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The UN Sustainable Development Goals as a North Star: How an intermediary network makes, takes, and retrofits the meaning of the Sustainable Development Goals

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
JournalRegulation & Governance
Accepted/In press2021
Published8 Jun 2021


King's Authors


In this paper, we investigate how a network of informal intermediaries – including international organizations, consultancies,business alliances, and standard setters – has contributed to the persistence of the universalistic meaning of the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs). Based on our analysis of 26 interviews and 121 online resources produced by the 22 most prominent intermediaries, we find that SDG diffusion is distinct from linear depictions, such as the regulator-intermediary-target model. This is because the intermediary network acts via three dynamic mechanisms that lend to an inclusive meaning of the goals; the core intermediaries lead efforts to make the perspective one that can accommodate a range of different audiences and activities, then intermediaries who subsequently join the network accept that broad perspective. Concomitant to their making or taking of the perspective, each intermediary individually works to retrofit the SDGs onto their unique tools and activities and to create their spot within the network. The combination of perspective making and taking, and retrofitting,propels the persistence of the SDGs as a “North Star” rather than a more specific blueprint for companies.

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