992, a
Special Session of the United Nations came to
a disappointing progress review: single success
stories were outweighed by the overall failure
of countries to give appropriate political weight
to meaningful implementation (Brown, 1997).
This review led governments to agree on the
target of having a NSDS introduced by 2002,
the year of the World Summit on Sustainable
Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. Being
pushed by the OECD (OECD-DAC, 2001)
and the United Nations (UN International
Forum on National Strategies for Sustainable
Development, 2001), nearly all countries intensied eorts and subsequently adopted new or
revised NSDS shortly before or after the WSSD
(Jorgens, 2004).
A meaningful translation of the rather broad
paradigm of sustainable development into concrete action encounters many problems. International agencies (OECD, 2002; OECD-DAC,
2001; UN DESA, 2002) as well as academic
scholars (Dalal-Clayton & Bass, 2002; Janicke
& Jorgens, 2000; Martinuzzi & Steurer, 2003)
have developed a number of criteria of good
practice for NSDS. They have been broadly reected and repeatedly discussed in recent years.
The list of criteria comprises the development
of long-term visions and their linkage to
short-term action, institutions for horizontal

and vertical coordination, broad participation

by societal stakeholders, and a constant monitoring of action.
It is, however, also a well-known fact that
these approaches clash with the core functioning
principles of the modern government, like the
division of sectoral responsibilities, path-dependencies of policy development, or the mode of
negative coordination. Governmental discretion
for long-term action is further constrained by
the shortness of election and budget cycles.
In response to these clashes, strategies for
sustainable development were often introduced
as a tool to initiate change by learning and continuous adaptation rather than by challenging
the existing institutions and power structures.
Such an approach has been characterized as a
step-by-step procedure: developing an underlying vision through consensual, eective, and
iterative process; and going on to set objectives,
identify the means of achieving them, and then
monitor the achievement as a guide to the next
round of this learning process. (Dalal-Clayton
& Bass, 2002).
After more than a decade of strategic and
coordinated action for sustainable development
in many countries it is time to draw a balance:
what are the achievements so far? How has the
institutional landscape developed, both in
developing and developed countries? How far
are countries re-organizing their institutional
structures to comply with the needs of integrated and long-term decision making, learning,
and adaptation? Do remarkable dierences
between developing and developed countries
continue to exist or do trends converge?
During the last few years, a number of studies
have assessed progress at the national level. Recently, attention has been shifted from content
toward procedural and institutional aspects
(Dalal-Clayton & Bass, 2002; Steurer & Martinuzzi, 2005). This article contributes to this growing body of knowledge by comparing challenges,
approaches, and innovations in strategic and
coordinated action in 19 developing and devel-


oped countries. Building on current thinking we

develop a simple model that embraces important
aspects of strategy management such as leadership, planning, implementation, monitoring,
coordination, and participation. Our ndings
for 19 countries are featured to create a pragmatic toolbox to assist governmental managers
and policy makers. 1
This article proceeds as follows: In Section 2,
we will discuss our analytical framework and applied research methods. In Section 3, we present
empirical ndings, organized around the tenets
of strategic management and with a special focus
on coordination challenges. For each of the aspects of strategic management, the challenges,
and ndings will be described briey at rst, followed by a short highlighting of the best-practice
examples. Section 6 concludes our research ndings, focuses on possible trends and discusses the
question whether the current reforms in institutional structure of governments in both developing and developed countries are suited well
enough for the shifts that the implementation
of a strategic sustainability approach of continuous adaptation and learning, implies. 2


The successful integration of cross-cutting
issues such as sustainable development in
governmental practice can be described as a
function of (European Commission, 2004;
Steurer & Martinuzzi, 2005; SRU, 2004):
Leadership: governmental institutions
have to develop an underlying vision; and
concretize this vision further by setting overall objectives; this process has to be backed
by a high-level political commitment.
Planning: governmental institutions have
to set up a process to identify the means of
achieving objectives (institutional mechanisms, programmatic structures, and specic
policy initiatives).
Implementation: governmental institutions
have to employ and nance a mix of policy
initiatives regarding to the requirements of
Monitoring, review, and adaptation: governmental institutions have to develop,
monitor, and report of the indicators to
measure: (1) progress in implementing policy
initiatives and (2) the economic, social, and
environmental state of the country.


These four stages of strategic management

correlate well with the stages of the continuous
improvement approach to managing sustainable development strategies developed in the
2002 Sustainable Development Resource Book
(Dalal-Clayton & Bass, 2002). Additionally,
we focus on two of the cross-cutting aspects of
strategic management as identied in DalalClayton and Bass (2002), namely coordination
(e.g., with other strategy process, other levels
of government nancing mechanisms) and comprehensive multi-stakeholder participation. Put
together with the information gathered in our
case studies we get a roadmap of the challenges
ahead (see Figure 1). We do not assume that
practical processes follow such a linear model
and are also aware that aspects overlap. But
developing such a roadmap is useful as a heuristic tool for the comparison of 19 countries.
Our case studies are mainly based on interviews with government ocials, governmental
reports, and evaluation reports by international
agencies. The data are based primarily on self
reporting and therefore, we abstain from evaluating the implementation of the strategies. Given
the broad spectrum of issues covered in the national strategies, a comprehensive evaluation
would have required a much broader study with
much more data than we were able to collect.
Research was conducted on 19 developed and
developing countries from around the world
and for eorts both pre- and post-WSSD.
Countries studied were Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, Germany,
India, Madagascar, Mexico, Morocco, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, South Korea,
Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom as
well as the European Union. The criteria for
country selection included to have (a) a good
mix of developed and developing countries, (b)
broad geographic representation, (c) no extensive coverage in previous research, and (d)
inclusion of at least some potential leaders and
a diversity of approaches. National sustainable
development focal points had the opportunity
to provide feedback on the case studies, but
such contact was not successful in all cases.
(a) Leadership
The challenge of sustainable development concerns all departments and levels of government.



