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4. Multi-stakeholder Communication: Clarification of Terms


Statement: 1 Synonyms expression, utterance, vent, voice Related Words outgiving; articulation, presentation, presentment, verbalization, vocalization (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)

Dialogue: 2 a : a conversation between two or more persons b : an exchange of ideas and opinions c : a discussion between representatives of parties to a conflict that is aimed at resolution (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)

Consultation: 1 : council, conference 2 : the act of consulting or conferring

Consult, to: 1 : to have regard to : consider 2 a : to ask the advice or opinion of <consult a doctor> b : to refer to <consult a dictionary> 1 : to consult an individual 2 : to deliberate together : confer 3 : to serve as a consultant Synonyms confer, advise, collogue, confab, confabulate, huddle, parley, powwow, treat Related Words cogitate, counsel, deliberate; consider, examine, review (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)

Discussion: 1 : consideration of a question in open and usually informal debate 2 : a formal treatment of a topic in speech or writing (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)

Consensus: 1 a : general agreement : unanimity b : the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned 2 : group solidarity in sentiment and belief (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)

Forum: 1 a : the marketplace or public place of an ancient Roman city forming the centre of judicial and public business b : a public meeting place for open discussion c : a medium (as a newspaper) of open discussion or expression of ideas 2 : a judicial body or assembly : court 3 a : a public meeting or lecture involving audience discussion b : a program (as on radio or television) involving discussion of a problem usually by several authorities (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)

Process: 1 a : progress, advance b : something going on : proceeding 2 a (1) : a natural phenomenon marked by gradual changes that lead toward a particular result <the process of growth> (2) : a natural continuing activity or function <such life processes as breathing> b : a series of actions or operations conducing to an end  1 the series of actions, operations, or motions involved in the accomplishment of an end <the process of making sugar from sugarcane> Synonyms procedure, proceeding Related Words fashion, manner, method, mode, modus, system, technique, way, wise; routine; operation (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)


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.[1] 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:

Statements: 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 consensus-building.

Hearing: The 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.

Consultation: 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[2], we consider it therefore as being too loaded with reference to a situation which is not

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.[3]

Dialogue: 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.

Discussion: 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[4]. This connotation is not so much referring to learning from each other, changing our views or compromising in a consensus-building communication process.

Consensus-building: 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).

Stakeholder forum: 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.

Global 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 partnerships'.

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.


[1] "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).

[2] Its prefix "con" (latin) means "together".

[3] 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).

[4] Its prefix  "dis" (latin) means "separating" or "differentiating".



Contact Minu Hemmati and Felix Dodds for further information.