The problem with the long term

Considering the slow pace of societal transitions, SDG implementation should have a strong long-term view. Policies triggering transitions often have a long lead time: the results may be only visible after 5-10 years. This requires excellent management of expectations. Frequent changes of political leadership may interrupt or even disrupt SDG implementation. In countries with a majoritarian system, such changes may happen every four of five years, when a new ruling party may change crucial staff in Ministries and/or ‘clean up’  policies.

From a metagovernance perspective on sustainable development, it is logical to establish mechanisms to ensure/maintain the long-term dimension. Examples of successful strategies include:

  • Involve the whole of government and the whole of parliament in key long-term policies;
  • Show that even long-term policies will have also results on the short and medium term;
  • Build reflection mechanisms for keeping the long-term view, such as parliamentary SD commissions (Germany), SD Councils (Finland, Belgium, Germany, …)…

For maintaining a long-term view in a governance framework,  a minimum of hierarchy is needed (institutional basis), broad involvement of stakeholders and layers of government (network governance), as well as effective marketing of policies (market governance).

More on the long-term dimension of sustainability governance:

Meuleman, L. and R.J. in ‘t Veld (2009), Sustainable Development and the Governance of Long-Term Decision Making. The Hague: RMNO/EEAC