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6. Values & Ideologies: Key Aspects of MSPs

As with any other problem-solving or governance approach, there are certain ideological fundaments or value bases underlining the promotion of multi-stakeholder approaches. In this chapter, we will describe the values and ideologies related to multi-stakeholder processes to enable readers to evaluate the thinking behind the proposed framework.

The list of values and ideological concepts discussed below is not meant to be exhaustive or distinct. There are overlaps between those concepts and there are certainly other, important ones which have been left out. However, we believe that discussion of the ones listed below will facilitate understanding of the thinking behind MSPs.

We have structured the list of value / ideological concepts using a two-tiered approach: fundamental (first tier) concepts are discussed first, followed by a set of second-tier concepts which can be derived from the first set.[1]

Particularly with regard to ethical-normative bases of MSPs, we have to keep in mind that the values that people (claim to?) believe in or respect only influence their actual behaviour to a rather limited extent. To put values into practice, desirable behaviour  needs to be reinforced by rewards, by education, by regulation, by social images and desirable identities, and by providing information and appropriate options.[2]


6.1 First-tier Concepts: Fundamental Values of MSPs  

As with any other problem-solving or governance approach, there are certain ideological fundaments or value bases underlining the promotion of multi-stakeholder approaches. In this chapter, we will describe the values and ideologies related to multi-stakeholder processes to enable readers to evaluate the thinking behind the proposed framework.

The list of values and ideological concepts discussed below is not meant to be exhaustive or distinct. They are concepts being mentioned in debates on public participation and various mechanisms of stakeholder involvement, and in the wider debate on governance, global governance and global governance reform. Many of them are also discussed in Agenda 21 and other international agreements, and closely linked with the over-arching concept of sustainable development. There are overlaps between those concepts and there are certainly other, important ones which have been left out. However, we believe that discussion of the ones listed below will facilitate understanding of the thinking behind MSPs.

We have structured the list of value / ideological concepts using a two-tiered approach: fundamental (first tier) concepts are discussed first, followed by a set of second-tier concepts which can be derived from the first set.[1]

Particularly with regard to ethical-normative bases of MSPs, we have to keep in mind that the values that people subscribe to only influence their actual behaviour to a rather limited extent. To put values into practice, desirable behaviour  needs to be reinforced by rewards, by education, by regulation, by social images and desirable identities, and by providing information and appropriate options.[2]



6.1 First-tier Concepts: Fundamental Values of MSPs


Sustainable development

First and foremost it is the concept of sustainable development itself which provides the ideological under-pinning of multi-stakeholder processes. The concept of ‘sustainable development’, which was put forward by the Brundtland Commission and embraced by the international community in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21, is based on the fundamental values / principles of respect for nature, respect for an all-encompassing interdependence of people and the planet, and of inter- and intra-generational justice.


Sustainable development

"…is development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (The World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future 1987).

"The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations" (United Nations: Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, 1992).


Among basic societal processes related to sustainability are economic and social processes, and those of governance and political participation, such "participation in, and the responsiveness of, decision making processes, but also the capability of institutions to accommodate changing conditions" (Becker et al. 1997:19).

Sustainable development requires a process of dialogue and ultimately consensus-building of all stakeholders as partners who together define the problems; design possible solutions; collaborate to implement them; monitor and evaluate the outcome; and through this process develop a more appropriate understanding and more sustainable solutions to new challenges.

In fact, the multi-stakeholder approach reflects some of the most frequently and fervently discussed issues in discussions on governance, democracy, equity, and justice of recent years – e.g. transparency, accountability, corporate social responsibility, solidarity, good governance, economic justice, gender equity and the like.


Good governance



1. Exercise of authority; direction; control 2. manner or system of government or regulation" (Webster Dictionary 1992: 420)

Governance is the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, manage their common affairs. (Commission on Global Governance 1995: 2)


Good governance is a core concept and comprises most of the other aspects discussed here or relates to them.

