The common elements of a national sustainable development strategy: learning from international experience

Sustainable development Public sector Strategic planning New Zealand United Kingdom Finland Sweden
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The aim of this research report was to review best global practice in regard to the written content of National Sustainable Development Strategies (NSDSs) in order to identify and explore the common and unique elements of each. We selected the NSDSs of Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom (see Appendices 1–3) as we considered they represented ‘best practice’. The institutional frameworks of all three countries were also studied in Report 4a, Institutions for Sustainable Development: Learning from international experience.

We acknowledge that an NSDS is much more than a strategy. By its nature, an NSDS infers stakeholder engagement and therefore the need for a sound institutional landscape. Volkery et al. (2006) suggest that more is required than ‘a strategy document and a multi-stakeholder process’, and that in order to bring about real change it is necessary to establish a ‘sound institutional landscape for sustainable development’. We discuss and propose such an institutional framework in Report 4, Institutions for Sustainable Development: Developing an optimal framework for New Zealand. Our conclusion is that New Zealand needs both a lead central agency, such as Treasury or the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC), and an independent advisory body to Cabinet, which we have called the Sustainable Development Council (SDC). See Report 4 for more information.

This report focuses specifically on the content of NSDSs. We reviewed the literature on ‘strategy development’ and developed seven strategic questions that we believe underlie the best process for building an effective strategy.  

To conclude, we believe the opportunity for New Zealand is to develop a strategy that will stand out in terms of marketing our particular values and unique competitive advantages to the world. Of perhaps greater importance, it will provide a mechanism to encourage discussion, build capacity, gain consensus, align initiatives and foster respect, so that all New Zealanders commit to the strategy, not because they have to, but because they want what it can deliver. 

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