Introducing the SDG Training of Multipliers, the SDG Flashcards and the SDG Canvas

A quick way to co-design projects to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in your community, organization or business

Daniel Christian Wahl
Age of Awareness
Published in
11 min readMay 29, 2018


In December 2016 — a little over a year after the launch of the United Nations’ ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) and ‘Agenda 2030’ — Gaia Education launched a day-long workshop format supported by a facilitation tool called the ‘SDG Implementation Flashcards.’ The ‘Training of Multipliers’ and the flashcards aim to promote cross-sectorial civic participation in the implementation of the SDGs at local, (bio)regional and sub-national scale.

Defining my own design brief for a tool and process to spread conversations aimed at locally meaningful SDG implementation

In my role as ‘Head of Design & Innovation’ for Gaia Education, I was asked to develop a new one-day training to promote SDG implementation at the scale of communities, organizations and businesses. The first thing that came to mind was an inspirational Buckminster Fuller quote:

“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.”

— R. Buckminster Fuller

I wanted to create a simple teaching tool that would help catalyze the all-important local scale conversations about the Sustainable Development Goals and how to implement them. It would invite dialogue about how the UN’s “Global Goals” could be brought home to individual communities, organizations and businesses in meaningful ways that respected local culture and the uniqueness of local ecosystems. Only if we can stimulate these kind of conversations across and within sectors will we inspire widespread participation in projects aimed at promoting the implementation of the SDGs.

The second Leitmotif I used to detail my own brief for a one day workshop was about how to scale this workshop and its impact on communities and organizations quickly and effectively. What came to mind was the notion of creating an analogue teaching tool and a ‘SDG Multipliers Handbook’ that together with the experience of participating in a one-day-training would enable people to replicate the ‘Training of Multipliers’ with their teams, communities, or in schools, universities and town halls.

The third component of the emerging process was borrowed from a notion that is central to my book ‘Designing Regenerative Cultures’. It is the conviction that while solutions and answers are useful, a much more effective way to generate lasting change that is adapted to the specific cultural, ecological, economic and social conditions of a particular place is to ask the right questions.

Questions posed in the right setting with the right diversity of people in the room can invite cross-sectorial multi-stakeholder dialogue so people can work out what works for them and how. I am convinced that living the questions together lies at the heart of the transition towards diverse regenerative cultures everywhere. It also lies at the heart of co-creating SDG implementation projects at the local and bioregional scale.

The fourth idea that centrally influenced my development work was to ensure the training would guide people to a more integrative and systemic way of thinking — about the SDGs and in general. If we hope to face the uncertainty that comes with informed awareness of the converging crises and opportunities with wisdom and response-ability, we need to become more systemically literate and adopt a living systems view of life.

There is no arriving at destination sustainability or destination regenerative cultures. It is a continuous — community focussed journey of learning and adapting together, aiming for appropriate participation and widespread regeneration in the face of dynamic change and intermittent disruptions. The flashcards, the handbook, and the training of multipliers are based on this understanding and catalyze place-based collaboration and opportunities for collective intelligence and creativity to emerge.

Designing a systemic and participatory process to enable an integrative approach to local and regional SDG implementation

Any effective course promoting systemic implementation of the SDGs would have to enable people to think about the goals in a more integrative and systemic way that leverages the potential synergies arising from implementing all the SDGs in a collaboration between local, regional, national and transnational stakeholders, engaging civil society along with public administration and private sector.

It is of paramount importance not to promote approaches that see each of the 17 goals as another silo and begin to tackle the different goals one by one without paying attention to their interrelationships. Successful implementation of Agenda 2030 depends critically on unleashing the potential of place-based participatory approaches that engage communities and businesses in collaborative implementation.

In this context it is also important that the notion of development is informed by an organic, biological understanding of development and not an unquestioned repetition of the (neoliberal) economic development agenda. This structurally unsustainable doctrine still has the potential to sabotage effective implementation of Agenda 2030. Which is why it would be advisable to distinguish between quantitative and qualitative growth and rephrase SDG number eight from ‘Economic Growth and Decent Work’ to ‘Qualitative growth and Decent Work’.

The result of bringing the four guiding ideas I mentioned above to bare on creating a set of innovative teaching materials and a workshop design slowly began to take shape. I remembered that the ‘transition town training’ successfully employs sets of cards to structure group work and conversations during their local capacity building trainings. My colleague May East, CEO of Gaia Education, used a set of cards in a series of introductory sessions on the SDGs that she ran through the UNITAR affiliated training centre CIFAL Scotland in 2015 with the support of the Scottish government.

I set out to develop the ‘SDG Implementation Flashcards’ as a tool “the use of which would lead to new ways of thinking” that would inform SDG implementation at the community or company scale. The way the cards lead people into thinking in a more holistic way about the SDGs also gives a unique ‘Gaia Education touch’ to the cards and the associated ‘Training of Multipliers’. The flashcards use the 4 dimensional ‘whole systems design framework’ which is at the centre of all of Gaia Education’s programmes.

Each card offers some introductory background and trends (white boxes on the card) on a specific SDG and it does so from the four different perspectives or dimensions of the 4-D framework. This cognitively primes participants to think more holistically by inviting conscious exploration of the social, ecological, economic and worldview (cultural) significance of each SDG within the context of their community, company or organization.

Taking a question-centred approach each card also asks a series of engaging questions (see colourful boxes on the card) about the local relevance and meaningful local implementation of each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These questions are also asked using the 4-D ‘whole systems design framework’. The cards challenge participants to think more systemically about the SDGs and to do so in a way that invites reflections about meaningful implementation in their place, community or organization.

You can buy a set of the ‘SDG Implementation Flashcards’ in English, Spanish, French, Arabic, and Portuguese here.