1. Leadership
Type of strategy approach
Demonstrating commitment and focus
Incorporating the inter-generational SD principle
Incorporating the interdependency SD principle


4. Monitoring

With budget processes

Tracking progress
toward strategies

2. Planning

With other strategies

With other levels of government

Understanding SD trends


Learning & Adaptation

legal basis
Institutional basis
Policy assessment

Institutionalizing participation
Building Trust

3. Implementation
Mix of policy initiatives

Figure 1. Roadmap to the challenges for strategic and coordinated action for sustainable development, put into relation
with the key tenets of strategic management. Source: Swanson et al. (2004, p. 7) (on the basis of Dalal-Clayton and
Bass, 2002).

A valid commitment of all relevant actors can

only be bought in by active leadership that
provides clear directives and track recording.
Commitment has to be underpinned by operationalized and quantied objectives. At its best,
it reects a profound understanding of sustainable development covering the interdependency
among economic, social, and environmental systems as well as the needs of current and future
generations (OECD-DAC, 2001).

In how far are these aspects covered in the

strategies of our sample? Findings can be summarized as follows (also see Table 1):
The choice of the strategic approach often reects long-standing institutional frameworkconditions, policy cultures, and regulatory
stiles. One approach might t the specic
circumstances for action in one country, but
may fail to address the circumstances for action
in another country. Countries have to adopt an

Table 1. Leadership challenges, tools, and innovations


Approaches and tools

Choosing approaches for

the strategy process

Demonstrating commitment
and focus

Quantied and time-bound

objectives (seven of 19 countries)
Constitutional provisions

Comprehensive strategy (15 countries)

Cross-sectoral strategy (four countries)
Sectoral strategies (Canada)
Integration with existing
planning process (Mexico)

Inter-generational principle of SD Long-term objectives

Addressing the linkages between
economic, social, and
environmental sustainability

Integrated policy assessment

Strategic sustainability assessment
Cross-cutting strategy objectives

Note: Some of the countries pursue more than one approach.

Source: Swanson et al. (2004, p. 7).

Examples and innovations

United Kingdom, Philippines
Cameroon and Madagascar
Sweden, Denmark
United Kingdom


approach that meets their specic needs and ts

with their institutional framework conditions
there is no single recipe. Sustainability can also
be dierently understood and thus strategically
operationalized, according to the circumstances: For example, the eradication of poverty
with the provision of basic human needs can
be the focus of strategic eorts in a developing
country, whereas the change of production and
consumption patterns and the quality of life
might be target areas of action in a developed
country. We observe four main approaches that
all serve to address the aims of Sustainable
Development: comprehensive and multi-dimensional (e.g., Philippine National Agenda 21,
German national sustainable development
strategy); cross-sectoral (e.g., the combination
of the SD strategy with the poverty reduction
strategy paper (PRSP) in Cameroon); sectoral
(e.g., Canada Departmental SD Strategies, also
United Kingdom); and the integration of SD
into existing planning processes (e.g., Mexico
National Development Plan). All of the dierent approaches in common aim at a better
incorporation of issues of sustainable development within the decision making of relevant
departments of the government.
Leadership can be demonstrated if a commitment is validated to achieve clearly dened
objectives. Quantied objectives and targets
are a common standard to strengthen commitment (see Laerty & Meadowcraft, 2000).
Seven of the 19 countries studied have such systematically developed quantiable and measurable targets for sustainable development
objectives. Germanys SDS, for example, provides 21 objectives that at the same time serves
as progress indicators. Cameroons PRSP
frames 14 policy elds and 193 specic measures (each with a target date for achievement)
within seven priority areas. The UK strategy
is centered around four main objectives, supported by a set of headline indicators and targets as well as a set of 10 guiding principles
and approaches. Sweden and Denmark also
have a good record on setting concrete objectives and measures for core areas.
However, it is not the quantity of objectives,
but their quality that determines leadership. All
countries are struggling to commit themselves
in an encompassing, yet explicit manner. The
strategies are either a collection of already
existing policy objectives or contain vaguely
formulated new objectives.
Whereas the triggering of learning processes
has been stressed as an important aim, the


strategies themselves are often the result of

bargaining between dierent actors, reecting
interest conicts and seeking compromise.
However, sometimes strategies contain single
objectives that are worth highlighting, since
they go beyond the traditional, short-term
agenda of policy development. This is the case,
for example, for the UK strategy and its midterm climate protection goal or the objective
of a drastic reduction in land use by nearly
75% until 2020 in the German NSDS.
Constitutional provisions are another approach to demonstrate commitment. Switzerland proves an interesting example: The new
constitution from 1999 elevates Sustainable
Development to the status of a national goal.
It further imposes a binding requirement for
sustainability action on all levels of the government, as well as incorporating sustainability
aspects into its foreign policy goals. A similar
approach can be observed for the European
Union that has prominently anchored the principle of Sustainability in the Treaties (former
art. 3 and 6 EU-Treaty) (see Nollkaemper,
2002). These articles have often been referred
to when new policy proposals for promoting
action on sustainable development had to be
Regarding the inter-generational principle of
sustainable development, setting long-term
objectives contributes to a better inter-generational objective. But only ve of the countries
considered a strategy outlook that was explicitly inter-generational, that is, spanning upwards of 2530 years into the future (Sweden,
Denmark, Germany, the Philippines, and Mexico). However, the underlying scenarios extrapolate current trends, but they do not investigate
the possibility of alternative future developments and discuss the implications for robust
policy making.
All countries studies showed a rather weak
performance regarding the linkages among economic, social, and environmental dimensions.
In many cases, NSDS are a simple compilation
of economic, social, and environmental objectives and initiatives, but did not contain a fundamental notion of how issues, objectives, and
initiatives inuence each othereither positively or negatively. The tools observed that
would help improve understanding of the linkages among economic, social, and environmental systems are Integrated Policy Appraisal
(e.g., as in the United Kingdom) or Strategic
Sustainability Assessment (e.g., as in the case
of Switzerland; cf. Radaelli, 2004). It should



