1. Introduction

The Project
Principles & Checklist
Ongoing Work
MSP Examples
Scientific Research

Your Input


Part II

1. Introduction

Among the key aspects of Agenda 21 are the chapters dealing with the role of Major Groups (women, youth, Indigenous Peoples, NGOs, business & industry, workers & trade unions, science & technology, farmers, local authorities)[1]. Agenda 21 is the first UN document to extensively address the role of different stakeholders in the implementation of a global agreement.[2]



" – in the wider sense of the word 'stakeholder' refers to people who have an interest in a particular decision, either as individuals or representatives of a group" (The Environment Council)[3]  This includes people who (can) influence a decision as well as those affected by it.


Agenda 21, in each of the chapters, outlines roles and responsibilities of the respective stakeholder groups, and stresses their involvement as being absolutely crucial for successful implementation of sustainable development.

Reflecting upon the practical implications, there are numerous ways to design meaningful stakeholder involvement, ranging from governments consulting stakeholders to creating multi-stakeholder dialogues and partnerships clearly linked into official decision-making processes.

Since 1992, stakeholders have in various ways tried to work out the norms and standards for their involvement in multi-stakeholder processes. "One of the major achievements of the UN system both at Rio and beyond has been the integration of global partnership principles into the international policy process" (Murphy & Coleman 2000: 210). Internationally, the most advanced multi-stakeholder discussions occur at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) where there are well-prepared multi-stakeholder dialogues each year on different topics. They have also initiated ongoing multi-stakeholder processes.

The multi-stakeholder process at the CSD was pioneered by UNED-UK (now part of UNED Forum) and, although still evolving, has become a model of multi-stakeholder engagement within the UN system on sustainable development issues.

Over the last few years, multi-stakeholder processes have also started to generate considerable interest in other fora outside the Rio / CSD process, around intergovernmental bodies and at national levels. For example, the World Commission on Dams has recently launched its report after 2 years of research and discussion; with the Global Compact initiative, the UN Secretary General has embarked on developing a particular approach to partnerships with stakeholders; the OECD as well as individual companies have undertaken activities and organised events providing platforms for multi-stakeholder dialogues on contentious issues in the area of biotechnology and health care; discussions on stakeholder involvement around the UN, UNEP, the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, etc. abound in recent years, also as part of efforts towards institutional reform. For example, Poverty Reductions Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and stakeholder participation ins developing PRSPs are becoming increasingly important at the national level for debt relief initiatives and concessionary lending by the World Bank and the IMF.

Studies such as the ones conducted by Wolfgang Reinicke, Francis Deng et al. (2000) on Global Public Policy Partnerships (GPPs) have made a significant contribution to the analysis of the role and potential of multi-sectoral networks, identifying them as "institutional innovation in global governance" (Reinicke 2000). They have also highlighted many of the key challenges and organisational implications.

To a large extent, however, there is still no documented common framework or ‘practitioner’s guide’ or check-list. So far, it seems as if the dialogues themselves, the mechanisms of feeding them into the decision-making process and the concrete follow-up procedures – where they take place - are  mostly being designed on an ad hoc basis. Although there is vast experience with participation at the community level, use of this seems rather arbitrary.

Stakeholder groups have to date mostly reacted to suggested procedures of involvement. They need now to become more pro-active in initiating processes that bring true contributions of all to sustainability issues. Stakeholders have to date also rather put forward their respective ideas than discussed and agreed possible procedures amongst themselves.

There is a lack of viable frameworks for multi-stakeholder processes and meaningful participation of all. Researching and comparing the different approaches (and there is a lot of experimenting going on) and distilling an acceptable “template procedure” is a timely task to be undertaken by those interested in furthering the issues of sustainable development by addressing the necessary developments in governance structures and processes. The reality has to match the rhetoric of Agenda 21; the latter has to be translated into concrete suggestions on how to do it, which will help us to put the ideals of justice, equity, high quality decision-making, etc. into practice.

For the process towards Earth Summit 2002, the United Nations General Assembly has decided to conduct stakeholder dialogues, panels and round tables at all preparatory meetings, regional and international, and at the Summit itself. In addition, "global thematic round tables" are being planned.

We believe it would be useful if stakeholders put forward their suggestions on how such mechanisms of stakeholder involvement should be conducted to make them as effective as possible.

There are many forms that an MSP can take. Each situation, issue or problem prompts the need for participants to design a process specifically suited to their abilities, circumstances, and needs. However, there are a number of common aspects – values and ideologies underlying the concept of MSPs, questions & issues which need to be addressed when designing an MSP, and phases of such a process. Our suggestions for a common framework / template procedure comprise such common aspects.


An Eclectic Approach

Sustainable development is a mixed concept, comprising values (environmental protection, equity) and strategies (healthy economic growth; stakeholder involvement; global perspective).

