6.2. 2nd Tier Concepts

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6.2 Second-tier Concepts: Derived Concepts & Strategies

Achieving quality solutions & concrete implementation

For sustainable development policies to be effective those who are or will be affected by the outcomes of these policies need to be involved in designing them. Bringing in a wealth of perspectives, knowledge and experience increases the likelihood of better decisions. Without stakeholder participation, commitment to solutions will be low and implementation will not work. This applies to all stakeholders who need to be part of the solution strategies.


Commitment: The combined forces that hold the partners together in an enduring relationship

Norm of social commitment: The shared view that people are required to honour their agreements and obligations (Smith & Mackie 1995, Glossary)



(Economic) Success

Increasingly, there is recognition of the need for businesses to win a ‘licence to operate’ in the public domain. Against the background of continuing low public opinion poll ratings, it is not enough that businesses produce goods, services and a profit. They also need to act as responsible citizens. They need not only to show that they do ‘no harm’. They need to show that they ‘do good’. Within this framework, many commentators believe that without agreement of stakeholders to business policies and practices, businesses will not be sustainable. In short, businesses need to engage with their stakeholders to ensure their businesses success. [1]

More progressive sectors of business now acknowledge that business practice itself was a major contributor to environmental and social problems in the past. Business association lobbying against tougher  workplace and environmental standards, and poor performance on the ground, in many cases prompted the rise of advocacy organisations seeking safer factories, cleaner production processes and less waste.

For some, this is today more obvious than for others. Corporate share values nowadays significantly depend on 'soft factors' such as social performance, environmental responsibility and management personality. Good practice achieved through pressure on large corporations (e.g. via media attention) can lead to appropriate regulation and self-regulation and thus to increased compliance also by small and medium-sized businesses whose performance is less controlled and controllable by civil society stakeholders.

Successful solutions are those which create mutual benefits: win/win situations rather than win/lose situations. Corporations have been very vocally advertising the virtual infinite possibilities of creating win/win business options and it is for them to take their role in delivering the creativity required to develop them.



Life-long learning is common to all human beings, and a main initiating factor of change. MSPs depend upon all participants being willing to learn from each other and be influenced by each other and by what they learn. In a successful MSP, everybody will learn.

MSPs themselves also need to take a learning approach. This is something that comes out very strongly of the review of scientific literature as well as studying the examples[2]. Social and organisational psychology indicates that processes and mechanisms, modes of leadership and facilitation, and means of communication have to be flexible. MSPs need to strike a balance between a foreseeable agenda and process, on the one hand, and the ability to flexibly respond to changing situations, on the other.

Renn et al. (1995: 7) claim that "it should be possible to move away from a subject-centred view of participation to shared values and interests". Developing new values and acting upon them is learning process triggered by sincere communication and dialogue.

Learning is related to self-reflection, role-taking and change of perspective, and to the ability to embrace change. The courage to venture into "unknown territory" is essential within a dialogue / consensus-building process, not only to make it a true group process but also an individual adventure into "unexplored space" – where we find ideas and solutions which could not have emerged without the interaction process.

To enable people to embrace change and be prepared to move out of their comfort zones; they also need to feel secure and often be encouraged. Human values, thinking and behaviour are very resistant to change unless the change is strongly and whole-heartedly perceived as being beneficial[3]. Even then, change tends to elicit fear (of the unknown, of peer's reactions, etc.), hence security and encouragement from a trustworthy source can be essential.[4]


Partnerships / Collaboration / Solidarity



1 : the state of being a partner : participation. 2 a : a legal relation existing between two or more persons contractually associated as joint principals in a business b : the persons joined together in a partnership 3 : a relationship resembling a legal partnership and usually involving close cooperation between parties having specified and joint rights and responsibilities. Synonyms association, affiliation, alliance, cahoots, combination, conjunction, connection, hook-up, tie-up, togetherness Related Words consociation, fellowship (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)