Good governance comprises the rule of law, predictable administration, legitimate power, and responsible regulation. Good governance is indispensable for building peaceful, prosperous and democratic societies. It gives societies structures for balanced economic and social development. Good governance demands the consent and participation of the governed. Here, the full and lasting involvement of all citizens in the future of their nations is key (see Annan 1997). Good governance creates an enabling,  non-distorting policy environment for all actors of civil society.

Participants at an international UNDP workshop in 1996 identified the following core characteristics of good governance systems (UNDP 1996, see Bernstein 2000):

Participation, which implies that all stakeholders have a voice in influencing decision-making. Participation is the foundation of legitimacy in all democratic systems.

Transparency, which implies that the procedures and methods of decision-making should be open and transparent so that effective participation is possible. Transparency is based on the free flow of information so that processes, institutions and information are directly accessible to those concerned with them.

Accountability of decision-makers to the public and to key stakeholders; checks and balances as they exist in national governance systems are mostly lacking at the level of global governance.

Effectiveness and efficiency in carrying out key functions.

Responsiveness to the need of all stakeholders.

Grounded in the rule of law, which implies that legal frameworks guiding decision-making must be fair and enforced impartially.

Gender equity, which implies that all institutions and organisations of governance have responsibilities for ensuring gender equality and the full participation of women in decision-making.

As a new governance tool / mechanisms, the potential of MSPs should be further developed and defined through experimentation, particularly as regards their linkage  with (inter)governmental decision-making processes, and in the design of their implementation phases.





1. A theory of government which, in its purest form, holds that the state should be controlled by all the people, each sharing equally in privileges, duties, and responsibilities and each participating in person in the government, as in the city-states of ancient Greece. In practice, control is vested in elective officers as representatives who may be upheld or removed by the people. 2. A government so conducted; a state so governed; the mass of the people. 3. Political, legal, or social equality" (Webster Dictionary 1992: 261)

1 a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections 2 : a political unit that has a democratic government 4 : the common people especially when constituting the source of political authority 5 : the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary)


"We need to understand that there is much more to democracy than simply which candidate or party has majority support. (…) Yes, democracy implies majority rule. But that does not mean that minorities should be excluded from any say in decisions. Minority views should never be silenced. The minority must always be free to state its case, so that people can hear both sides before deciding who is right" (UN Secretary General Kofi Annan 2000).

In this context, MSPs represent an advanced mechanism of participation and can be described as a further development of democratic governance.

Democracy ensures that the people express their agreement with their government; free and democratic elections provide alternatives for people to choose from. However, elections only allow people to choose between different versions of broad policies being promoted by one or the other candidate or party. They do not allow for citizens to influence day-to-day decision-making or the precise strategies  for the implementation of broad policies. For that to happen, there is a need for participation mechanisms.

People First, a trust promoted by Development Alternatives, India, state in their 'Earth Charter Initiative' that in "a democracy, all power flows from the people who are the sovereign power. Democracy can therefore be truly defined as how the common people would like to be governed, not how some people, including elected representatives, think they should be governed." They outline a Gandhi-inspired vision of local empowerment of grassroots democracy, effective transparency laws over the right to information, the right to be consulted through public hearings and participate in planning and other key issues, and the power to decide through referendum. Mirroring the 1992 Earth Summit outcome, People First suggest councils consisting of representatives of the disadvantaged communities, religions, women, trade unions, farmers, industry, professionals, NGOs, etc.[3]

MSPs and multi-stakeholder institutions, such as the National Councils on Sustainable Development (see Chapter 8 & Annex I), are (or could be) the logical next step for implementing Agenda 21. Based on the concept of the "Independent Sector", Agenda 21 identifies key stakeholder groups, the so-called Major Groups, acknowledging that they need to be involved in developing solutions and implementing them.  The National Councils on Sustainable Development (NCSDs) do vary in their make-up and independence from government. The Earth Council has done a lot with the National Councils to draw up guidelines on the development of NCSDs. To some, this might be understood in a narrow sense, where governments consult Major Groups and invite them to hearings. In the true sense of participatory democracy, however, MSPs would go further than hearings or consultations. It can mean that governments (or other facilitating or decision-making bodies) gather all stakeholders for consultations, dialogue and/or consensus-building and/or for ongoing monitoring processes. MSPs can also be called for independently of governments or by bodies outside of but including government as participants, e.g. when governments need to be involved in decision-making and implementation.  As noted above, there is room for interpretation – and for experimentation with democracy in the context of MSPs.

