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5. Different Types of MSPs

"Opportunities for using consensus processes exist at all stages of decision-making involving issues of sustainability – from the establishment of broad policies and regulations, to long range planning, to allocating land resources, to resolving specific disputes, to licensing, monitoring, and enforcement" (Canadian Round Tables 1993: 5)

MSPs vary with regard to their scope, level and diversity of stakeholder groups involved. They range from informing processes to monitoring processes and mechanisms, implementation processes, and what we call 'advanced multi-stakeholder processes' which include not only dialogues but consensus-building, decision-making and implementation. MSPs can also be conducted at different levels: local, national, or international, with some processes including sub-processes at different levels. Finally, MSPs can involve different numbers of stakeholder groups und thus vary in diversity, with increased diversity posing specific challenges as well as opportunities.

The different types of MSPs described below do not represent distinct categories. The categories overlap, and some processes will evolve over time.


5.1 Scope


1. Informing processes

MSPs can be designed to inform a governmental or intergovernmental decision-making process, or decision-making processes within other entities such as businesses, trade union associations, NGOs, etc. This we would call a "multi-stakeholder dialogue" or an "informing MSP". It can be designed as a one-off event or as an ongoing process. Such a process does not need to come to consensus decisions but be used to help lay out the view points, interests, arguments and experiences of the various groups which are being put forward to the decision-making body. The expectation is that the decision-making body will make a more informed decision. The advantage as opposed to separate hearings with different stakeholder groups is that a dialogue allows the stakeholders to debate the pro's and con's of their analysis and suggestions, clearly a value added for (inter)governmental decision-makers. In hearings, stakeholders are often reluctant or unable to outline the shortcomings of their suggestions; debating them with other groups who hold different views is more likely to clarify pro's and con's.

This kind of process obtaining information of various stakeholder views, common grounds or differences should begin before the decision-making processes commences as it otherwise becomes a ‘fig-leaf’ or token exercise, often perceived to be instituted as a process to "rubber stamp" a decision after it has been taken.

Most of the examples we have looked at are informing processes. Others seem to begin with developing information, such as the corporate guidelines being developed in the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), but could develop into implementation or monitoring mechanisms.


2. Monitoring processes

Decision-making bodies can establish an on-going process of dialogue with stakeholders to obtain information on the effects of implementation. This can be developed into accountability mechanisms, where decision-making bodies are being monitored and evaluated regarding the effects of their decisions being implemented.

All governmental or intergovernmental decision-making bodies should be obliged to continually evaluate their work and pursue ongoing dialogue / consensus-building  with the wider community – in the form of multi-stakeholder dialogues - to assess and, if necessary, revise their decisions.

At the local level, participatory monitoring and evaluation has been developed over more than 20 years to "shift emphasis away from externally controlled data-seeking evaluations towards recognition of locally-relevant or stakeholder-based processes for gathering, analysing, and using information" (Estrella 2000).

At the international level, SocialWatch is an excellent example of an advanced monitoring process. SocialWatch regularly updates its research on progress made towards implementing the agreements of the Copenhagen Social Summit and the Fourth World Conference on Women. However, this monitoring is being conducted by an NGO cooperating with other NGOs and with women's organisations, it is not a multi-stakeholder effort where very different viewpoints form the basis of a monitoring effort.

To monitor labelling schemes, stakeholders could get together to independently from governments set standards (e.g. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)).

The UN Global Compact, initiated by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, comprises business associations & individual companies; trade union associations and NGOs as partners in the Compact with the United Nations. The UN Global Compact process might offer an opportunity to develop multi-stakeholder monitoring efforts, looking at the implementation of international agreements in the areas being addressed by the Compact (human rights; workplace; environment).


3. Implementation Processes

MSPs can also be employed to pursue the implementation of existing agreements and policies, including those which have not come out of an MSP. The international community has over the last years increasingly included recommendations not only to governments and intergovernmental bodies in their resolutions and agreements, but also to a range of stakeholders such as business & industry, trade unions, local authorities, and NGOs. Many international agreements, e.g. the CBD agreements on access and benefit-sharing or the CSD-7 decision on sustainable tourism, need the collaboration of various stakeholders to put them into practice in joint projects.