1 : to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavour 3 : to cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary)



unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary)

a feeling of unity (as in interests, standards, and responsibilities) that binds members of a group together <solidarity among union members is essential in negotiations> Synonyms cohesion, solidarism, togetherness Related Words cohesiveness; oneness, singleness, undividedness; integrity, solidity, union, unity; esprit, esprit de corps; firmness, fixity Contrasted Words separation; discord, dissension, schism; confusion, disorder, disorganization Antonym division (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Thesaurus)


Individual pursuit of self-interest coupled with the possibility of using a ‘free-ride’ position has been a main cause for environmental degradation. By contrast, sustainable development requires stakeholders – all of whom are polluters in some form - to build partnerships, based on a sense of solidarity and collaboration, and trust. Participatory approaches such as MSP should be designed "to catalyse people into adopting an attitude that is oriented to cooperation rather than pursuit of individual interests" (Renn et al. 1995: 365), and forge new partnerships, even of unlikely partners.

What does a partnership approach mean? Is "stakeholder dialogue", for example around (inter)governmental decision-making, forging partnerships and leading to common action? Or is it entertainment - a kind of "cathartic entertainment" or ritualistic consultation, maybe? Are the stakeholders merely like jesters at medieval court – the only ones able to speak of higher values and goals, of love and justice within a "real world" of power and capital?[5] Invited to relieve the ones in power, to give space for articulating some "higher thoughts", to enable decision-makers to assert they have listened to the voices of ideals, visions and/or religion – who then return to the negotiating table to decide, uninfluenced by what they have heard?

Sometimes, this certainly seems to be the case, particularly in purely informing processes, which can leave stakeholders frustrated and less inclined to contribute next time. Stakeholders' criticism of this kind of process is not meant to say that stakeholder participation should (always) be part of decision-making. However, for participation realising a partnership approach, processes need to be transparent on how stakeholders' contributions are linking into official decision-making, how they are being considered and indeed used.

Partnerships need to be based on trust, equality, reciprocity, mutual accountability and mutual benefit. There are fundamental differences between sharing vs. personalising control and benefits; between listening vs. imposing relationships; and between creating a shared vision vs. winning and losing in a 'business relationship'. All parties face the challenge of understanding the needs and concerns of the others and of cultural and behavioural change in order to create successful partnerships.

"Common objectives or shared interests are obviously the most powerful motives for forming a partnership; but they are not sufficient in themselves . There are other factors which are necessary for both creation and sustainable operation of a partnership. These are trust, respect, ownership and equality. Without trust between people partnership is impossible" (Mohiddin 1998). Trust is promoted when[6]:

·         There is a high likelihood that participants will meet again in a similar setting;

·         Interaction takes place face-to-face in regular meetings over a reasonable period of time and people have a chance to get to know each other;

·         Participants are able to secure independent expert advice;

·         Participants are free to question the sincerity of the involved parties;

·         Stakeholders are involved early on in the decision-making process;

·         All available information is made freely accessible to all involved;

·         The process of selecting options based on preferences is logical and transparent;

·         The decision-making body seriously considers or endorses the outcome of the participation process;

·         Stakeholders are given some control of the format of the discourse (agenda, rules, moderation, and decision-making procedure).

For some stakeholders, the issue of collaboration versus co-option has emerged within the context of increasing involvement in dialogues, policy-making fora and MSPs at the various levels. This is a serious issue, particularly for NGOs, whose ability to effectively play their role is largely dependent on their independence. When NGOs participate in MSPs of any kind, they are exposed to the influence of  other participants whose political and economic powers might be used to divide or dilute the positions taken by the advocacy community.

We argue in this report that the attractions and advantages of mutual learning need to be an explicit part of the motivation of people entering an MSP, on the basis that nobody holds the ultimate truth or key to the single best solution. At the same time, what emerges strongly from the scientific research on group dynamics and from studying a number of MSP examples, is that groups who come together in MSPs tend to build a group culture and identity, including a certain degree of loyalty and commitment to the group[7]. The challenge for all participants, but especially for NGOs (and, one might add, for United Nations bodies) is to strike a balance between, on the one hand, a serious commitment to a process and its success, which imply a commitment to  mutual learning and  openness to change,  and, on the other hand,  keeping their own identity – and thus maintaining the beneficial diversity of the group[8] .

