Policy trade-offs at the Global Festival of Ideas

This blog is written by Elizabeth Stuart, head of the Growth, Poverty and Inequality Programme at the Overseas Development Institute

Over 500 delegates at the Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable Development form the SDG wheel at the World Conference Center (WCC) in Bonn, March 01, 2017.


How much does evidence influence behaviour?  The three-day Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable Development started today in Bonn, Germany. It is an attempt to join new evidence with a better understanding of how and why people make decisions, plus creative experiments exploring different ways of making decisions.

The Festival looks at trade-offs, prioritisation and sequencing issues for governments who want to implement the social, economic and environmental elements of the Sustainable Development Goals. We’ll be approaching these challenges from a range of different and innovative angles. Rather than taking the perspective of a specific line ministry, we have focused on what would be helpful for someone delivering the entire goal set – such as a minister of planning or finance, a member of the cabinet office, or a member of civil society trying to influence such a person.

We’re running policy simulations in which participants role-play key constituents. This will help forge a deeper understanding of the needs and motivations of others in the political process. There are also more traditional plenary sessions where we’ll consider the politics of reducing inequality, and how to deal with multiple forms of volatility – including climatic, financial, social and political.

A centrepiece of the Festival is a game played throughout the event on smartphones and tablets, whereby participants trade off the impacts of different policies to achieve goals. The purpose of this is to see how game theory, including collaboration, might contribute to evolving thinking on implementation.  We think it may also provide live lessons on how to deal with shocks or changes in the resources available to policy-makers, without going off-track. After the Festival, the game will be made open-source for large groups of players.

‘Welcome to Progressia. The year is 2030…’: also for the Festival, ODI developed a case study of development in an imaginary African country. ‘Progressia’ is succeeding in economic, social and environmental terms  – the triple bottom line – but what trade-offs has it faced, and what choices has it made? Specifically, the report considers:

  • How can ending hunger be reconciled with environmental sustainability?
    (SDG targets 2.3 and 15.2)
  • How can economic growth be reconciled with environmental sustainability?
    (SDG targets 9.2 and 9.4) and
  • How can income inequality be reconciled with economic growth?
    (SDG targets 10.1 and 8.1).

While ‘Progressia’ cannot be found on any map, the issues it faces are real. This is a 50th fantasy case study but the report synthesises information from ODI’s research in 49 real case studies.

ODI co-hosts the festival with The UN SDG Action Campaign, and there are nine organising partners: The City of Bonn, Cepei, Data-Pop Alliance, Engagement Global, Plan International, Salzburg Global Seminar, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Resources Institute (WRI).

We are expecting over a thousand participants in Bonn this week and we’ll blog the outcome. If you weren’t able to join us in person, you can watch the plenary sessions online.

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