Integrated approach and three dimensions of sustainability

The preamble to the 2030 Agenda document and many other sections thereof emphasise the fact that the integrative character of the Sustainable Development Goals is essential for implementing the 2030 Agenda. This character is evidenced in two ways:

Firstly, for the first time, the 2030 Agenda gives equal consideration to the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability as causally interdependent factors. Poverty reduction is addressed in one guiding document together with sustainable development, resource conservation and climate change mitigation.

Secondly, the 2030 Agenda recognises the fact that global challenges are closely interrelated. It underlines the fact that the 17 SDGs are integrated and indivisible. In itself, it creates many links between the 17 SDGs and the 169 targets. The indicators also refer to each other, or have the same content for different goals.

There are positive interactions (synergies) between many of the goals. However, the Agenda also explains that none of the goals may be implemented at the expense of one of the others. Progress in one area should not minimise or prevent developments in another area (no trade-offs). Conflicts that inevitably arise between the goals should be addressed in a structured and inclusive dialogue and alternatives should be found.

Especially in fragile contexts and those affected by violence, conflicting goals are par for the course and are frequently of a politically sensitive nature. There is limited space for civil-society involvement and inclusive processes, or this does not exist for specific groups.

What has to be borne in mind? Key questions

Both aspects of the integrated approach must be addressed when designing projects. All dimensions of sustainability must be taken into consideration; no priority should be given to those goals that are easy to implement, without taking into account the more sensitive or difficult issues (no cherry-picking). That does not mean that a project cannot consciously and understandably give priority to one of the dimensions. Measures should also be designed such that they can support each other to the greatest possible extent. A context- and conflict-sensitive approach must be taken, particularly in fragile contexts, or efforts should at least be made to prevent unintended, negative effects in line with the do-no-harm principle. This calls for cooperation between policy fields and across sectors both inside GIZ, in Germany (on the donor side and at global level), and in the partner country.

During the clarification phase of the appraisal, sector managers should explore possible interfaces with other sectors and projects working in the country in order to harness the relevant expertise that covers all three dimensions of sustainability.

The possibility of devising a cross-sectoral change strategy should be examined when drawing up the brief assessment.

Consideration should also be given at an early stage to extending the measure to include further or other cooperation partners in the country, in addition to the already known sectoral partners.

Before and during the appraisal, the mission team should discuss whether other line ministries can be involved in the project’s steering structure as well as the partner ministry, so as to promote the integrated implementation of the reform projects in the partner country and to foster cooperation between ministries.

Here is a selection of key questions:

  • Which dimensions of sustainability (economic, environmental, social) will the project affect either directly or indirectly? What steps will be taken to ensure that negative synergies are avoided and positive synergies are harnessed?
  • What interministerial coordination structures and mechanisms exist at the national level for implementation and monitoring of the 2030 Agenda in line with the integrated approach, and how can the project integrate them? (Can these promote the intersectoral implementation of a project?)
  • Where is cross-sectoral work already under way, or where could such an approach be adopted in order to boost positive results/avoid negative results?
  • How can articulate actors/stakeholders (including civil society) be involved in the appraisal mission in relation to other dimensions of sustainability?
  • What interdependencies with other development goals are observed during the appraisal? Which actors (civil society, private sector, politics, academia) should be contacted accordingly to ensure coordination on the partner’s or donor’s side?
Helpfool tools and approaches

In this context, the chapeau paper on governance in and with sectors (german) provides guidance. (‘Sector governance’ can be seen as an approach to addressing sectoral and governance themes in an integrated manner. This may increase the effectiveness and sustainability of sectoral programmes and governance interventions).

One good example is BMZ’s strategy for the water sector with its strategies for interlinkages (Water, the Environment and Climate Change and Water, Energy and Agriculture (Nexus perspective)) on other sectors.

The binding minimum standards of the Safeguards+Gender management system go hand in hand with this principle. It covers all four phases of commission management and examines in a systematic appraisal process the themes of environment and climate change, human rights, conflict and context sensitivity and gender in relation to their external risks and unintended, negative effects on all three dimensions. In addition, the system examines the potential for promoting gender equality.

To examine whether an existing project’s approach is in line with the integrated approach, it makes sense to look at which of the SDG targets the project is already contributing towards.

This table can be used for this purpose. The table can be filled in quickly and easily by the projects themselves. Targets/indicators that are not relevant can simply be deleted. Filling in the table often prompts initial ideas as to how the project’s approach can be extended at no great effort to other sectors without causing a shift in thematic focus.

Based on the table, it is then easy to go on working with this aid to visualisation – the so-called ‘SDG wheel’. Appraisers and advisors can use this tool to systematically represent contributions that have already been made or can potentially be made to achieving the SDGs. This aid to visualisation was originally used by the GIZ appraisal and evaluation mission of the MINSUS regional programme with regard to Chile’s mining sector.

Another useful tool is the network diagram of integrated approaches (german) for the rapid assessment of integrated approaches to appraisals.

Practical Examples

The project on Capacity development of new municipalities in Nepal has been supporting local governments since 2015 in providing demand-driven services. During the appraisal for the offer to increase funding, a workshop (german) was held with the officers responsible for the commission at other projects in the country (including projects from the energy, health and agriculture sectors). At this workshop, the interdependencies and cooperation potentials between sectors were discussed in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda more efficiently by tapping into possible synergies between individual projects. Based on the coordination process, an offer can now be developed in which local governance serves as a link between the different projects.


The publication ‚Gender takes Centre Stage – at GIZ and in the Agenda 2030‘ provides further cross-sectoral examples that go beyond individual SDGs.

More examples can also be found in the ‘Our topics’ section of the sectoral divisions (Implementation of principles in 4B, C, D)

Go here for an overview of the SDGs and tertiary education with examples of GIZ’s work and fact sheets on GIZ projects.


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