Furthermore, in some cases where NGOs are invited to join an MSP, there is reason to suspect that the invitation is extended to ensure a higher degree of legitimisation for the process which might not be coupled with the willingness to take NGOs contributions fully into account. In these cases, such suspicions should be carefully examined and exposed as a lack of seriousness about dialogue and the idea of change.

In this context, Paul Hohnen (2000a) has suggested as follows: "To the extent that multi-stakeholder engagement processes sharpen the capacity to define, refine and integrate diverse viewpoints, and bring together the principal actors, they are to be encouraged. Where they tend to ignore, dilute, distort, or otherwise weaken independent viewpoints, they are to be discouraged" (ibid. 9).





1 : the quality or state of being transparent 2 : something transparent; especially : a picture (as on film) viewed by light shining through it or by projection (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary)


MSPs require transparent communication channels. People need to be able to know who is talking to whom, when and about what. Lobbying and bargaining behind the scenes can undermine trust which will lead to decreased commitment by others. On the other hand, decentralized, flexible, and spontaneous communication opportunities are desirable, as informal modes of communication are suitable to build trust and discover commonalities. There is a need to strike a balance between those benefits  and the need for transparency.

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 interested in them.

In the same vein, MSPs need to be as transparent as possible. Lack of disclosure of information of any of the aspects, decisions or steps related to an MSP will decrease its credibility and, consequently, its effectiveness. Obscure or unclear structures and processes create an open door to abuse of processes or accusations of abuse. It is in the interest of an inclusive process to enable participants and non-participants to comment, question and input. Obviously the approach taken in this report is to increase the space for stakeholders to be involved. Individual people can work through relevant stakeholder groups but can not participate as individuals.[9]

At every step of an MSP, crucial decisions need to be taken regarding which information should be available to the public, or at least to the core constituencies involved.


Access to Information


The Rio Declaration, 1992: Principle 10

Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.


Disclosure and access to information is also an essential element of accountability. For MSPs to work, equal access to information for all involved is absolutely essential. Some examples show that there are difficulties providing equal access to information, and some have not provided sufficient information to non-participating stakeholders and/or to the general public.

Disclosure of all relevant information is key. But there is also a need to carefully consider the means and channels of information dissemination that are being used. For example, some MSP examples studied have operated with massive use of the Internet or even complete reliance on web-based information, including the channels for participants to provide input. There are numerous and significant advantages of internet-based information dissemination and communication. These include speed, low costs and the ability to inter-connect a theoretically unlimited number of people and stakeholder groups.

However, in global processes, involving countries and regions with limited internet connectivity, and  disadvantaged social and linguistic groups (e.g. ethnic minorities[10], women, poor people), there are huge gaps regarding access to web-based information. These gaps cross traditional divides: between South and North, between women and men, between poor and rich, ethnic minorities and majorities, a.s.o. (UNDP 1999, UNED Forum 2000).

MSPs rely on information sharing. The principal, and most cost-effective source, is for participants  to bring their own information into the process. Developing a common information base is a priority task at the beginning of each MSP and needs to be maintained throughout the process. A common information base does not need to be in one place, but all information needs to be accessible to everyone. Here, the internet offers relatively easy opportunities to develop a common but varied base through the creation of  links to all relevant sites.

Access to information enables MSP participants to be fully competent partners. As competence of all involved is an essential fundament of MSP success, it is in the interest of all to allow free and equitable access to information. Financial inequalities need to be addressed to enable there to be the effective participation of all groups (e.g. computer equipment, communication budgets).