just be highlighted that the United Kingdom

was one of the rst countries to start with the
integrated policy assessment of draft legislation
and has continuously extended its application
since then. It is now organized and overseen
by a well staed unit at the Prime Ministers Ofce which provides guidelines and assistance to
the dierent departments and which is also entitled to review the quality of the IAs. Also, the
European Commission has recently installed
an ambitious approach of ex-ante impact
assessment of draft legislation (Jacob, Hertin,
Bartolomeo, Volkery, & Wilkinson, 2004).
(b) Planning
Planning is a part of the strategic management cycle that governments have the most
experience with. Key challenges include (1)
establishing a clear legal mandate for the planning process, (2) thinking strategically about
institutions to head the process and implementing them, and (3) a reliable assessment of
planned policy plans, programs and initiatives.
Findings can be summarized as follows (also
see Table 2):
Establishing a clear legal mandate: Only ve
countries (Canada, European Union, Republic
of Korea, Mexico, and Switzerland) had a clear
legal mandate for the strategy process. One
example to learn is Canadas amendment to
the Auditor General Act in 1995 that established a clear mandate whereby 25 federal
departments are required to submit sustainable
development strategies to Parliament every
three years. This approach has functioned quite
well in the past regarding the delivery of strategies, at least. Also, the already discussed provisions in the treaty on the European Union
underpin many activities such as the development of the European NSDS, the Cardi-Pro-

cess for Environmental Policy Integration

(EPI), or the integration of sustainability concerns into the better-regulation strategy of the
Lisbon Process. In Mexico, the integration of
sustainability concerns into overall development planning is required by the constitution.
The integration of sustainability concerns has
not been achieved consistently across all sectors,
but it has lead to some success in a couple of sectors like energy or transport, at least. Increasing
the eectiveness of institutional arrangements:
In 10 countries, strategy processes had institutional grounding in the environment department which limited the extent of inuence
across government. In nine countries, responsibility laid with the oce of the Prime Minister
or President or other central steering institutions (namely Cameroon, China, European
Union, Germany, Philippines, Poland, United
Kingdom, Republic of Korea, Switzerland,
and with some ramications also Madagascar),
and in a few more countries there is a sharing of
competences but no strong central coordination
(Canada, Costa Rica, and Morocco). 3
The shift of responsibility for coordination to
the central institutions within governments has
to be regarded as a crucial major innovation
since sustainability issues gain more importance
on the political agenda. However, it has to be
acknowledged that insucient personal capacities in these institutions often constrain an
eective coordination of the strategy process.
But it must also be acknowledged that central
coordination by the Prime Ministers oce allows other proponents to take a more active
role behind the scenes. Environmental ministries, for example, are then no longer obliged
to moderate between contradictory positions
of other departments, but can actively push.
This experience has been reported for at least
for Germany, the United Kingdom, the Euro-

Table 2. Planning challenges, tools, and innovations


Approaches and tools

Examples and innovations

Legal basis

Enactment as law

Canada, European
Union, Mexico

Institutional basis

Green Cabinet
Home outside of environment departments
Inter-departmental Commission

Germany, United Kingdom

Philippines, China, Sweden

Policy assessment

Strategic Environmental Assessment (eight countries)

Strategic Sustainability Assessment
Integrated Policy Assessment

European Union
United Kingdom

Source: Swanson et al. (2004, p. 16).


pean Union, or Switzerland. Another innovation in this line are the so-called Green Cabinets that are composed of several ministers or
junior ministers and are supported by committees composed of higher civil servants. In Germany, for example, a Green Cabinet manages
the process. The Cabinet is coordinated by
the Chancellors Oce and seems to be a new
venue for argumentation and interest moderation at a high-level of political decision making.
Similar experiences can be reported for the
United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the Philippines, although these countries feature a
slightly dierent institutional design. At the
Cabinet level in the United Kingdom, sustainable development policy is coordinated by the
Cabinet Committee on the Environment. In
addition, each department designates a Green
Minister to sit on the Cabinet Sub-Committee
of Green Ministers. Each Green Minister is
responsible for ensuring that environmental
and sustainable development considerations
are integrated into their departmental strategies
and policies. Switzerland has chosen a similar
approach, but on a lower level: here, a directorate-level inter-departmental established by the
Federal Council coordinates the process of
NSDS implementation. In the Philippines, the
responsible Philippine Council for Sustainable
Development (PCSD) is chaired by the vicechairman of the National Economic Development Authority. In China, responsibilities are
divided among Ministries and governmental
committees, such as the State Planning Commission and the State Science and Technology
Commission in cooperation with the Administrative Centre for Chinas Agenda 21. The national Agenda 21 is highly integrated into the
Five-Year Planning process of Chinas econ-


omy, less into sectoral plans and within the

overall national environmental planning.
These innovations in planning and implementation illustrate the tendency to move
sustainability issues into the center of governmental decision makings. Again, it is open to
investigation if this remains to be a lip service
only or if decision making is inuenced eectively.
Assessing specic policy initiatives in an integrated manner. Despite long discussions and
much practical experience, Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) has not become a
standard instrument of the government. Only
eight out of the 19 countries used SEAs, and
even fewer countries have developed the tool
further into instruments for strategic Sustainability Assessment (Switzerland, European
Union) or Integrated Policy Assessment (United Kingdom). However, since the European
Union has adopted a Directive requiring the
Member States to implement SEA, this tool is
likely to become more frequent. It has also been
made obligatory for plans and programs for
which transnational impacts can be expected
by means of the SEA Protocol (2003) within
the UNECE Espoo Convention.
(c) Implementation
Implementation was a major issue at the
WSSD in 2002 and will continue to draw attention. The UN DESA and OECD-DAC
guidelines provide recommendations related to
this aspect of the strategic management cycle
(OECD, 2002; UN DESA, 2005). Key challenges include (1) establishing responsibility
and accountability for implementation of
objectives, (2) using an instrumental mix to