At the local level, Local Agenda 21 processes can include not only participatory planning mechanisms but also components of joint implementation. At the international level, UNED Forum's planned Implementation Conference after the 2002 Summit provides an example of an implementation MSP. The conference plans to gather key stakeholders to review the agreements reached at the Summit and to work out what roles stakeholders at the local, national and international levels will take in implementing the agreements, and what tools and processes might be needed.


4. Advanced Multi-stakeholder Processes

We call 'advanced full multi-stakeholder process' those which include decision-making and implementation using the same preparation, communication and consensus-building mechanisms. However, for agreement and action to be possible, a diversity of views needs to be integrated into consensus decisions. Therefore, participants need to agree on how to make decisions and which rules to follow once a decision has been taken. Certain principles of stakeholder communication and implementation, which are not necessary for dialogue processes, need to be considered in a MSP which involves decision-making and common action.

Advanced MSPs are designed to ensure that they allow parties involved to design processes of communication, decision-making and implementation appropriate to their special circumstances and needs. All significant interests need to be are represented and respected and given an effective voice to all participants. Advanced MSPs need to provide a forum that forges new partnerships and fosters co-operative problem solving in the search for innovative solutions that maximize all interests and promote sustainability[1].

Advanced MSPs need to be answerable to questions of democratic legitimacy and accountability. They cannot replace democratically elected bodies or governing councils to make decisions, but they can supplement and complement (inter)governmental decision-making processes. Wherever MSPs touch upon areas where the involvement, guidance and/r control of governments are required, these bodies need to be part of the process from the beginning.


5.2 Level

MSPs can be conducted at different levels: local, national, or international. Some MSPs will, over time, encompass several of these levels. For example, the ongoing international multi-stakeholder process on tourism which came out of CSD-7 may inspire or directly spark off MSPs at national (national sustainable tourism development plans) or local levels (planning of individual resorts).

Designing MSPs so that involve several levels can be a useful option.  In addition, building in feedback loops between different levels (e.g. local, national, regional, international) should be an important part of the strategy. An important goal of MSP, for instance, could be to build on perspectives from lower levels to inform dialogue or decision making at higher levels and to go back to the lower levels with higher level decisions, perspectives etc.


5.3 Diversity

MSPs can involve different numbers of stakeholder groups of different degrees of diversity. They should involve at least three stakeholder groups, as this causes the groups to dialogue and not two parties to confront. The number can rise, depending on the respective issues, purposes, resources, and definitions of various stakeholder groups being used. With increasing diversity, stakeholder communications become more difficult, but processes can also be more powerful, if they work well.

Making effective use of diversity is an important goal and purpose of MSPs – that is, making use of all resources available to a group. Decisions taken by a large number of groups enjoy higher credibility, particularly if the groups are highly diverse.

To make effective use of the potential benefits of diversity requires careful group composition, transparency, equity, agreed procedures of communication and decision-making, and a first stage of carefully identifying all views.

Local Agenda 21 processes should ideally involve all Major Groups as of Agenda 21; Stakeholder Dialogues at the Commission on Sustainable Development have involved four or five stakeholder groups (plus governments). The Ministerial Dialogues in Bergen, Norway (September 2000) involved four stakeholder groups during the preparations (local authorities, business, trade unions, NGOs) – with women providing input into the NGO paper, and six stakeholder groups at the Dialogues themselves (local authorities, business, trade unions, NGOs, women, Indigenous Peoples), plus governments.

As issues of sustainable development are of high levels of complexity and affect a great number of stakeholders, a high degree of diversity of MSPs is desirable. However, there are practical limitations with regard to numbers of groups and representatives participating at meetings. Decisions on size and composition need to be dealt with creatively and constructively, guided by the focus and objective of the MSP.

Finally, when designing MSPs one needs to keep in mind that stakeholder groups are by no means homogenous social categories. Women, for example, differ with regard to region, profession, income level, age and political viewpoints. NGOs differ with regard to the issues they are working on, their size and the level at which they operate (some engage in advocacy while others do practical work), and their preparedness to engage in multi-stakeholder processes. The same applies more or less to all stakeholder groups. Identifying MSP participants should therefore not be designed merely on the basis of the nine Major Groups as of Agenda 21. In many cases, "customised" definitions of the group relevant stakeholders should be developed to take account of these and related differences.


[1] see Canadian Round-tables 1993:7  



Contact Minu Hemmati and Felix Dodds for further information.