1 Synonyms all-around, comprehensive, general, global, overall, sweeping; encyclopaedic, comprehensive (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Thesaurus)


MSPs try to bring the main interest groups into the process of dialogue and/or decision-making and implementation, especially those who are usually left out, such as minority stakeholders[11]. In some processes, the public is represented by individuals from organisations who have relevant expertise. In others, it is both more appropriate and logistically possible for the individuals involved to attend MSP meetings in person.

As a general rule, MSPs should be inclusive and not exclusive. Inclusiveness is generally beneficial as it allows all views to be represented and increases the legitimacy and credibility of a process.  In structuring a MSP, the question is more “have we integrated all the major viewpoints regarding the issue?”, rather than “do we have all the important players?”.  As history has amply demonstrated, major shifts (e.g. universal suffrage) were initially catalysed by a small number of people with a clear vision of how society might be improved.

However, there are also limits to the breath of inclusiveness. If processes employ selection criteria for participation, these need to be agreed by all those involved. To avoid any suggestion of “self-selection’, the criteria and the reasons for adopting  them should be made public, and  participants need to be prepared to discuss, defend and even change them.

Size, too, is a functional constraint. If groups are too large there is a risk that the group will not be able to hold effective plenary discussions. As a general rule, however, caution should be exercised where exclusion may be involved, and processes need to be developed to deal with the challenge.[12]





the quality or state of being legitimate

legitimate: 1 a : lawfully begotten; specifically : born in wedlock b : having full filial rights and obligations by birth <a legitimate child> 2 : being exactly as purposed : neither spurious nor false 3 a : accordant with law or with established legal forms and requirements <a legitimate government> 4 : conforming to recognized principles or accepted rules and standards Synonym lawful, innocent, legal, licit, true, rightful Related Words cogent, sound, valid; acknowledged, recognized; customary, usual; natural, normal, regular, typical Antonym illegitimate, arbitrary (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)

"Legitimacy is generally understood as the right to be and to do something in society – a sense that an organization is lawful, admissible and justified in its chosen course of action" (Edwards 2000: 20)


MSPs need to be perceived as legitimate in order for the process and its outcomes to be accepted by all concerned. Processes which do not fulfil basic requirements will be criticised and run the risk of not being effective.

The fact that MSPs may also create larger coalitions which may and thus enable more influence, makes the question of their legitimacy all the more important. MSPs and their individual participants need to reflect upon the question of their legitimate role within the governance system, be it at the local, national or international levels. The following are some of the pre-conditions of legitimacy:

·         The design of the MSP has been agreed in a democratic, transparent and equitable manner, including the identification of stakeholder groups and participants, the framing of agenda and work plan.[13]

·         The majority of those concerned – within and without the process - perceive the process as legitimate; minority views regarding legitimacy need to be addressed by the process.

·         Participating stakeholders are perceived as having legitimacy. [14]

·         The process addresses the question of its own legitimacy and the legitimacy of its participants.

Legitimacy and credibility of processes and participants also depend on the competence and expertise of the actors involved. Equitable access to information and capacity-building, where necessary, should be provided to ensure competence on all sides.

Involvement of high-level representatives from stakeholder groups also adds legitimacy as these people both represent larger groups, and have the authority to implement any outcomes.

Legitimacy is an important resource, especially in strongly communication-oriented systems like MSPs. Actors, processes and issues which are not perceived as legitimate will - in the long run - either be ineffective, or at least be vulnerable to undermining by opponents (see Neuberger 1995b).

The legitimacy of a process also needs to be evaluated in the context of the goals the process seeks to achieve. If it is an informing process, where an organisation wants to learn about the views of particular stakeholders, choice of issues and relevant stakeholders, and setting the agenda, might not, by themselves, raise the question of the legitimacy of the process. If an MSP aims to arrive at decisions on further action and to implement them, however, the question of which strategies are being employed to identify participants, set the agenda and so forth, become crucial to its legitimacy.





the quality or state of being accountable; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)

accountable: Synonyms responsible, amenable, answerable, liable Contrasted Words absolute, arbitrary, autocratic; imperious, magisterial, masterful (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)

"Accountability simply means that individuals and institutions are answerable for their actions and the consequences that follow them. Democratic accountability means that decision-makers must be answerable to the public, 'we the people'. Without it, decisions lack legitimacy. Accountability may take many forms, from merely 'taking into account', so that those affected by decisions are consulted or considered, to independent inspection, external monitoring, public reporting, judicial review and elections" (Alexander 2000).


