Why has the global norm of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) been facing challenges in the process of national implementation, even in developed countries? We conceptualize the implementation of the SDGs as a complex institutional process where a globally agreed norm is internalized into a specific context. Building on institutional theories, we conducted an interpretive case study of the Korean SDGs (K-SDGs), focusing particularly on governance structure and differing stakeholders' engagement. The findings suggest that the notion of “sustainable development” has historically evolved with time in Korea, which has shaped the current implementation of the SDGs. The challenges in the process are not only technical and functional, but also socio-institutional. These challenges include institutional fragmentation within the government, the inherent ambiguity of the SDGs, conflicting values, and interpretations of “sustainable development” in the Korean context. To address such challenges, the active participation of various stakeholders and collaborative governance were found to be significant, which in turn provides lessons for other countries.