Table 3. Implementation challenges, tools, and innovations


Approaches and tools

Examples and innovations


Shifting of responsibility to
prime minister/president

Germany, Mexico, South Korea, Cameroon


Green budgeting
HIPC debt relief
Donor coordination

Costa Rica, Poland, Sweden

Cameroon, Madagascar

Mix of specic
SD initiatives

Action plans
Expenditure policy initiatives
Economic policy initiatives
Regulatory policy initiatives
Institutional policy initiatives

Source: Swanson et al. (2004, p. 18).

Denmark, Madagascar, European Union, South Korea

United Kingdom, Morocco
Sweden, European Union, United Kingdom, Germany
South Korea



implement strategy objectives, and (3) using a

mix of nancial arrangements. Findings can
be summarized as follows (also see Table 3):
Establishing responsibility and accountability:
the implementation of SDS is a systematic
weakness in all countries. Quite often, responsibility is housed in the Ministry of Environment
in most cases, either directly or indirectly
through a coordinating committee or SD commission or council. Leaving responsibility for
implementation with departments that do not
have the authority to exert inuence on other
departments means a non-strategic allocation
of responsibility. The shift of responsibilities
to the center of the government, that is, Oces
of the Prime Minister or Presidential Commissions as it can be observed in a number of countries, is therefore of importance for a successful
implementation, but bears also the risk of loosing ownership and competencies of specialized
Using a mix of nancing arrangements:
nancing of specic initiatives often suers
from a simple lack of revenue. All countries
make use of ecological taxes or levies, but few
countries have adopted a formal strategy for
their systematic use and the invention of new
nancing mechanisms with funds reserved for
sustainable development issues. Sweden has
been probably the country out of our sample
with the most profound experiences in environmental taxation. Experiments with environmental tax shifting in Sweden began in 1991
when it raised taxes on carbon and sulfur emissions and reduced income taxes. In 2001, the
government increased taxes on diesel fuel, heating oil, and electricity while lowering income
taxes and social security contributions. Six per
cent of all government revenue has now been
shifted. The introduction of Emission Trading
within the European Union will also spur further eorts for climate protection among its
member states. Germany, Sweden, and United
Kingdom are currently all pursuing an ambitious climate protection policy.
Mixing specic initiatives and instruments: all
countries have adopted some mix of instruments. However, while a mix of policy initiatives has been pursued, economic instruments
appear to be under-utilized. Some of the other
studied countries which are active in environmental scal reform and economic instruments
are Germany, United Kingdom, Costa Rica,
Brazil, and Poland. Poland initiates and promotes private and municipal investments which
has attracted attention as a model for nancing

important parts of sustainable development. In

Costa Rica, the Capacity 21-program provided
support for the creation of a system for payments of environmental services by farmers
and peasants. In Madagascar, the Donor Secretariat that managed donor assistance on the
environment was gradually extended to other
questions like food security or rural development. The secretariat now functions as a
Multi-Donor Secretariat and provides eective
donor coordination and integrated program
(d) Monitoring, learning, and adaptation
Monitoring is essential to the NSDS process.
Management is possible only if a measurement
of achievements takes place. Challenges include
the establishment and integration of (1) process
monitoring and (2) outcome monitoring. Also
(3) institutions have to be created that facilitate
processes of learning and adaptation. Findings
can be summarized as follows (also see Table 4):
Process monitoring: In most countries, statistical oces monitor various aspects of the economy, society, or environment. But only six
countries have developed an integrated set of
indicators to allow analysis of inherent trade-os
and inter-linkages of all dimensions of sustainable development. These countries included
Costa Rica, European Union, Germany, Mexico, United Kingdom, Sweden, Philippines,
Switzerland, and Morocco. The United Kingdom appeared as a consistent innovator through
such approaches and tools as indicators and
reporting; sustainable development audit committees and spending reviews; a Task Force for
national strategy revision; and the funding of
sustainable development research networks.
Information in the United Kingdom is also provided in the annual Green Ministers report
where performance is searchable by department
and by subject and include an assessment of performance against government-wide standards
and objectives. Canada has institutionalized a
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, situated in the Oce of the
Auditor General that regularly audits governments overall performance on environment
and SD. Findings of reports have led to direct responses by departments. Spending review is also
executed for the PRSP process in Cameroon and
Outcome monitoring: Even more elusive to
detect from the research were formal and informal approaches to outcome monitoring. Some



Table 4. Monitoring challenges, tools, and innovations


Approaches and tools

Examples and innovations

Process monitoring

Process (output)-type monitoring

and reporting (nine countries)
Auditing agencies
Spending reviews
Ministers reports

Canada, United Kingdom

United Kingdom, Cameroon
and Madagascar PRSP
United Kingdom

Monitoring outcomes

National SD indicators and

reporting (nine countries)
National accounts statistics
Auditing agencies
Auditing committees
Independent advisory bodies