"Accountable decision-making tends to be better, because it takes a wider range of views and experiences into account. Accountable decisions are more likely to be consistent and rule-governed, rather than arbitrary, since they are open to challenge and set precedents. Accountability also means that mistakes are reduced, because decision-makers think harder before acting, and when mistakes occur, they are more likely to be spotted and rectified. Public accountability also contributes to greater social stability, since it is easier to identify grievances, correct mistakes or remove officials without massive social upheavals, as occurs in unaccountable political systems" (Alexander 2000).

An MSP can increase accountability of all participants towards all, if it is being designed and carried out based on agreements on the process by all stakeholders participating. It can increase accountability towards all non-participating stakeholders and the general public by making the process transparent and understandable for everybody, and by being open to discussion about itself.


Informed Consent

Closely linked to access to information is the requirement that those who agree to something must understand its implications and consequences. Any MSP needs to ensure that individuals and the stakeholders they represent fully understand all information exchanged and all decisions they may be asked to make.

This may require making information and suggestions available in appropriate language, Translations into other languages or 'simply' translations into non-jargon (e.g. non-UN-ese) are examples. It seems that this can be a major challenge for some MSPs where stakeholders experienced in such processes need to work with others who are new. Scientific research indicates the value-added of such mixed groups (see Chapter 7) but achieving that requires finding a common language.

This concept also requires everybody involved to ask for explanations if something is not understood. An open and equitable atmosphere helps people to ask what they might perceive as "stupid questions". The general rule should be that there are no stupid questions, only stupid people who ask no questions.





Responsibility: 1 : the quality or state of being responsible: as a : moral, legal, or mental accountability b : reliability, trustworthiness 2 : something for which one is responsible : burden.

responsible: 1 a : liable to be called on to answer b (1) : liable to be called to account as the primary cause, motive, or agent (2) : being the cause or explanation c : liable to legal review or in case of fault to penalties 2 a : able to answer for one's conduct and obligations : trustworthy b : able to choose for oneself between right and wrong 3 : marked by or involving responsibility or accountability 4 : politically answerable; especially : required to submit to the electorate if defeated by the legislature -- used especially of the British cabinet - Synonyms responsible, answerable, accountable, amenable, liable (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)

Social Responsibility: "An organisation's obligation to maximise its positive impact and minimise its negative impact on society" (The Copenhagen Centre)

"The social responsibility of a the private sector (also referred to as corporate social responsibility) concerns the relationships of a company not just with its clients, suppliers and employees, but also with other groups, and with the needs, values and goals of the society in which it operates. (…) social responsibility go beyond compliance with the law, beyond philanthropy, and, one could add, beyond public relations. Corporate social responsibility therefore requires dialogue between companies and their stakeholders." (UN Secretary- General 2000, A/AC.253/21, p2)


Stakeholder involvement and meaningful participation is a vehicle to ensure more responsible decisions and actions. MSPs create the space to bring all concerns into the process of planning and decision-making. Relevant information, particularly about possible impacts of decisions, is made available to decision-makers, enabling them to act responsibly, i.e. to  take  into account concerns and effects which might otherwise be not known to them. This can range from realising that more information needs to be provided to stakeholders, to changing policies, or to overthrowing decisions due to new information.

Within the framework of sustainability, responsible action means to take into account the effects of one’s actions with regard to the environment, economic developments and social developments. It requires active investigation into solutions which will ensure environmental protection, enable healthy and sustained economic growth and increase social equity. Hence, it requires the inclusion in the decision-making process of  those who might be affected economically and socially, and those who work to ensure environmental protection – otherwise, the necessary expertise will not be available.