Finally, a "distinction needs to be made between democracy and participation (…) Democracy entitles them [the people] to choose leaders with broad policies most acceptable to them. Participation in public affairs enables them to influence the details of policy-legislation, and to continuously monitor their implementation" (Mohiddin, 1998: FN 2).





Participate: To take part or have a share in common with others; partake.

Participatory: Based on or involving participation, especially active, voluntary participation in a political system (Webster Dictionary 1992: 708)

1 : the act of participating 2 : the state of being related to a larger whole" (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary)

Public participation can be defined as "forums for exchange that are organised for the purpose of facilitating communication between government, citizens, stakeholders and interest groups, and businesses regarding a specific decision or problem" (Renn et al. 1996: 2)[4]. The authors go on to say that it "is certainly true that people have some interests and values in common, thus they organise themselves into labour unions, interest groups, corporations, and communities. At the same time, there is a great deal of conflict among people as they compete for scarce resources and power. Both of these elements are present in society and public participation is one of the realms where they occur" (ibid. 7-8).


Many of the decisions to be taken along the path to sustainable development will imply significant changes in many people's lives. Such decisions can only be effective if they receive general support among the people affected. Participation creates ownership. By taking part in the initial discussions and, ultimately, the decision-making process itself, people are much more likely to take ownership of the decisions that emerge.

Stakeholder communication beyond statements (i.e. dialogue & consensus-building) is revolutionary, in the sense that we haven't (inter)acted that way before. It is not revolutionary, however, in the traditional meaning of the word, i.e. aiming to replace one party (or group / class / person) with another one. It is part of a democratic revolution aimed at replacing ONE power with MANY and creating a situation where decisions taken are informed by many stakeholders - based on the opinion that all views of stakeholders are being subjective and therefore limited.[5]

Unlike consultation processes, MSPs take advantage of stakeholder participation, including a multitude of perspectives and viewpoints, based on the assumption that different stakeholders' viewpoints are subjective and complement each other when developing a more objective overview.[6]

Ultimately, the overarching vision is that of a "world, in which every person – regardless of citizenship, country of residence, wealth, or education – has access to the information and the decision-making processes necessary to participate meaningfully in the management of the natural environment that affects them. This greater and informed public access produces more effective, legitimate, and just decisions on projects and policies. It ensures sustainable development by acting as an antidote to ignorance, greed and corruption and building social capital" (World Resources Institute 2000)[7].

Participation often seems to be very time consuming, difficult and costly. However, the investment is essential if long-term, sustainable relationships meeting each party's needs are to be built. Experiences with participation processes should be used to design effective processes adapted for each particular  situation.

"Agenda 21 talked at length about the relationship between poverty and environment, a problem that is of deep concern to poor countries, but no worthwhile attempt has been made in the post-Rio period to address it. It is for this reason that the dialogue at the global level urgently needs the increased engagement of civil society groups rooted in local issues and activity. These groups, with roots in the environment and development movements, will bring to the global agenda their experiences and most importantly, their priorities for action. It is clear that globalisation will demand that instead of 'thinking globally and acting locally' we need to 'think locally and act globally'. Only then will we see global governance and its rules beginning to meet the needs of the poor and the marginalised" (Narain & Dodds 2000: 13).