European Union, Morocco

Sweden, South Korea
United Kingdom
United Kingdom

Canada, United Kingdom, Philippines

United Kingdom, Philippines
Sweden, Germany, European Union
United Kingdom
India, Cameroon

Learning and adaptation

Independent agencies and committees

Task Force or strategy revision
Advisory councils
Progress reporting
Research networks
Public consultations

Source: Swanson et al. (2004, p. 22).

countries operate batteries of indicators, such

as the 65 indicators of the National Committee
for SD Indicators in Morocco. Others have
transitioned to aggregated headline indicators,
such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and the European Union. Aggregated
indicators facilitate understanding and communication of overall progress and performance,
but there is a risk of information loss if aggregated indicators are not supplemented by more
detailed lists of component indicators. Sweden
and South Korea are interesting examples insofar as they have established rst sets of indicator systems to measure the progress toward
sustainable development with a reduced set of
integrated indicators. The United Kingdom
and Canada have made the most elaborate
use of auditing committees or independent
advisory bodies. Creating separate bodies that
hold an ownership promises on the one hand,
that the process is taken seriously. It bears the
risk, on the other hand, that departments resist
relevant recommendation since they see them
as being superimposed.
Learning and adaptation: Most rarely to detect were functioning mechanisms to learn from
integrated monitoring and to make subsequently critical and necessary adaptations.
One tool for learning is strategy progress reports that can be seen in countries like Sweden
or Germany. The SD Spring Review in the
European Union gives a broad basis for a

long-term learning process: Progress reports

will be submitted by the European Commission
to the European Council each spring and the
SDS shall be assessed at the start of each of
the Commissions term of oce. Heads of Governments take notice and decide further priorities. The evaluation of the sectoral strategies for
sustainable development by the Commissioner
for SD in Canada is a powerful institution since
the Commissioner is part of the General Auditor and has considerable independence from
the Government. In the United Kingdom, the
review by a dedicated parliamentary committee
is worth mentioning. However, independent
comprehensive evaluations of the strategies
and their implementation were not found as a
systemic process feature.
Coordination is a central requirement for
making SDS processes work since it cuts across
all aspects of the strategic management cycle
that has been used for our analysis. Decits in
coordination contribute signicantly to many
of the serious decits described above. Our
cross-country comparison indicates that the
issue of sustainability is gradually moving into
the center of the government, at least on
paper, and that this tendency is visible both in



developing and developed countries: Green

Cabinets, special divisions within the Prime
Ministers or Presidents oce, Presidential
commissions, inter-departmental committees,
external auditing committees, or independent
agenciesthere are many ways to house
responsibilities outside the environmental
department and they experimentally diuse
among developing and developed countries
alike. On the one hand, this reects the growing
importance of the issue. On the other hand,
coordination demands have not been met in
most cases due to capacity overloads of steering
institutions and unresolved problems of dierent understandings of the broad concept of sustainability.
The challenges as well as the institutions in
response are very similar to the requirements
for EPI. Many innovations in eorts to integrate concerns of sustainability in decision
making are rooted in instruments and strategies
for EPI (Jacob & Volkery, 2004).
In all countries studied there is a constant
gap between the content of the strategy and
its actual impact on governmental policy. Clear
information about responsibilities for strategy
implementation is one side of the coin, information about the actual impact on governmental policy making is the other side. For tracking
progress toward coordinated action for Sustainable Development on the national level,
we have focused in detail on three major aspects of the coordination challenge, namely:
1. coordination of strategy objectives and
initiatives with the national budget process;

2. coordination
3. coordination with sub-national and local
strategy processes.
Beyond the design of more or less comprehensive written strategy documents, it is these three
areas of action where talk about sustainable
development is turned into action (see Table 5).
(a) Coordination with the national budgeting
Budget processes are central to the functioning of the government: it is the availability and
spending of resources that reveals whether or
not sustainable development is taken seriously.
Sustainability has to be reected in expenditure
and revenue generation. Creating incentive
structures, implementing spending reviews,
shifting taxes, and creating better transparency
and responsibility through green budgeting are
examples of the tools.
In all countries studied, the vision and objectives created through a SDS process still has little inuence on national budget expenditures
and revenue generation. National sustainable
development strategies still remain at the
periphery of government decision making.
Most countries studied had mechanisms in
place whereby government departments prepare plans that articulate proposed expenditures. However, these plans seldom align with
the NSDS and are not subject to a sustainability impact assessment. More elusive to nd
from the research is a country, where the over-

Table 5. Coordination challenges, tools, and innovations


Approaches and tools

Examples and innovations

With national
budgeting processes

With other strategy


Comprehensive SD strategies that

provide framework for other strategies
Inter-departmental coordinating committees
Institutional home for national SD council
Cross-sectoral workshops and action areas
Cross-cutting issues
Green Cabinets

With sub-national and

local strategy processes

Municipal SD strategies
Local Agenda 21 process (e.g., China,
Denmark, Costa Rica, and South Korea)

South Korea

Source: Swanson et al. (2004).