The ‘SDG Implementation Flashcards’ contain 3 cards for each of the 17 SDGs, whereby the basic trends on the cards of each SDG are the same, but the three different cards each offer different questions that small groups can work on.

The cards guide people into dialogue about the local relevance of each SDG and ask them to explore which projects already exist in their region/locality that might support the implementation of particular SDGs. Beyond that they invite exploration of which innovative projects participants could co-create that would further drive the implementation of ‘Agenda 2030’ in their community, organization or business.

The well structured training flow (as detailed in the handbook) along with the flashcards enable facilitators to let the participants — who know more about their particular context than the facilitator might — do most of the creative work. The role of the facilitator is more to set people up to have these co-creative conversations and help them harvest and deepen into strategies to implement the results of their creative SDG brainstorming.

In addition to the 3 times 17 cards addressing specific SDGs, there are ten cards that address systemic interconnections between the SDGs, offer a basic timeline of the UN’s sustainable development process, offer some context of the SDGs within UNESCO’s ‘Roadmap for Implementation’ and more.

In a nutshell, the cards are an easy to use teaching tool that enables facilitators (multipliers) to take the conversations about SDG implementation into local schools, town halls, community groups, NGOs, businesses, universities, etc.

UNESCO partners with Gaia Education in the translation and promotion of the flashcards, handbook and training

Together with a detailed ‘SDG Multiplier’s Handbook’ the flashcards make it relatively easy for participants in a ‘Training of Multipliers’ to replicate the training once they have experienced it — given access to the manual and flashcards. In combination the cards, handbook and training hope to create an analog viral multiplier effect, that will spread SDG conversations that matter and lead to local and regional implementation projects everywhere.

The SDG Implementation Flashcards in Arabic

When Gaia Education first presented the beta-version of the flashcards and the training of multipliers to UNESCO as part of its involvement in the Global Action Plan for Education for Sustainable Development (GAP), the feedback could not have been more enthusiastic and positive. UNESCO was keen to see the approach spread widely and became a partner in organizing a rapid translation of the material into other UN languages.

To date the cards already exist in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabic and soon in Russian, Chinese and various other languages. Most of the images on the cards are from Gaia Education trainings around the world or of places where there are partner organizations. The beautiful and clear graphic design of the cards is the work of Alexandre Pereira.

A Training of Multipliers in Santiago de Chile

The initial beta version of the ‘Training of Multipliers’ has been tested in workshops around the world between December 2016 and December 2017 (see report).

May East, Gaia Education’s CEO, has offered the training in diverse settings including official UN meetings, grass-roots-leadership-trainings in Thailand, Gaia Education’s own ‘Training of Trainers’ programme, and the South American Young Social Entrepreneur Summit in Chile. I co-facilitated facilitated a couple of trainings with May on Mallorca and in Madrid and have offered introductions to the materials and training at a number of international conferences and awards.

The Multipliers Handbook

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Multipliers Handbook offers a detailed description of how to prepare, promote and facilitate a SDG Training of Multipliers using Gaia Education’s SDG Implementation Flashcards.

Example of the way each of the 12 or 17 movements of the half and full day Training of Multipliers are detailed in the handbook

The manual outlines who the training is for, how it can be adapted to different contexts, offers a training materials check-list, advises on how to set up the workshop space, and details desired outcomes for the training.

The handbook contains two detailed workshop scripts for a day-long and a half-day SDG Training of Multipliers. Each with a step-by-step list of what exercises to facilitate in what sequence and how to do so.

Your can download a free black & white copy of the Handbook here.

The intention behind offering this handbook is to make it easy for participants in a SDG Training of Multipliers to step into the role of a multiplier and to feel confident in offering trainings to their business team, in their organization, in local community centres and town halls, or in schools and universities.

The SDG Project Canvas

The ‘SDG Project Canvas’ offers an additional tool to support an even more detailed process of co-conceiving and then co-designing an integrative SDG implementation project with a particular location, community, business or organization in mind.

Towards the second half of the ‘Training of Multipliers’ an entire hour of the training is spend in small groups focussed on one of the ideas generated in the earlier brainstorming sessions to identify potential projects that would synergistically implement a series of SDGs at once. Groups work with focus on a particular location and context, aiming to integrate different sectors and SDGs.

The ‘SDG Project Canvas’ was inspired by the ‘Business Model Canvas’ first published by Strategyzer. It has been adapted to help people think through key partners and key activities, define how their project will implement a series of SDGs, how widespread participation will be stimulated, who it will impact, what resources will be need and can be drawn from, what policies might enable or hinder successful implementation, and how investment or funding might be raised.

The SDG Project Canvas supports group conversations about how to plan and implement initiatives that driver SDG implementation in a specific context.

My hope is that positive multiplier effects from offering a ‘Training of Multipliers’ will not only be that participants have a much better systemic understanding of the SDGs and which of the 17 goals are already well implemented in their community as well as which others still need improvement. The training aims to give people the capacity to replicate more trainings and hence catalyze more conversation about SDG implementation. It also generates locally relevant ‘SDG Projects’ that some participant groups will actually take on as projects to be realized in their community, business or organization.

Agenda 2030 will be achieved only if communities, businesses, local governments and civil society organizations everywhere come to understand the Sustainable Development Goals as a shared framework and vision that enables them to structure new kinds of cross-sector collaboration. The SDGs are a huge opportunity to overcome sectorial divides and together commit to making the global goals our shared local goals. I sincerely hope that the flashcards, handbook and training of multipliers I helped to design together with my colleagues at Gaia Education will contribute to this process.

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Daniel Christian Wahl — Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on regenerative whole systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development and bioregional regeneration.

Author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures

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Daniel Christian Wahl
Age of Awareness

Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures