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By Kathy Zhang

On November 19, 2015, John Thwaites, Chair of the Monash Sustainability Institute and Co-Chair of the SDSN Leadership Council, gave a presentation on “The Politics of Getting Things Done” at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). Drawing on his experience as the former Deputy Premier of the Australian State of Victoria from 1999 to 2007, Thwaites illustrated practical strategies to translate science and expertise into actionable policy.

In his presentation to students of the Columbia’s MPA in Development Practice (MPA-DP) program, Thwaites described the tumultuous nature of politics and shared his “10 commandments of influencing government.” Key factors in creating policy change include: clear understanding the governments’ key players, processes, timelines, and objectives; collaborating across sectors; and persistence.

“In academia, globally, impact has become more important,” said Thwaites. Evidence is not enough; academics and development practitioners must have a good understanding of the different policy levers to affect change.

Thwaites’ presentation highlighted the importance of framing, messaging, and telling emotionally compelling stories as communication tools to engage the public and to change opinion & behavior. For example, while the Australian government presented climate action via carbon pricing as economic reform, President Obama focused on the pollution and health impacts in introducing the US Clean Power Plan.

Shiv Someshwar, Director of Climate Policy at the Center for Sustainable Development and Senior Advisor at the SDSN, moderated questions from the students in attendance on topics such as science advocacy and building political will. Someshwar co-teaches with SDSN Director Jeffrey Sachs the MPA-DP core course on Foundations of Sustainable Development Practice.

The SDSN Australia/Pacific Network, chaired by Thwaites, convenes knowledge centers, business, policy makers, and civil society in the region to develop and promote solutions, policies and public education around sustainable development. The network’s recent activities include a large public event on “Why the SDGs matter for Australia” and a workshop on sustainable energy and deep decarbonization in Indonesia, organized in partnership with other SDSN Networks.