European Sustainable Development Network’s Peer Learning Platforms
Since 2016, The European Sustainable Development Network (ESDN) has been organizing annual Peer Learning Platforms around the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. ESDN Peer Learning Platforms facilitate the informal exchange of experiences and good practices, and thereby foster policy learning, between European civil servants in national ministries responsible for the 2030 Agenda implementation process in their respective country. This informal exchange is enabled by the Chatham House Rule, which protects participants from being identified, and thereby ensure honest discussions can take place that are built on mutual trust and a desire to move Europe along a more sustainable path.
The objective of the Platforms is a direct response to SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals. It is one of the only Peer Learning mechanisms in Europe that can take place in an informal setting and bring civil servants from several European countries together to share their collective experiences regarding the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. Apart from fostering better and more integrated pan-European partnerships between national ministries working on the 2030 Agenda, the Platforms also cover various sustainable development topics that span multiple SDGs, such as SDG Budgeting, preparing Voluntary National Reviews, Sustainable Finance and including the sub-national level. The ESDN realized there was a need for bringing government ministries together in smaller groups (30-40 participants) on these topics.
The entire format of the Peer Learning Platforms revolves around the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs and serve as the driving force behind them. The first two iterations of the Platforms focused on helping countries to prepare for their Voluntary National Reviews for the High Level Political Forum by learning from others who had already gone through that process, which helped countries identify challenges and pitfalls early on. More recent Platforms focused more on how to secure funding for the SDGs to allow for holistic and cross-sectoral implementation of the SDGs in practice.
The Peer Learning Platforms were conceptualized by the ESDN Advisory Board (AB), a group of national level civil servants from 8 European countries. The Platforms were implemented by the ESDN Office at the Institute for Managing Sustainability, who are a group of researchers with knowledge on different sustainable development topics and event coordination. Together, the AB and ESDN Office select a topic relevant in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. An ESDN member country or partner organization volunteers to host the Platform. This country agrees to cover the costs of the Platform venue, coffee breaks, and catering. The human resources that the ESDN Office uses to carry out the Platforms is covered by a portion of the overall ESDN budget, which is financed through ESDN Regular Membership fees. In the case of the past 5 Peer Learning Platforms, the annual contributions from the 8 Advisory Board countries constitutes the ESDN budget. The ESDN, therefore, covers the costs for the ESDN Office to prepare the Platforms, the Office’s travel costs, and perform on-site management. The host country needs to provide in-kind human resources to collaborate with the ESDN Office for the preparation Platform’s program. However, the bulk of the tasks fall under the responsibility of the ESDN Office. Regarding monitoring, the ESDN Office provides surveys to all participants about their experiences during the Platforms and uses that information to improve upon the process for all subsequent Platforms.
The results of the Peer Learning Platforms can be measured both quantitatively, as well as qualitatively. Each Platform had between 30-40 civil servants from national ministries from an average of 14 countries and lasted between 6 and 10 hours each time. Policy learning is one of the biggest results and impacts the Platforms have on civil servants, who are able to not only listen and learn from the experiences made by their colleagues in other countries, but are also able to ask questions that help them to bolster implementation of the 2030 Agenda at home. The Platforms also solidify and strengthen intergovernmental cooperation by fostering exchanges to take place outside the Platforms and strengthen connections between civil servants, contributing to the active attainment of SDG 17 and adding a positive spill-over effect.
Enabling factors are the dedicated AB member countries, which provide the ESDN’s budget, allowing Peer Learning Platforms to be organized, as well as host countries or organizations willing to take on the costs associated with hosting events. However, these could easily be seen as constraints, as it does take funding to run the Platforms. Trust is another enabling factor and the Platforms help safeguard that trust by providing a safe place for exchange. Having a professional and resourceful ESDN Office to implement the Platforms is also an enabling factor that strengthens the exchange and therefore the benefits of those participating.
The sustainability of the ESDN Peer Learning Platform is predominantly ensured through a consistent number of enthusiastic members. The founding members are still at the heart of the organization and guarantee continuity. Furthermore, the ESDN has a strong institutional set-up. The president is supported by three vice-chairs, an Advisory Board and the ESDN Office with three employees. The Platform is based on a regional network of civil servants who are focusing their work on sustainable development and implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Peer Learning Platforms can, therefore, certainly be replicated all around the world. Currently, the ESDN is working on extending the involvement of more countries all across Europe that have an interest in joint policy learning efforts to reach the targets set by the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.
The Platforms’ aim is to exchange knowledge and create a social network of engaged civil servants. As physical meetings became impossible during COVID-19, this informal exchange became much more difficult to achieve. To mitigate this, the 5th Peer Learning Platform was held virtually, where one of the main criteria was to create interaction between the participants and the speakers, which led to more civil servants participating from home office. Because Ministries and other central government bodies play a key role in the implementation of COVID-19 measures, empowering them to share their knowledge and best-practice ideas immensely supports the efforts to building back better from COVID. It also demonstrated that virtual events could be run in the future, even post-COVID.
SDGS & Targets
Deliverables & Timeline
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The ESDN Peer Learning Platforms have been implemented in Belgium, Finland, Italy, Denmark and Luxembourg. The Peer Learning Platform in Italy involved many sub-national regions in Italy.