For many interested in the subject of sustainability the UN’s sustainable development goals will have been a subject of hot debate over the last year (maybe even longer), for others you may have never even heard of them, and that is a big challenge.

For those who have not heard so much about them, On 25 September 2015, the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda titled Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is a set of seventeen aspirational “Global Goals” with 169 targets between them. Spearheaded by the United Nations, through a deliberative process involving its 193 Member States, as well as global civil society.


Global Goals:

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing 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 industrialisation, 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 (taking note of agreements made by the UNFCCC forum).
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
  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 revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.

“The interlinkages and integrated nature of the Sustainable Development Goals are of crucial importance in ensuring that the purpose of the new Agenda is realised. If we realize our ambitions across the full extent of the Agenda, the lives of all will be profoundly improved and our world will be transformed for the better.”

United Nations, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Following the adoption, UN agencies, under the umbrella of the United Nations Development Group, decided to support a campaign by several independent entities, among them corporate institutions and International Organisations. The Campaign, known as Project Everyone, introduced the term Global Goals and is intended to help communicate the agreed Sustainable Development Goals to all 7 billion people on this planet. This is important because to solve these challenges it is going to take all of us, however communicating the goals is only part of the challenge.

With these type of challenges we often seek to understand, define and then act.

They are so complex and messy that we feel the more we understand the better our eventual action will be. The nature of contemporary problems however, as defined by Kees Dorst in his book Frame Innovation, is that they are; Open, no boundaries; Complex, many elements and relationships; Dynamic, change over time;  Networked, across organisations. This presents a problem, because we will never truly understand the detail of them. So we must reverse our thinking and instead learn though action. This is not about blind action, leaping into the unknown come what may. This is about measured experiments that help us learn more, refine our solutions and understand more about the challenges while delivering value much earlier in the process. Just because something is an experiment, a prototype, a test, it doesn’t mean it can not deliver value towards your end goal. It is here that emergent design processes can add value.

“We sit at the precipice of a completely new world. Unknown and unknowable. From exponential technologies that will transform our economy, to generational differences that reveal new ways of working and organising, the changes that are coming are seismic and sudden.”

– The Ready

The speed of change right now is unprecedented. New startups are disrupting long established industries, technology is changing the way we interact on every level and is becoming harder and harder to predict what is coming next. By 2018 Elon Musk’s Space X program plans to reach Mars, and in the next 40 to 100 years his vision is a colony of millions, who know where that will leave us and what new technology will be developed and discovered along the way.

The open working group for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, with representatives from 70 countries, had its first meeting in March 2013 and published its final draft, with its 17 suggestions, in July 2014. The draft was presented to the UN general assembly in September last year. Member state negotiations followed, and the final wording of the goals and targets, and the preamble and declaration that comes with them, were agreed in August 2015. That’s 2.5years just to agree on what the goals are. In that time everything from agricultural drones to smart wind and solar power have been pioneered.

While the goals help in creating agreement and direction on a global scale, to take advantage of these inventions and innovations we need to understand how they practically function on the ground to support that vision. How do they integrate into peoples lives? Where is the real value created? What is important to the community, and where should we start?

#ThisIsWhyWeJam, one of the many reasons.

If we are to solve these challenging contemporary issues we have to find new ways to come together, and create open processes that can involve and engage even more people. It is not down to any one organisation, group or individual to solve these challenges, it is going to take all of us. We need public institutions and private companies to be able to affect change at scale, but we also need citizens to be involved in shaping the products, services and solutions that touch their lives.

We don’t aim to create world changing new technologies in 48hours, we do however hope that in a short space of time by bringing together different perspectives, that we might be able to explore together how we take advantage of what these new possibilities and technologies mean in a local context.

Using design processes to support the people who understand the challenges, because they live them daily, in designing together the solutions of the future and understanding each other better. It’s a different type of design, one with less ego, and one that is more about empowerment.

Some interesting projects and initiatives related to the goals:

For us this idea was nicely summed up at the amazing TEDxBrum 2016:

“There is no us and them anymore, there is just us.

All of us.”

If like us, you attended and you were excited and inspired by the stories about how people from our great city, and all over the world, are tackling these complex issues. Then join us and other people with lots of different skills, for 48 hours of inspiration and building on each others ideas. Who knows this global gathering might even change the world. Will you be there when we do?


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