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Multistakeholder Initiatives: Are they Effective?

Johanna Martinsson's picture

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Kimberly Process, and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) are just a few examples of major Multistakeholder Initiatives (MSIs). Through comprehensive deliberative processes, involving a broad set of stakeholders from governments, private sector, and civil society, MSIs form and adopt new norms, which they seek to make part of the global agenda, and implement on the ground. MSIs gained traction in the late 1990’s, as a means of filling “governance gaps,” due to the failure of existing structures and processes, and as a means to solve problems through collective action. Lucy Koechlin and Richard Calland, have identified five functions of MSIs: 1) dialogue/forum, 2) institution building, 3) rule setting, 4) rule implementation and 5) rule monitoring.

As the use of MSIs is fairly recent, it might be too soon to question their effectiveness. However, Koechlin, Calland, and N.K. Dubash have identified challenges in their analysis of the EITI and the World Commission on Dams. These challenges, involving effectiveness, legitimacy and accountability, can impede a successful outcome.

First of all, a concern entails what influence the main driver has on these processes; what’s their motive? Global initiatives, with major international institutions and Western NGOs dominating, have frequently been criticized for operating through a top-down approach. A common approach is to form norms at the global level, and then transfer responsibility to the local level. The aim of the IATI, for example, is to launch a new set of global standards in 2011, on making the spending of aid more accessible and easier to understand, at which point the initiative will dissolve and transfer its activities to other organizations.

Another challenge for MSIs concerns the selection process of representatives. Who gets to participate? As participation is voluntary, also stakeholders’ motives to participate can be questionable. The selection process is a critical aspect of MSIs, that can contribute to the initiative’s credibility and legitimacy. To achieve fair and equal representation, MSIs face the challenge of tackling the politics of inclusion and exclusion of stakeholders. It’s also important to note that stakeholders tend to carry different status internally, such as governments taking precedence over civil society. Thus, there also needs to be a procedure in place for reaching consensus that takes all voices into account. For MSIs to thrive and be sustained, it would be important to create clear roles and objectives, and create a trusting environment.

While the diversity of stakeholders contributes to rich dialogue and quality of norms, implementing these processes in practice is no doubt a challenge. Despite the young age of MSIs, there are few examples of norms created through deliberative processes that have actually led to transformational change, or become law, on the ground. TwentyFifty, an organizational change consultant team, provides an interesting analysis on the effectiveness of MSIs in the oil and gas sector. Based on a survey conducted in 2007, with respondents from governments, private sector and civil society, their summary report provides practical recommendations for MSIs, in terms of formation, standard setting, implementation, and improvement, which are all components of what they call the “Life Cycle” of MSIs. To achieve successful implementation, they make the following recommendations:

  1. A clear understanding of expectations related direct and indirect impacts
  2. Good promotion of the standard
  3. Evolution of the governance structure / development of structures to support local implementation
  4. Development of practical guidance to aid implementation
  5. Establishing multi-stakeholder collaboration at the country or local implementation level
  6. A strong secretariat – with independence and ability to mobilise all stakeholders (in particular governments) and to govern participation criteria
  7. Continuing political support of home countries internationally and in producer countries, as facilitators and honest and skilled brokers
  8. Continuing ethos of leadership: effective sector pillars but also specific actors who are willing to lead troubleshooting.


It’s clear that MSIs, which are usually formed at the global level, need to build close relationships with domestic stakeholders to ensure successful implementation. Furthermore, MSIs must tackle internal challenges that stem from a broad set of stakeholders with different perspectives and motives, as well as overcome domestic challenges and obstacles to governance reform. While transferring responsibilities to the local level is critical, support is still needed in terms of building capacity and facilitating processes of change.


Photo Credit: Overseas Development Institute (on Flickr)

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Submitted by Daniel Sara Turay on

Multi-Stakeholders is a powerful toolkit to promoting collecting decision and responsibility. Please help me more reading materials on this subject matter as i want to know more about it.

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