If NGOs are to participate more, and more effectively, they not only need resources and capacity to do so. They will also be answerable to questions of their legitimacy – how representative, democratic, transparent and accountable are they? Should NGOs themselves or NGO bodies determine this? If so, who would watch the watchdogs?


Equity & Justice



1. Fairness or impartiality; justness. 2. Something that is fair or equitable. 3. (law) a. Justice administered between litigants which is based on natural reason or ethical judgment. b. That field of jurisprudence superseding the legal remedies of statute law and common law when these are considered inadequate or inflexible for the purposes of justice to the parties concerned. (Webster Dictionary 1992: 330)

1 a : justice according to natural law or right; specifically : freedom from bias or favouritism Related Words equitableness, justness. Contrasted Words bias, discrimination, partiality, unfairness (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)

Norm of equity: The shared view that demands that the rewards obtained by the partners in a relationship should be proportional to their inputs" (Smith & Mackie 1995, Glossary)



Etymology: Middle English, from Old English & Old French; Old English justice, from Old French justice, from Latin justitia, from justus. 1 a : the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments c : the administration of law; especially : the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity 2 a : the quality of being just, impartial, or fair b (1) : the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action (2) : conformity to this principle or ideal : righteousness c : the quality of conforming to law 3 : conformity to truth, fact, or reason : correctness. Text: 1 the action, practice, or obligation of awarding each his just due Synonym equity Related Words evenness, fairness, impartiality Contrasted Words foul play, inequity, unjustness; bias, leaning, one-sidedness, partiality (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)


Equity is fairness, the standard by which each person and group is able to maximize the development of their latent capacities. Equity differs from absolute equality in that it does not dictate that all be treated in exactly the same way. While everyone is endowed with talents and abilities, the full development of these capacities may require different approaches. It is equity that ensures that access and opportunity are fairly distributed so that this development might take place.

Equity and justice are intertwined conditions of a functioning society. Equity is the standard by which policy and resource commitment decisions should be made. Justice is the vehicle through which equity is applied, its practical expression. It is only through the exercise of justice that trust will be established among the diverse peoples, cultures and institutions of an increasingly interdependent world.

"A consensus process provides an opportunity for participants to work together as equals to realize acceptable actions or outcomes without imposing the views or authority of one group over another" (Canadian Round Tables 1993: 6). This can represent an enormous challenge, since many MSPs bring together stakeholders of very different perspectives and power – e.g. local or indigenous communities and trans-national corporations (see Hemmati 2000d). To do justice to the various perspectives, viewpoints, and interests, participants need to treat each other as equals. This requires tolerance and mutual respect. It is ‘equity’ in practice.


Unity in Diversity



1. The state, property, or product of being united, physically, socially, or morally; oneness. 2. Union, as of constituent parts or elements: national unity. 3. Agreement of parts: harmonious adjustment of constituent elements; sameness of character: the unity of two writings. 4. The fact something's being a whole that is more than or different from its parts or their sum. 5. Singleness of purpose or action. 6. A state of general good feeling; mutual understanding; concord: brethren dwelling together in unity." (Webster Dictionary 1992: 1057)

1 a : the quality or state of not being multiple 2 a : a condition of harmony b : continuity without deviation or change (as in purpose or action) 4 : a totality of related parts : an entity that is a complex or systematic whole Text: 1 the condition of being or consisting of one <unity -- the idea conveyed by whatever we visualize as one thing> Synonyms individuality, oneness, singleness, singularity, singularness Related Words identity, selfsameness, soleness, uniqueness, uniquity Antonyms multiplicity Synonyms harmony, concord, rapport Related Words agreement, identity, oneness, union; solidarity; conformance, congruity (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)



1. The state of being diverse; dissimilitude. 2. Variety: a diversity of interests (Webster Dictionary 1992: 286)

Diverse: 1. Differing essentially; distinct. 2. Capable of various forms; multiform" (Webster Dictionary 1992: 286)

Synonyms variety, diverseness, multeity, multifariousness, multiformity, multiplicity, variousness Related Words difference, dissimilarity, distinction, divergence, divergency, unlikeness Antonyms uniformity; identity (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Thesaurus)


