​Multi stakeholder initiatives: Platforms of collective governance for development

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‘Collective governance’ is neither the next buzz word with which to spice up our development discourse nor an attempt by development practitioners to replace traditional governments with some ‘collective’ form of it. Yet it is increasingly central to our work and to helping our clients achieve results. 
This was echoed in the discussion at the World Bank last month of the new book Beyond Governments: Making Collective Governance Work, by Jonas Moberg and Eddie Rich, drawing on the lessons from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). 
Collective (sometimes ‘collaborative’) governance is an innovative model of governance that is solutions-oriented with a focus on public value, where diverse stakeholders can work in partnership to improve the management of public resources and delivery of services.

An important way in which collective governance is being manifested is in so called multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) that bring together government, civil society, and the private sector to address complex development challenges that no one party alone has the capacity, resources, and know-how to do so more effectively.  In so doing, MSIs come to complement and not usurp the role of governments in achieving these ends.

Most of the public collective governance initiatives are anchored on facilitating transparency, accountability and (stakeholder) participation – three critical ingredients for strengthening public sector governance in developing as well as developed countries. Public governance MSIs include EITI, the Open Government Partnership (OGP), Global Initiative on Fiscal Transparency (GIFT), Open Contracting Partnership (OCP), Busan Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, and the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (Post 2015 SDGs).

The World Bank actively supports most of these.
We know from our experience that technical solutions alone can fail to achieve the desired transformational and enduring impact. Much more is required! In so far as MSIs can catalyze deeper citizen engagement, build trust and even help strengthen capacity across stakeholders, they can foster better and more sustainable outcomes.

MSIs are an attempt to place citizens more at the center of change processes and development, to make “collective governance work”, as Eddie Rich, Deputy Head of EITI International Secretariat put.
The World Bank Group has significant knowledge and experience of working with non-state stakeholders, including MSIs. This has not always been the case, though. Historically, our core expertise has been in working directly with governments. But this changed more than 20 years ago, spurred by the World Bank’s work on participation, and subsequently by the Poverty Reduction Strategies, which mandated broader engagement.

That was followed by the Governance and Anti-Corruption Strategy, with its call for multi-stakeholder engagement, later enshrined in specific institutional guidelines. Our knowledge and tools, and indeed convening role, are increasingly being brought to bear on the MSIs to make them more effective. 
MSIs represent a new area, however, and there is a need to continue to clarify what truly works and what does not. It is in the same spirit that we organized two important events in 2014 and 2015.
The event dubbed “Increasing the Effectiveness of Multi-stakeholder Initiatives through Active Collaboration” was the first attempt to convene different MSIs secretariats together.

Held in April 2014 at Wilton Park, the objectives were to connect to and learn from other multi-stakeholder initiatives, build a common understanding of the landscape and the impact such initiatives are having, share effective processes and tools for increasing the impact of multi-stakeholder initiatives, and identify opportunities for building upon the existing initiatives and supporting practitioners to deepen their work.
This led to a second event in February 2015, in collaboration with the Transparency and Accountability Initiative (TAI). We convened a workshop on international MSIs addressing public governance issues, particularly related to government transparency and accountability.

This workshop focused on understanding the ‘state of evidence’ on MSIs, and shared learning across a diverse set of groups and individuals, ranging from MSI secretariats to researchers to civil society actors.
The early findings not only speak to the achievements of MSIs but also shed light on the challenges they face:  

  • Focus on transparency is an easy win, while emphasis on accountability is a challenge for the MSIs. We acknowledge the qualitative steps made in the transparency agenda, but we need to show better evidence-based outcomes where transparency activities are leading to accountability. Evidence suggests that public governance oriented MSIs lay heavy emphasis on transparency and lighter emphasis on accountability activities, and that there is lack of clarity on how participation can link the two. 
  • There are opportunities for synergies between MSIs to improve learning and avoid redundancies at the country level. The challenge in many countries is whether they are strengthening each other or overburdening the same stakeholders, also given that these MSIs draw from the same partner organizations and funders.
  • MSIs are sometimes creating a separate parallel track to government institutions or other institutions in charge of improving transparency and accountability. For example, a recent World Bank mission in Tanzania found that the anti-corruption agency and the Bureau of the General Auditor did not know about EITI in Tanzania, a process that has been implemented for years.
  • Many MSIs have been mainly working with government, CSOs and the private sector. The question we are now trying to address is how to include the other accountability institutions such as Parliaments, Supreme Audit Institutions, Anti-Corruption Bureaus, Ombudsman and more.   

As an institution, working with our partners and clients, we remain committed to addressing these challenges and taking advantage of collective governance approaches. EITI is only a decade old, other governance MSIs are even younger. The potential is still unfolding. 
Let me end by saying that MSIs are an important ‘platform’ for advancing norms for effective governance, and indeed translating them to development action, and outcomes. I therefore applaud a recent initiative, led by TAI, on enabling and protecting ‘civic space’ in MSIs - through better measurement and monitoring, so that member countries can work effectively with their civil societies and citizens to advance development goals.

Tweet this:  Collective governance to address complex development challenges #goodgov  
Tweet this: Multi-stakeholder initiatives complement, not replace govts in efforts 2 achieve #development results 
Tweet this:  Collective governance initiatives facilitate transparency, accountability and participation @JeffThinda  


Jeff Thindwa

Program Manager, Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA)

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