Incentive structures
Spending review
Environmental taxes
Links to national planning process

PRSPs and HIPC debt relief

United Kingdom
Mexico, Philippines

United Kingdom
Germany, Canada, Cameroon,
Madagascar, South Korea
Germany, United Kingdom


all budget plan contains transparent information about the impact of overall spending on
sustainability and charts a way for improving
the performance.
A number of interesting approaches and
innovations however, were observed in our research. For example, the requirement for implementation of key priority areas in PRSPs to
reach the Heavily Indebted Pour Countries
debt relief completion points, results in attention from the national budgetary process (e.g.,
Cameroon and Madagascar). The trade-o that
has been acknowledged, however, is that the
PRSP feels less country owned (GTZ, 2000, p.
12). The irony is that the NSDS, which are typically more country owned, have less pressure
on them to be implemented (GTZ, 2000).
The United Kingdom emerged as an innovator in their approach of spending reviews. All
departments are required to produce a sustainable development report that outlines the potential SD impacts related to public spending
related to proposed policies, plans, and programs. While departments appear to be struggling with this requirement, the Government
has been developing tools and guidance to assist with the process. In Canada, the 25 government departments are required to prepare a
departmental SD strategy every three years.
However, it is still the situation where annual
departmental plans submitted to the Parliament remain a document distinct from departmental SD strategies. While some departments
have recognized inherent similarities and have
integrated the two documents, most departments have not.
Another notable approach is through the
introduction of a tax shift. For instance, countries where environmental taxes represent a
large portion of the government revenues, can
be said to have better integrated the SD into
the budgeting process. The most prominent
example for this approach is Sweden (as described above). Integrating SD principles into
existing development planning processes is another approach. This is Mexicos SD strategy
approach. The 200106 National Development
Plan is translated into a set of programs which
serve as long-term policy guides and are the
basis for much of the public spending. While
this approach does create more direct linkages
with the national budgeting processes, it comes
with the disadvantage that the SD strategy and
its included objectives are not developed in as
comprehensive a manner as that which occurs
with separate SD strategies.


Additionally, the Philippines Agenda 21

has provided a conceptual framework for
integ- rating SD concerns in the countrys medium- and long-term development plans. The
Philippine Agenda 21 was integrated into the
Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan
19931998 (MTPDP) which is the master plan
for development in the Philippines. At the
broadest level, the Philippine National Development Plan for the 21st Century (Plan 21),
or Long-Term Philippine Development Plan
20002025 (LTPDP), uses Philippine Agenda
21 as its overall guiding framework. Consequently the later MTPDP 19992004 also integrates SD concerns.
(b) Coordinating with other strategy processes
Governmental departments execute a variety
of strategies that run independent from the
Sustainability process, that is, action plans,
or specic targeted programs. The degree to
which these strategies are reformulated due to
the requirements of the NSDS or substituted
by new strategies indicates the coordination
leverage of the overall NSDS. Coordination
between the SD strategy and other strategy
processes is a challenge in all countries studied.
The comprehensive, multi-dimensional SD
strategy tends to exhibit more coordination
than the sectoral and cross-sectoral strategy
approaches due to their overarching nature.
For example, the national SD strategy in Germany is linked to the strategy of scal consolidation, social renewal, and the promotion of
renewable energy. But these strategies were
developed independent of the SD strategy.
So, while in the German case there was coordination among the SD strategy and other
strategies, the SD strategy did not provide an
overarching framework for action, but rather,
it was more of a summary of existing strategies.
This case highlights a challenge that is common
to many of the comprehensive, multi-dimensional SD strategiesthat the SD strategy at
this early point in time in their use, is more a
post-rationalization of existing action, rather
than stimulation for new action. The UK national SD strategy appears to operate more
on the other end of the spectrum relative to
Germany in that the UK strategy outlines the
underlying goals of sustainable development,
and commits the government to establishing
new decision-making processes, institutions,
instruments, partnerships, and communication



For countries which pursued either cross-sectoral or sectoral SD strategies, the extent of
coordination among strategies was minimal.
For developing countries such as Cameroon
and Madagascar, the PRSP process contained
minimal discussion of the environment or the
national environmental management strategy
process that was in place in both countries. In
Canada, there was little visible coordination.
Canada has recognized the diculty and has
developed a number of coordinating mechanisms including a Deputy-Minister level Coordinating Committee on SD and the Interdepartmental Network on SD Strategies. However, it would appear that these coordinating
mechanisms have not yet matched the level of
complexity inherent in the inter-dependencies
of economic, social, and environmental sustainability.
The Philippines case highlights an innovative
approach for coordinating among dierent
strategy processes. The National Economic and
Development Authority (NEDA) was designated as the lead government agency for the
PCSD. The fact that the PCSD Secretariat is
located in the NEDA premises and that national planning in the Philippines has a high
component of multi-sectoral integration has
facilitated the work of the PCSD. In Morocco,
through a national integration workshop, key
recommendations from each of the sectoral
workshops were brought together to produce
a cohesive, integrated Environmental Action
Plan (PANE). In turn, this plan was then linked
through cross-sectoral action areas with Moroccos three other national development plans:
the Economic and Social Development Plan
(19992003) (PDES); the Plan to Combat
Desertication (PAN/LCD); and the Land
Management Plan (SNAT).
As previously mentioned, Germanys national
SD strategy established cross-cutting themes
to guide measures. Other examples are PRSPs
and national environmental strategies which
help mitigate the silo approach (e.g., Cameroon,
Madagascar, and South Korea). Many countries
have articulated cross-cutting issues and action
plans such as climate change action plans, organic farming action plans, or land-use reduction plans. Denmark has a rich tradition in this
regard. Action plans are also a common tool at
the European level, especially under the framework of the 6th Environmental Action Program,
where thematic strategies are developed.
Finally, Green Cabinets are a tool for helping
to coordinate with other national strategy pro-