Unity or consensus are concepts associated with multi-stakeholder processes which include decision-making and implementation. In a dialogue process, by contrast, a frank exchange of views and learning about each others interests, motivations and opinions, is sufficient. In a dialogue, ambiguity, disagreements and mutually exclusive positions are possible. Once we want to move into common action, however, we need to find consensus about the appropriate path of action. While we do not have to agree on each and every point, we do need to come to a point where everybody can live with the "whole package". In an MSP, consensus and unity stand in contrast to uniformity – the concept is rather unity in diversity.[8] The MSP approach cherishes the diversity of expertise, talents, interests, variegated experiences, cultures and viewpoints among stakeholders and individuals inasmuch as they contribute to a creative process of finding innovative solutions. The immense wealth of diversity is vital to sustainable development.[9] The concept of unity in diversity also implies the development in the individual of a global consciousness, a sense of ‘world citizenship’.

Maintaining and celebrating diversity are indeed among the major reasons to embark on designing MSPs, and integration of diverse views is the major challenge.

Diversity often implies conflict of values, goals, and interests, which can lead to highly conflictual debates, anger, frustration, mis-trust and hostility. When attempting dialogue in a conflict situation, the experience might be negative, discourage people from further interaction, and increase mis-trust. In some cases, it will therefore be advisable to work with the different groups separately at first before bringing them all together.





The office or position of a leader; guidance (Webster Dictionary 1992: 556)

Leadership: A process in which group members are permitted to influence and motivate others to help attain group goals (Smith & Mackie 1995, Glossary)

1 : the office or position of a leader 2 : capacity to lead 3 : the act or an instance of leading  (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary)

Leader: 1. One who leads or conducts; a guide; a commander. (…) 3. That which lead, or occupies a chief place, as the foremost horse or a team" (Webster Dictionary 1992: 556)

Lead, to: 1. To go with or ahead of so as to show the way; guide. 2. To draw along; guide by or as by pulling: to lead a person by the hand. 3. To serve as a direction or route for: The path led them to the valley. 4. To cause to go in a certain course of direction, as wire, water, etc. 5. a. to direct the affairs or actions of (…) 7. To influence or control the opinions, thoughts, actions of; induce. (…) 9. To begin or open: to lead a discussion. (…) 12. to act as guide; conduct. 13. To have leadership or command; be in control (Webster Dictionary 1992: 556)

"Collaborative leadership: A style of leadership where leaders view their roles primarily as convincing, catalyzing, and facilitating the work of others. Collaborative leadership focuses on bringing citizens together and helping them build trust and the skills for collaboration" (Markowitz 2000: 161).


"The world has for so long been run by those who have usurped the power to run it, and in the manner that is to their best advantage, we frequently forget that they have no more right to do so than anyone else." (Khosla 1999)

Autocratic, paternalistic, manipulative and ‘know-it-all’ modes of leadership, which are found in all parts of the world, tend to disempower those whom they are supposed to serve. They exercise control by over-centralizing the decision making-making process, thereby coercing others into agreement.

Those who wield authority bear a great responsibility to be worthy of public / stakeholders' trust. Leaders – including those in government, politics, business, religion, education, the media, the arts and community organizations – must be willing to be held accountable for the manner in which they exercise their authority. Trustworthiness is the foundation for all leadership (as opposed to enforced power).

Visionary, empowering and collaborative leadership will be necessary to inspire those in power, stakeholders, and individuals to overcome their preoccupation with narrow-minded interests and recognise that security and well-being of all at local and national levels depend on global security and require sustained commitments to long-term ecological and human security.

