Sustainable development goals as accountability mechanism? A case study of Dutch infrastructure agencies

Elsevier, Journal of Responsible Technology, Volume 14, July 2023
Wagner B., de Gooyert V., Veeneman W.

The UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) were adopted by the United Nations as a “universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.” These goals prove to have a strong appeal to managers in both public and private sectors. Despite the popularity of the goals, little is known about the consequences (intended and unintended, desired and undesired) of organisations adopting SDGs in their management practices. Therefore, our research question is: “What is the potential role of SDGs as an accountability mechanism?” The following article will study how organisations responsible for technological infrastructures in the Netherlands use the SDGs as an accountability mechanism. To do this, the authors will first provide an overview of the SDGs and how we conceptualize accountability. We will then present our case study methodology before looking at a single case study based on interviews with employees from three organizations running infrastructure in the Netherlands. Based on this case study, we will provide a broader analysis of the key tensions that are becoming apparent when using the SDGs as an accountability mechanism. In conclusion, we will argue that the SDGs may provide a valuable tool to make organizations more accountable to societal needs, however further shifts are needed in the way the accountability mechanisms are designed in order to ensure meaningful accountability.