This is not a process which can be delivered by "experts" alone.

Industry's role and responsibility is increasingly being addressed ('corporate citizenship'), particularly with a view to corporate responsibility, as some businesses explicitly recognize the need to explicitly contribute to the good of the communities where they are operate. In many cases, industry's participation in consultation processes needs to increase and needs to be based on long-term commitments to work with advocates and those affected by their activities.

Governments need to provide an enabling and protective legal and administrative framework for meaningful negotiation of stakeholder agreements, e.g. between owners of land and natural resources and those seeking access for business purposes. Governments also have responsibilities to support full and equal participation of under-represented groups such as women, local and indigenous communities.

The responsibility for an MSP outcome lies with all those involved – the more equitably the process has been conducted, the more equitably will responsibility be spread.


Modes of Stakeholder Communication



Communication: 1 : an act or instance of transmitting 2 a : information communicated b : a verbal or written message 3 a : a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behaviour also : exchange of information b : personal rapport 4 plural a : a system (as of telephones) for communicating 5 a : a technique for expressing ideas effectively (as in speech) 1 Synonyms message, directive, word 2 Synonyms contact, commerce, converse, communion, intercommunication, intercourse 3 interchange of thoughts or opinions through shared symbols, Related Words exchange, interchange; conversing, discussing, talking; conversation, discussion, talk; advice, intelligence, news, tidings (Merriem-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus)



The process by which parties in conflict communicate and influence each other to reach agreement when they have partially opposing preferences (Smith & Mackie 1995, Glossary)


Because participation is social interaction, we need to clarify which modes of communication and interaction are desirable for multi-stakeholder processes. This is all the more necessary as many MSPs gather people who often would not even talk to each other, but begin - and end - with arguing (which, one might say, is one of their main purposes).[15]

Sustainable development requires dialogue and forging collaboration and partnership wherever possible. Many of the decisions we face in the years ahead demand that we find ways to listen to opposing points of view, find ways to accommodate deeply-held and differing values and satisfy opposing interests. As Hohnen (2001) has argued, “business as usual, government as usual, and possibly even protest as usual are not working well enough”. We now need to find processes that work better. Conventional communication and decision-making mechanisms tend to exclude rather than include diverse interests and are not designed to cope well with the complexity that issues of sustainability present.

Traditional systems of governance and decision-making tend to repeat the pattern of domination that has characterized most societies throughout history: men have dominated women; one racial or ethnic group has dominated another; and nations have dominated nations.[16]

In contrast, MSPs bring together stakeholders of very different cultures – businesses, for example, follow principles of profit-orientation, protection of intellectual property, efficiency and speed, whereas many NGOs promote principles of equity, sharing, participation and protection of vulnerable groups, and do not see market mechanisms as the fundamental basis of societies and their development. MSPs need to employ modes of communication that allow clarification of cultural differences, differences in understanding of  values and information, and aim to integrate them in relation to a particular issue.

Another major issue is the challenge of dealing with power gaps between stakeholder groups. They clearly exist and need to be dealt with, including through appropriate modes of communication.

Minorities are at a special disadvantage. Research on group dynamics has shown that minorities[17] are less listened to and more often interrupted; that minority members tend to speak less, and that their contributions are taken less seriously. Powerful stakeholders and their representatives often find it difficult to 'take a back seat'. Particularly in traditional international fora governments, donor agencies and business representatives show difficulty in listening to other stakeholders such as NGOs, women's groups, Indigenous Peoples.[18] For the sake of equity, fairness and justice, but also for the sake of allowing real ownership of the process to develop on all sides, it is essential that all involved be given genuine access and employ equitable modes of communication. Ensuring this  is also an important part of the role of  facilitator of an MSP.