One of the difficulties in thinking about leadership is that our usual orientation is that leadership is what leaders do - they lead and followers follow. However, the emergence of "servant" or "collaborative leadership" has contributed to a shift in orientation, namely an orientation to leaders to serving the needs of followers so that, paradoxically, the followers are the leaders. And, taking that one step further, visionary leadership tends to shift our concept of leadership away from leaders and toward shared mission (purpose) and vision (images of success in serving purpose). When mission and vision are clearly understood and people honestly care about them, then people can lead themselves and work together to bring their vision into being. When that exists, people can lead themselves.

Within the framework of sustainable development, leadership no longer means "to issue orders" or "to be in control". Rather, it will express itself in service to and empowerment of others and to the community as a whole. It will foster collective decision-making and collective action and will be motivated by a commitment to justice and to the well-being of all humanity. MSPs represent a model where new forms of leadership can be explored and developed.


Credibility and Public Opinion

Finally, there is a related issue in support of MSPs. This is the need for governance processes to engage those partners who – although not elected - enjoy wide public support , trust and credibility. For many years, public opinion polls around the world have suggested that several leading advocacy organisations enjoy higher public esteem that corporations or even governments. Generally speaking, such polls indicate that the public tends to give greater credence to information provided by organisations like Greenpeace and Amnesty International than media or official sources.

These results tend to reinforce the MSP approach for at least two reasons. First, as noted above, to ensure that groups which have good information and creative ideas about how to move ahead are brought to the table in a framework that is outcome-driven. Second, to give those sectors which suffer (rightly or wrongly) from a lower public opinion an opportunity to define, defend and develop their perspectives in a policy forum where they can engage directly  and methodically on areas of difference.

If public opinion polls are any guide, the MSP concept is likely to prove an appealing approach to the resolution of the many outstanding sustainability issues.[10]


[1] Such structuring is simplistic; it is primarily put forward to simplify presentation. Different structuring of normative-ethical and functional-analytic arguments has been suggested, e.g. by Webler (1995: 38) stating that those two groups of arguments fall under the meta-criteria of fairness and competence.

[2] In case people adopt a moral attitude and act on the basis of values such as the ones discussed here, they might make or agree with suggestions that are not in their own self-interest but in the best interest of all. "If we are to expect people to act morally and to cooperate, then we surely have to provide them with processes for participation that are both fair and competent" (Renn et al. 1995: 366).

[3] People First go on to say that multi-stakeholder councils should become part of the mainstream governance as the constitutional upper house at all levels, local, state and national." They "can play a major role in promoting sustainability" (People First, via www.devalt.org).

[4] For a comprehensive introduction on participation in theory and practice, see Webler & Renn 1995. Also see the principles of good practice in participation as worked out by the NGOs in the Aarhus process.

[5] Cognitive psychology (among other disciplines) firmly asserts that all absorbing, processing and memorising of information of the human cognitive systems is essentially subjective: "Objectivity is the illusion of a subject believing it can observe without itself" (Heinz von Foerster). This is due to perception being influenced by a multitude of factors which are individually specific and can be shared by members of certain groups, such as: memory (previous perception & earning), motivation (goals of the individual), attitudes (e.g. towards the communicator), values and emotions.  For example, discriminatory experiences an individual has gone through in the past are likely to have an impact on how s/he will perceive communication from the discriminating person or a member of the discriminating group. This applies to individual experiences (e.g. a woman having been subjected to sexist behaviour by a particular man) as well as group experiences & traditions (black people perceiving communications of white people within the framework of racist history) (e.g. Hemmati et al. 1999).

[6] In other words: aiming at multi-subjectivity rather than objectivity.

[7] In many cases, this will primarily mean to mainstream civil society access to information and participation since the private sector typically already has access and is well represented.

[8] The concept is related to 'world citizenship' which combines the view of the Earth as 'one globe and one home' and the strive to preserve biological and cultural diversity globally.

[9] see also 7.2. Diversity and its impact in decision-making

[10] See, for example: Environics International 1997, 1998, 1999, Environics International & The Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum 1999, Walden Asset Management 2000, Edelman News 2000.



Contact Minu Hemmati and Felix Dodds for further information.