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Special Issue "Navigating the Narrows: Strategies for SDG Governance"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Economic and Business Aspects of Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 10 September 2023 | Viewed by 87

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Louis Meuleman
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Public Governance Institute, KU Leuven, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium
Interests: metagovernance; sustainability governance; public management
Dr. Ingeborg Niestroy
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Public Strategy for Sustainable Development, 1190 Brussels, Belgium
Interests: sustainability governance; SDGs; geography of sustainability; science-policy interface; transdisciplinarity; impact assessment; stakeholder involvement

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Governments and other public institutions are under extreme pressure to perform well in an environment characterised by an unprecedented combination of interrelated crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate-change-related disasters, increased inequality, and geopolitical turbulence. In this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) context, the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seems to be losing momentum, and some SDGs are clearly moving further away from their targets. In this context, operating strategically based on a (long-term) vision has become even more important, while at the same time it is often undermined by the logic of crisis management. Navigating the narrow pathways and avenues to get back on track on the SDGs and keep them as the global compass towards sustainability requires not only steersmanship but also drawing from the many good practices and lessons learned. This Special Issue offers conceptual and practical insights to support governmental strategies for sustainable development.

The SDGs form a brilliant web of interconnected visions and targets. They should still be considered as the global ‘meta-policy’ to achieve sustainable development. While SDGs 1–15 are the policy goals for the three layers of life (with natural resources as the basis, production and consumption as the means, and well-being as the end), SDGs 16 and 17 include the most important governance targets. SDG 16 states that public institutions should be effective, accountable, and inclusive. SDG 17 includes an important target on policy coherence for sustainable development (PCSD), and advocates partnerships of all kinds.

Policymaking and -implementation require well-functioning governance. Governance is about institutions (polity) as well as processes (politics). It includes key challenges such as horizontal coordination within government, vertical coordination between levels of government, the relations between government and other stakeholders, and also  the decisions and management of instruments, tools, and mechanisms.

However, in many countries, public institutions have become undervalued and ill-resourced as a result of the efficiency-driven new public management movement, as the economist Mariana Mazzucato has argued. Disaster reduction and crisis management has become almost a new normal, and many governments have fallen for the temptation to use the procedural shortcuts of emergency legislation for non-urgent issues. Moreover, governments have realised that framing a problem as a crisis results in swift decisions and almost inexhaustible financial resources. Some long-neglected and ‘wicked’ problems have thus landed in the realm of crisis management, but this is by far a guarantee that a long-lasting solution will be found.

Sustainability governance challenges differ across (or even within) countries, but they can always be ‘translated’ into mixtures of hierarchical, network, and market governance styles. These three basic styles and the around fifty features on which they have different (and sometimes undermining) operational forms are together not only a governance toolbox but also a common ‘language’ that can help the discourse between governance practitioners and scholars from countries with different administrative structures, cultures, and traditions (Meuleman 2018).

The strategy feature of public governance—one of the fifty features—can make or break a whole governance framework. This Special Issue is aimed at gaining theoretical knowledge and presenting empirical evidence and insights on strengths and weaknesses of different approaches to strategic governance such as strategic planning, strategy as a learning process, and strategising for trade-offs and synergies in different (supranational, national, or subnational) contexts. It revisits the nine ‘strategy schools’ identified by Mintzberg et al. (1998) and the ‘chaos school’ (Stacey 1992), which specifically addresses complexity and unpredictability. With this context as the analytical lens, the Special Issue will present, among others, insights from experiences with national sustainable development strategies, plans, or action plans, with strategic and strategy-forming mechanisms, with strategic learning approaches, as well as case studies on strategic thinking within sustainability transformation processes on, e.g., mobility, agriculture and food, energy, or inequality. The aim is also to include perspectives from different global regions.

Dr. Louis Meuleman
Dr. Ingeborg Niestroy
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • strategies
  • strategic governance
  • metagovernance
  • sustainability
  • SDGs

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
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