But how do we best conduct stakeholder communication – stating our views, dialoguing, or consensus-building? How do we deal with power gaps between different stakeholder groups? What practical mechanisms, attitudes and individual behaviour is required to ensure the potential benefits of stakeholder communication?

There are numerous sources for guidance on the conduct of successful dialogue and consensus-building, including social scientific research (see Chapter 7); philosophical models; standards of qualitative research methodology; and models used by faith communities, to name a few. They provide a basis for practical conclusions about the appropriate size of consulting groups, successful ways of chairing, facilitating and structuring meetings. They also discuss aspects of individual attitude and behaviour which promote dialogue and successful consensus-building. We summarise below a few of the most interesting examples. The choice is subjective, but has been guided by their  close relevance to the needs of the MSP concept.

Juergen Habermas (e.g. 1984, 1989), a German philosopher and dominant figure in the tradition of critical theory, developed a framework called the "ideal speech situation"[19]. It is an attempt to describe the presuppositions that discourse participants must hold before communication without coercion can prosper. Habermas defines four conditions of discourse:

1.       All potential participants of a discourse must have the same chance to employ communicative speech acts[20]: Everybody needs to have the same chance to speak.

2.       All discourse participants must have the same chance to interpret, claim or assert, recommend, explain, and put forth justifications; and contest, justify, or refute any validity claim [21]: Everybody needs to be free to challenge whether  what has been said can be verified.

3.       The only speakers permitted in the discourse are those who have the same chance to employ representative speech acts: everybody needs to have the same chance to contribute regarding the issue at hand.

4.       The only speakers permitted in the discourse are those who have the same chance to employ regulatory speech acts: everybody needs to have the same chance to contribute to the process of communication.

These conditions can be thought of as "rules for discourse". Participants abiding by these rules will produce a rationally motivated agreement (or at least understanding), as opposed to one created through manipulation and coercion.

Habermas' normative theory outlines an unconstrained model of discourse, where values and norms, too, can be discussed and agreed upon, free of coercion.

Dietz (2001, FN 15) has used Habermas' approach to define criteria of "better decisions", considering "a good decision as one that:

1.       makes full use of available information about the facts of the situation and about peoples' values;

2.       allows all those affected by a decision to have a say;

3.       takes account of the strengths of individual and group information and decision making; and

4.       provides individuals and society with a chance to learn from the decisions"[22]

Standards of qualitative research methodology: Standards of qualitative research methodology are a useful resource when trying to design a situation of productive dialogue (e.g. Sommer 1987). Developed through empirical research experiences in psychology and sociology, they are designed to create a communication situation where researchers will most successfully be able to obtain data from research participants (interviewees). Some general & practical rules have been established:

The researcher enters into the dialogue/interview with a respectful, non-judgemental attitude.

Interviewees / participants are presented with rather open questions.

Interviewees / participants are allowed to impact the agenda / questionnaire; and to decline answering questions.

Interviewers react flexibly to the information given, leaving defining the course of the interview to the interaction of the people involved rather than prescribing a set agenda.

Every finding is fed back to research participants; including for further comments; finalising a research outcome depends on agreement from all involved

Models used by faith communities: e.g. the Bahá'í model of "consultation"[23]: Individual development involves investigating truth for one's self. Continual reflection, based on experience in applying this truth, is critical to the process of individual (spiritual) development. For collective investigation of truth and group decision-making, consultation, which draws on the strength of the group and fosters unity of purpose and action, is indispensable. Consultation plays a major role in the communities because it is seen as the only way to get all relevant expertise to the table; to come to consensus about future action; and to create the commitment to implement solutions. The basic assumption is that no member of a community has some kind of exclusive access to the "truth", and that everybody's subjective views and knowledge have to be integrated in order to achieve best results. Bahá'í communities and elected assemblies conduct consultations on the basis of quite detailed rules - e.g. the rule of honesty; openness and not holding back any views; group ownership of any ideas; striving for consensus if possible and voting if not.[24]

"The purpose of the consultation is to find the truth of any matter and, whenever possible, to achieve a consensus. This requires that individuals not hold fast to personal opinions simply in order to have their views prevail. Instead, they must approach matters with a genuine desire to determine the right course of action. If consensus cannot be achieved, the majority vote of a quorum prevails, and the decision is equally valid and binding. Every member of the community is responsible for achieving its common goals" (US Bahá'í Community).