cesses (see described above). Germany and the

United Kingdom are examples of this, where
Cabinet Committees have been set up to coordinate the overall process of strategy development.
(c) Coordination with other levels of the government
Activities for strategic and coordinated
action are underway at all levels of the government ranging from the local/community,
to state/provincial, to the international level.
Coordination among these dierent levels will
be critical for leveraging important changes.
Such coordination is inherently more dicult
in federal states where powers are divided
between levels of the government, that is,
Germany or Canada. On the other hand, the
division of powers and the multiple layers of
the government in federal states might also provide more possibilities for the invention and
diusion of innovations.
Some countries have coordinated national
and local level SD action through local Agenda
21 processes. Our analysis in this regard implies
only that SD action occurred, and did not
study the degree to which specic SD objectives
and actions were coordinated at the two levels.
Among these countries are Denmark, South
Korea, China, and Costa Rica.
For example, in Denmark, there is a plan
that most municipalities in Denmark will
develop a local strategy and a local set of indicators within one yearand 70% of municipalities are succeeding. In South Korea, 213 out
of the 249 regional government units have
adopted a Local Agenda 21. One important
reason for this was the reform of the regional
government in 1995 that gave the local government greater regulatory power, for example, in
the area of air quality standards. South Koreas
National Action Plan of Agenda 21 fostered
local Agenda 21s through nancial and capacity support. The government also helped establish the Korean Council for Local Agenda 21 in
June 2000 to better coordinate the implementation process.
Many of the countries studied also made
links between national SD and international
SD priorities. National objectives dealing with
climate change mitigation and adaptation are
an example of this. However, the Swedish case
study introduced an innovative way of linking
Government operations with the aim of contributing to fair and sustainable global develop-


ment. Trade, agriculture, security, migration,

environmental, and economic policies are to
promote global development. A poverty and
human rights perspective shall permeate the entire policy. With this bill, the Government has
reformulated its policy in order to contribute
more forcefully to the fulllment of the UN
Another possibility to enhance the capacity
for coordination is by making use of participation and consultation of stakeholders. This
might not only improve the information basis
for governmental action, but it might also help
to break up existing closed networks. Strategy
processes that fall shy on obtaining feedback
from stakeholders are an indicator that the
Government is taking sustainability not very
seriously. Participation needs eective management to be of value for governmental decision
makers. It also needs building of trust to allow
for dialogue and learning among stakeholders.
Challenges thus include (1) the institutionalization of participation and (2) the building of
Findings of our cross-country comparison
can be summarized as follows (also see Table
Institutionalization of participation: Regarding the institutionalization of participation, a
wide range of approaches were pursued in the
19 countries. We distinguish (1) national councils for SD, (2) cross-sectoral councils, and (3)
independent advisory bodies, and also (4)
broad consultation via the Internet.


Five of the countries studied have created a

permanent multi-stakeholder council for SD:
the Philippines, Mexico, South Korea, Brazil,
and Germany. These councils have most notably tried to facilitate social dialogue, support
initiatives, and link them with the national level. For example, the PCSD has been supporting local initiatives on the creation of local
councils for SD through technical assistance
and trainings. The German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) has published expert opinions on the elaboration and evaluation
of long-term objectives and indicators for
Sustainable Development and has assumed a
central role in public debates on SD.
Countries with cross-sectoral SD strategy
approaches have in place or have proposed
permanent participatory bodies. This includes
Cameroon for the PRSP process or Madagascar and South Korea for national environmental strategy processes. Cameroons proposed
National Poverty Reduction Network is an
innovative example due to its wide scope of
responsibility. The NPRN shall act as a forum
for sharing experiences and exchanging data
among groups and as well as a framework for
societal supervision of all activities undertaken
to implement the PRS. After a testing phase
with the help of UNEP, the NPRN will be open
to all development players and facilitate a partnership between civil society and Government.
The United Kingdom is an interesting example for independent advisory bodies designed to
provide expert advice. The Sustainable Development Commission was established as an
independent advisory body in 2000. It includes
22 members from business, NGOs, local and
regional governments, and academia. The
Commissions role is to advocate sustainable

Table 6. Participation challenges, tools, and innovations


Approaches and tools

Institutionalizing participation

Building trust

Source: Swanson et al. (2004).

National councils for SD

Cross-sectoral councils
Independent advisory bodies
Place-based councils
Ad hoc public consultation


Philippines, Germany
United Kingdom
Costa Rica
Canada, Denmark,
Morocco, Poland,
Sweden, Switzerland

Use of media to obtain members

Mexico, Brazil
Negotiation and conict resolution as an explicit Brazil
and necessary part of the participation process



development across all sectors in the United

Kingdom, review progress toward it, and build
consensus on the actions needed if further progress is to be achieved (UK Government,
2004). Canada, Denmark, Morocco, Poland,
Sweden, and Switzerland use a more ad hoc
approach. For example, for Canadas 25
departmental SD strategies, each department
consults its stakeholders in the development
of the strategies and documents the input individually. In Sweden, a series of national seminars and regional consultative conferences
were used in the development of their SD strategy.
Building of trust: Equal treatment of all
major societal groups during the selection of
representatives in advisory bodies is a necessary
prerequisite for this task. This can be illustrated
with the Philippine Council for SD experience.
The council started out in a general atmosphere
of suspicion and even mistrust, fostered by
years of authoritarian rule, between the government and the civil society members, especially
over the selection of NGO representatives (Isberto, 1998; NCSD, 2001). Since then, a formal
process for selection of PCSD representatives
has been developed in the civil society community. Although dissatisfaction with the process
continues to be expressed, the process has
helped in minimizing conicts and distraction
(NCSD, 2001). Mexico has experience with
such a formal process of selecting representatives through its National Consultative Council
for Sustainable Development and its membership process. The Council was originally
created in 1995 and members were sought
through a summons published in newspapers,
as well as posters and promotional pamphlets
distributed among various public and private
organizations. In September 1998, a new summons was published in order to re-elect 50%
of the representatives in the social, business,
academic, and non-governmental sectors.
Considering negotiation and conict management as an integral part of the development
of the national SD strategy is another important approach for building trust. In Brazil, conict management was addressed in a forthright
manner throughout the development of the
Brazilian Agenda 21. The Brazilian Agenda
21 recommended that short- and long-term
negotiations be conducted, so that there can
be a balance between the Agendas objectives
and the environmental, economic, and social
development strategies. These kinds of negotiations were a part of the consultation and devel-