Related to the mixed nature of the concept of sustainable development, one can argue issues of sustainable development within different frameworks or discourses.

For example, one can argue applying a value-based approach, pointing out the ethical and/or moral need for equity, justice, equal opportunities, self-determination and democracy. This discourse will lead to suggesting such issues as transparency, equal access to information, mechanisms of fair communication and consensus-building, and ensuring meaningful participation, on the grounds that these characteristics of political realities further the realisation of such values.

One can also apply a rather pragmatic approach[4], arguing that certain strategies or mechanisms have been proven to work, e.g. bringing a multitude of perspectives into decision-making processes, certain procedures of preparing dialogue or chairing meetings. Arguing for a multi-stakeholder approach in this manner will simply suggest what has worked to produce increased creativity of thinking, commitment to implementation, and multiplying effects, in order to address problems such as  resource depletion, and human and environmental security.

Many people assert that arriving at a shared set of values will be indispensable for human survival. Many also claim that existing international agreements, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the Rio Principles and Agenda 21, represent a shared set of values which can serve as the basis of putting sustainable development into practice. Finally, many argue that both value-based and pragmatic approaches are intertwined as they respond to various needs of the human being. The satisfaction of both psychological ("spiritual"?) needs and material and social needs are pre-requisites of human happiness, security and well-being, social cohesion, and economic justice. Whereas psychological needs pertain to individually experienced growth based on the realization of certain values, material and social needs pertain to political, economic and environmental rules and regulations. The declaration and promotion of a set of basic shared values is therefore a logical component of the foundations of sustainable development.

However one might address this question of a value-based or a pragmatic approach or the interdependence of the two – we believe that proposing useful tools for the process of sustainable development, such as MSPs, should be based on considering basic values and ideologies related to MSPs (as a set of criteria) as well as practical experiences and empirical knowledge of how such processes can be made to work.[5]

We have therefore tried and used various discourses to put together a proposed framework of issues and questions which need to be addressed when designing MSPs. Our work is based on several approaches – faith/belief systems, traditional and cultural values, philosophical, theoretical, empirical-scientific, pragmatic. Analysing the various literature – from spiritual and philosophical approaches to "dialogue" and collaboration in diverse groups to empirical findings in organisational psychology – conclusions in terms of practical steps seem to converge. All mechanisms or strategies, steps of work etc. we're suggesting are based on a careful analysis of the values being realised using those strategies & mechanisms, and the empirical evidence with regard to likelihood of success implementing those strategies and mechanisms. All steps and mechanisms we are proposing are based on conclusions drawn from more than one approach.

This might be argued as representing a rather "eclectic" approach. However, it seems to us that the appeal  of multi-stakeholder approaches is that practicing strategies designed to fulfil the values discussed below will at the same time yield the best results in terms of well-informed appropriate decisions and increased commitment of all stakeholders to implementation, and therefore increased probability of solutions being realised for the benefit of all. In other words, if there is any "truth" in pronouncing that MSPs are well worth trying, different approaches or discourses should be usable as bases for the approach.

[1] Agenda 21 / Section III. Strengthening the Role of Major Groups / Chapter 23. Preamble

23.1. Critical to the effective implementation of the objectives, policies and mechanisms agreed to by Governments in all programme areas of Agenda 21 will be the commitment and genuine involvement of all social groups.

23.2. One of the fundamental prerequisites for the achievement of sustainable development is broad public participation in decision-making. Furthermore, in the more specific context of environment and development, the need for new forms of participation has emerged. This includes the need of individuals, groups and organizations to participate in environmental impact assessment procedures and to know about and participate in decisions, particularly those which potentially affect the communities in which they live and work. Individuals, groups and organizations should have access to information relevant to environment and development held by national authorities, including information on products and activities that have or are likely to have a significant impact on the environment, and information on environmental protection measures.

[2] It should also be noted that Agenda 21 is indeed identifying nine Major Groups and talks about 'all social groups' and not just about two such groups – such as 'civil society' and 'business' which make two parties of the figure 'tripartite', 'tri-sectoral' or 'trilateral'. We don't believe that using these terms is helpful as they group everybody apart from government/intergovernmental bodies and business into one category. In processes which involve, for example, a UN agency, businesses, and one type of NGOs, that might be appropriate, but used in a wider sense to describe multi-stakeholder involvement these terms are misleading.

[3] For further definitions of the term 'stakeholder', see Annex II: Glossary


[4] Webler (1995: 38) distinguishes between ethical-normative and functional-analytic approaches. We call the first 'value-based' and the latter 'pragmatic'.

[5] "Effectiveness and efficiency cannot be the only yardsticks in designing new governance mechanisms; legitimacy and inclusion are equally important, not only in terms of a Weltanschauung, but also from a strategic and political perspective" (Reinicke et al. 2000, pp23).



Contact Minu Hemmati and Felix Dodds for further information.