Multi-stakeholder Communication: Clarification of Terms
In the past few years, the terms
"stakeholder statements", "(multi-)stakeholder dialogue",
"stakeholder forum", "stakeholder consultation",
"hearing", "discussion" and "process" have been
used by various institutions.
Meanings of these terms overlap but need clarification. All of the
above-mentioned terms refer to settings and modes of stakeholder
communication. From stating one's views to dialoguing or consensus-building, all these
processes are processes of stakeholder communication, performed in order to
reach certain goals.
To clarify the concept of MSPs
and our classification of different types of MSPs, we will use the following
definitions of these terms:
Stakeholder statements are communications through which stakeholder groups make
public their views on a certain issue, in oral or written form. Statements do
not necessarily lead to any further – e.g. a discussion of views or
term refers to processes where governments or intergovernmental bodies invite
stakeholders to provide their views on a particular issue. Listening to
stakeholders is meant to provide the decision-making bodies with information
that they otherwise might not have access to. Hearings can or cannot allow for
questions and answers and discussion following presentations.
The term has been used to refer to a communication situation where an
institution, e.g. a government body, calls for stakeholders to share their views
with the institution (similar to 'hearings'). The link of this input into
decision-making is loose or remains unclear in many cases. Although consultation
is a very useful term,
we consider it therefore as being too loaded with reference to a situation which
representing our concept of MSPs
(i.e. multi-party decision-finding).
Statements, hearings and
consultation tend not to be multi-stakeholder processes as they usually
involve each stakeholder group separately rather than bringing them together.
In a dialogue of several stakeholders, representatives not only state their
views but listen and talk to each other, aiming to understand each others
value-base, interests, goals, and concerns.
can be used to describe a frank exchange of views, followed by arguing the
benefits and shortcomings of those views. The term ‘discussions’ does stress
the differences between views and people.
This connotation is not so much referring to learning from each other, changing
our views or compromising in a consensus-building communication process.
In a consensus-building communication setting / process, participants state
their views, dialogue and seek to come to a consensus on future common action.
"A consensus process is one in which all those who have a stake in the
outcome aim to reach agreements on actions and outcomes that resolve or advance
issues related to environmental, social, and economic sustainability. In a
consensus process, participants work together to design a process that maximises
their ability to resolve their differences. Although they may not agree with all
aspects of the agreement, consensus is reached if all participants are willing
to live with "the whole package"" (Canadian Round Tables 1993:
6). Consensus-building "brings together different parties with the
aim of finding mutually satisfactory solutions to which all are committed. It is
based on "win/win" outcomes rather than traditional
"win/lose" outcomes" (The Environment Council).
This is a rather broad term and can refer to various settings where views are
stated and discussed. Forum-type events tend to make use of various forms of
interaction (plenary presentations, break-out groups, panel discussions, etc)
and allow a lot of space for informal exchange.
public policy (GPP) networks:
A term used by Reinicke et al. (2000) in their work with the World Bank Global
Public Policy Program. GPP networks are described as multisectoral collaborative alliances, often involving governments,
international organisations, companies and NGOs. They "take advantage of
technological innovation and political liberalisation"; "pull diverse
groups and resources together"; "address" issues that no single
group can resolve by itself"; and, !by doing so, rely on ‘the strength of
weak ties’" (ibid.).
New social partnerships:
A term used primarily in Europe, e.g. by the Copenhagen Centre: "People and
organisations from some combination of public, business and civil constituencies
who engage in voluntary, mutually beneficial, innovative relationships to
address common societal aims through combining their resources and
competencies" (Nelson & Zadek: 14). Similar to MSPs (but in more of a
'business language'), new social partnerships are characterized by societal
aims, innovation, multi-constituency, voluntary participation, mutual benefit
and shared investment, and what is described as the 'alchemical effect of
The term multi-stakeholder processes (MSPs) is
used to describe processes
which aim to bring together all major stakeholders in a new form of decision-finding (and
possibly decision-making) structure on a particular issue. They are based on
recognition of the importance of achieving equity and accountability in
communication between stakeholders, involving equitable representation of three
or more stakeholder groups and their views. They are also based on democratic
principles of transparency and participation, and aim to develop partnerships
and strengthened networks between stakeholders. MSPs cover a wide spectrum of
structures and levels of engagement. They can comprise of dialogues (statements,
exchange and discussion), or grow into processes encompassing
consensus-building, decision-making and implementation. The exact nature of any
MSP will depend the issue, the participants, the time-frame, etc.
"Precursors include the African palaver, where a reconciliation of
hearts and minds is encouraged, followed by a meal taken together, or the
Native American circles where elders listen and then advise, or Quaker
processes where moral objections serve as immediate vetoes" (The Earth
Council). "It is no coincidence that new forms of municipal governance
make heavy use of pre-existing traditions to bring people together – like
the 'minga' (collective workdays) used in the Ecuadorian city of
Curicama, and the community round-tables that drive decision making in
Peruvian cities like Cajamarca" (Edwards 1999: 159).
Its prefix "con" (latin) means
This approach has frequently been raising concerns, including with regard to
the United Nations initiatives of involving business or NGOs separately. The
UN Global Compact, for example, has been criticised by NGOs and governments
as creating an exclusive and intransparent relationship between the UN and
one sector (see Example 14).
 Its prefix "dis" (latin) means "separating" or "differentiating".