opment process, with the hope of securing more

eective implementation. But the skills involved in this process must be present in all
stakeholder groups, otherwise the process can
readily identify power dierences and breed
mistrust. The Costa Rica case illustrates the
importance that Local Agenda 21 eorts be
accompanied by the development of community building and negotiation skills at the local
level. Without such capacity, there is the potential for the process to be unnecessarily divisive.
Research for the 19 countries illustrated that
many innovative approaches and tools have
been developed and applied over the past decade, both pre- and post-WSSD. The diversity
of institutions and tools for the implementation
of sustainable development has been constantly
increasing. Compared with the starting point
more than a decade ago, the institutional landscape for sustainable development has grown
richer in its diversity. There are two interesting
trends: the issue is moving gradually into the
center of the governmentnearly half of our
countries studied have institutionalized central
coordination bodies, mostly located at the Prime
Ministers or Presidents Oce. And broad participation and stakeholder consultation have
become governmental standard procedures.
The issue of convergence or divergence of
institutional development is a key discussion
at the moment. Naturally, it is assumed quite
often that there are striking dierences between
developing and developed countries with regard to the strategic approach and capacities
to sustainability. While this might be true for
content issues, or for the implementation, our
comparison of institutions and procedures in
19 developing and developed countries reveals
a great degree of convergence regarding the
basic institutional approaches to leadership,
planning, implementation, monitoring, coordination, and participation. In our country sample, many countries are experimenting with
the same basic institutional innovations. Countries that seek institutional or instrumental responses to certain problems can rely upon a
comprehensive sample of other countries experience. This is an indicator that the information
exchange via international forums and networks, like the annual meetings of the Commission on Sustainable Development, basically
function, despite problems.


A similar point can be made for the implementation issue. The need for capacity building
refers to developing and developed countries
alike. Albeit, of course, on quite dierent levels
we nd that there rarely is sucient political
commitment in developing and developed
countries. Quite often the sustainable development strategy does not follow an integrated
framework of goals, objectives, and measures.
New agencies, bodies, or committees are
founded but often do not have appropriate
stang, resources, and power. Central budgets
remain largely untouched. Many of the strategies serve partly as a means of post-rationalizing the mix of policy initiatives that have
already been created from other existing political and institutional processes.
However, this is not to say that major dierences do not continue to exist, both regarding
the institutional context and content. A dominant approach has not appeared yet, also not
from a regional perspective. There is obviously
room for mutual learning between countries
regarding the institutionalization of processes
for strategic and coordinated action on sustainability. Additionally, what lessons can be drawn
for future policy support by international organizations? First, a national strategy is not simply
the solution per se. It needs more than a strategy
document and a multi-stakeholder process organized around it to actually change policies for
sustainable development. Strategic behavior as
demanded by the public policy literature nds
its restriction in the politics of bureaucratic interest negotiation. Success depends on a countrys
ability to identify leverage points for inuencing
SD, to identify emerging issues, and to continuously learn and adapt to changes. Getting the
process right is critically important over the
medium to long term. Prerequisites are, however, stronger political commitment and better


coordination. Strategic action for SD will remain at the periphery of the government as long
as it is not connected to visible incentives and
sanctions that reward action or punish non-action. Strategy processes need better ownership,
commitment, and a better common understanding among all levels of the government.
The core question is where is this supposed
to come from? One approach to catalyze
better ownership within government is through
strengthening central coordination, probably
best through allocating relevant competencies
at the Prime Ministers or Presidents Oce. This
has to go hand in hand with a more systematic
use of integrated assessments and indicators.
Strategies need, however, also to be manageable.
Eorts should be directed at the most urgent
problems, and public participation processes
should be directly tailored to identify them.
Increasing transparency and accountability
through reporting obligations, external auditing, and tailored consultation can win new allies.
Strong leverage can be reached through
strengthening of coordination with the budget,
that is, through spending reviews and annual
green budgeting reports, and a strengthening of
coordination among all levels of government.
The institutional fabricdespite all individual progressremains rather thin from an
overall perspective. This conrms the premises
from the public policy literature that learning
leads in most cases only to changes in minor aspects of policies. A comparison with the rich
institutional landscape that we nd for economic development and cooperation, that is,
that is much richer in terms of actors, rules,
sanctions, inventories set of activities, and
political leverage, demonstrates best the magnitude of the challenge that countries world-wide
are still facing in establishing a sound institutional landscape for Sustainable Development.

1. This article focuses on process rather than content.
To what extent the SDS resulted in tangible progress
toward SD is another question altogetheralbeit a
critical one. We do not assume that a good process
will always lead to good results, but an assessment
of process provides a necessary proxy for eectiveness
and can provide practical information (see for a
similar conclusion in the analysis of the eectiveness
of global environmental assessment: Eckley et al.,
2001; Pinter, 2002). Our research was not intended to
produce a step-by-step how to manual for SD

strategy process. Rather, this article outlines a synthesis of some of the key challenges, approaches and
tools, and innovations at various stages throughout
the strategy process.
2. The article is based mostly on the 19 case studies
conducted and the subsequent synthesis report (Swanson, Pinter, Bregha, Volkery, & Jacob, 2004). For the
purpose of readability, we abstain from citing each case
study when speaking about single innovations discovered.



3. Counting this way is dicult and not without

problems. Grounding the process in the environmental
department does not have to mean that there are
automatically no central steering eects. For example,
the organization of the process in Sweden or Denmark

has been quite successful. In the opposite, in countries

such as Morocco or Costa Rica, responsibilities are
distributed among a number of departments but there is
no coordination so that there is little coordinated action
in the end.

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