"Multi-stakeholder" has become an established term in the international development lexicon. It is often inserted reflexively in proposals and reports, for example in association to broadening consultation, securing buy in, or strengthening oversight. The assumption is that being multi-stakeholder is a good thing. Fueling or at least reinforcing this trend has been the proliferation of formalized multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) bringing together diverse actors from the public, private, and civil society sectors. This has certainly been true in the governance space over the past decade. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative, the Open Government Partnership, and the Open Contracting Partnership are just a few examples of MSIs that aim to solve governance problems through collective action. They build on a longer history of initiatives focused on particular social and environmental concerns, ranging from fair trade to sustainable sourcing of products.
One could reasonably expect leading representatives of these efforts to be evangelists for a multi-stakeholder approach. Yet the reality appears to be much more nuanced - adopting the formalized structure of an MSI is not to be undertaken lightly. They are no silver bullet. However, they can be effective and for complex large-scale problems they may well be the best hope of identifying and supporting lasting solutions.
So what are the factors that can enhance their effectiveness? This was the underlying question that brought together over forty leaders and participants in MSIs from around the world in the UK at the end of April. The meeting was convened by Wilton Park, the World Bank, and Reos Partners with support of the UK Government, Transparency and Accountability Initiative, and Hewlett Foundation. The strong interest of donors in the conversation is no surprise. Multilateral and bilateral donors, not least the World Bank, as well as a core set of private foundations, have and continue to be funded by multiple internationally focused MSIs. How to assess return on investment? Only now are there moves to take stock of their collective impact and experience. To date, there has been no common platform for the secretariats (or funders) of these initiatives to share learnings, consider common elements of success and failure, or pinpoint areas of research or services from which they might collectively benefit.
That is likely to change, judging by interest at the meeting for better communication and collaboration across initiatives. Those in the trenches of running MSIs often feel isolated -- a community platform is needed. All had war stories to share that others could identify with. After all, they often face a similar set of obstacles - a fact brought home in the mapping of challenges facing those initiatives in the room. Many were common to all, whether it be a lack of capacity among members, global-local tensions, the struggle to evolve governance structures, or demonstrating impact and value to citizens.
By encouraging frank sharing and learning across initiatives, meeting participants identified key leverage points that make MSI’s more effective. Over the coming week, participants from the meeting will share their key insights on what make MSI’s work. For example:
- Jonas Moberg and Eddie Rich from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative will share their views about the underlying model and governance of MSIs. [published 5/20/14]
- Kate Bridges from the country office in Zambia will write about what is needed to help make MSIs work more effectively at the country level. [published 5/21/14]
- Richard Calland from the University of Capetown will share his views about how power dynamics affect the functioning of MSIs [published 5/27/14]; and
- Brendan Halloran, Program Officer at the Transparency and Accountability Initiative will blog about the importance of civic space. [published 5/28/14]
Stay tuned for these blog posts and let us know what you think about them. We welcome your reactions and feedback!
NOTE: [5/28/14] Subsequent blog links as shown above were added after this original post was published.