Too many sustainable development goals or too few

We decided to go with 17 goals and 169 targets...I know many of you wanted less and some of you wanted more...So we decided to go right in the middle, that way nobody is happy.

The age-old question, how many goals should we have?  I’m not really caught up on the overall discussion regarding the sustainable development goals, but the following sparked today’s cartoon.

This quote is from Tom Murphy in No surprises in U.N. draft for next global development goals:

The draft document for the goals that will set the global development agenda for the next 15 years came out on Tuesday. If it were a surprise party, the release was like the ones where the person knows it is happening, knows most of the details already and does a poor job pretending to be surprised.

As expected, two unsurprising things happened: 1) the draft contained basically the same 17 goals and 169 targets from previous drafts; 2) a lot of people and groups made clear they are not thrilled with the proposal.

This quote is by Owen Barder from Duncan Green‘s blog post Why 17 goals and 169 targets are not enough:

I’m torn between thinking that complexity implies many targets (your point) and thinking it implies just one or two big hairy ones, to which there are many possible paths. Something in between seems to be the worst of all worlds.

I guess it depends what you think the goals and targets actually do. I suspect there is some international norming, which is useful; and some establishment of a common language, which is also useful. So they are useful for “framing” rather than changing incentives or behaviour directly. This can be important in defining the space within which the complex adaptation occurs

If you are trying to “frame” then you need something that people can get their arms around. I’m not sure how you do that with 17 goals and 169 targets. So I’m more inclined to think that complexity suggests a small number of big targets rather than many targets.