Examining the Contextual Factors Influencing Intersectoral Action for the SDGs: Insights From Canadian Federal Policy Leaders

Document Type : Original Article


1 Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Social and Behavioural Health Sciences Division, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

2 School of Epidemiology and Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada

3 Social and Behavioural Health Sciences Divsion, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

4 Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada

5 Centre for Global Health, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada


The interdependent and intersecting nature of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) require collaboration across government sectors, and it is likely that departments with few past interactions will find themselves engaged in joint missions on SDG projects. Intersectoral action (IA) is becoming a common framework for different sectors to work together. Understanding the factors in the environment external to policy teams enacting IA is crucial for making progress on the SDGs.

Interviews [n = 17] with senior public servants leading SDG work in nine departments in the federal government of Canada were conducted to elicit information about issues affecting how departments engage in IA for the SDGs. Transcripts were coded based on a set of factors identified in a background review of 20 documents related to Canada’s progress on SDGs. Iterative group thematic analysis by the authors illuminated a set of domestic and global contextual factors affecting IA processes for the SDGs.

The mechanisms for successful IA were identified as facilitative governance, leadership by a central coordinating office, supportive staff, flexible and clear reporting structures, adequate resources, and targeted skills development focused on collaboration and cross-sector learning. Factors that affect IA positively include alignment of the SDG agenda with domestic and global political priorities, and the co-occurrence of social issues such as Indigenous rights and gender equity that raise awareness of and support for related SDGs. Factors that affect IA negatively include competing conceptual frameworks for approaching shared priorities, lack of capacity for “big picture” thinking among bureaucratic staff, and global disruptions that shift national priorities away from the SDGs.

IA is becoming a normal way of working on problems that cross otherwise separate government accountabilities. The success of these collaborations can be impacted by contextual factors beyond any one department’s control.


Articles in Press, Corrected Proof
Available Online from 10 June 2024
  • Receive Date: 09 May 2023
  • Revise Date: 26 February 2024
  • Accept Date: 08 June 2024
  • First Publish Date: 10 June 2024