There are of course, many more guidelines being employed by faith communities which we do not have the space to outline here. They all stress the importance of a moral attitude, the priority of the common good over self-interest. They promote love and respect for the human being, no matter if friend or foe, and maintain that mutual trust and respect depends on a basic attitude of tolerance. A clear understanding of each others' priorities, needs and requirements can indeed only develop on the basis of careful listening.

The bases for modes of stakeholder communication outlined above are meant to be just that: fundaments or ideals. We do not believe that an "ideal speech situation" or indeed perfect selflessness and devotion to a community can easily be achieved. Nor can a researcher be completely open and non-suggestive.

The concepts are rather meant as ideal rules which, if adopted by participants, help to create a situation which is more likely to generate successful dialogue and agreement.


Some aspects of the different normative systems outlined above contradict each other with regard to the practical recommendations that emerge from them. For example, one of the main reasons for using Habermas' theory as a basis for developing criteria of appropriate modes of stakeholder communication, is its fundamental link to the concept of individual autonomy.[25] However, some have argued that this concept is specific to the Western, Anglo-Saxon cultural context [26]. The criticism affects, for example, the second condition put forward above: that everybody should be able to address the question of other participants' claim to validity. In societies with strong collectivist norms, such opening questioning may not seem appropriate. The condition also contradicts other normative systems' rules of not openly questioning the honesty of discourse partners as this is seen as undermining the building of trust within the group (e.g. the Bahá'í principles of consultation). Accordingly, in our conclusions  towards practical guidelines to designing MSPs (Chapter 9; Step-by-step Guide),we have suggested different options. Choices will depend on the respective cultural contexts.

[1] We are arguing within the present economic framework; discussions about alternatives to the currently dominant liberal market system are certainly necessary but not part of the present document. Rather, there should be more spaces created for deliberations of such fundamental questions as the ways in which we want our societies and the global society to develop, including their economic systems – for example, in a multi-stakeholder fashion.

[2] see also Mcgee & Norton 2000, Eden & Ackermann 1998.

[3] "The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds" (John Maynard Keynes, Foreword quote in Frankel 1998).

[4] Learning also includes overcoming stereotypes and prejudice; this is helped by contact and collaboration – a desirable effect of MSPs (see 7.2.).

[5] See Neuberger 1996 for a (very entertaining!) account of Human Resource Management consultants as jesters and comedians at the 'court' of  corporate executive boards.

[6] These are some of the conditions of promoting trust according to Renn et al. 1996: 360pp.

[7] The preparedness of people to develop such a new aspect of their identity (for example, as a 'member of a certain MSP') varies depending on the strength of their previous set of social identities – the stronger the commitments to the groups they represent, the less likely it becomes that they develop a (additional) common identity with the new group. In turn, the strength of previous social identities depends largely on the degree by which the respective groups differs from the majority and on its size. Members of relatively small social groups which are very different from the majority tend to have a stronger social identity as a member of that group, meaning they will not be as prepared as majority members to develop a new identity.

[8] Once people have developed a common group identity within the MSP, they might agree quicker to and compromise before have exhausted all points of discussion (see 7.4.3.).

[9] Online discussions with large numbers of participants who take part in their individual capacity can, however, be appropriate, for example for the purpose of scoping those aspects which people feel are relevant to a particular issue.

[10] "Ethnic minorities. Social groups with a social and cultural identity distinct from dominant society. They have been historically disadvantaged; come from non-dominant sectors of society; have low social, economic and political status; and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ethnic identity as the basis of their continued existence as people" (World Commission on Dams 2000: 345 (Glossary).

[11] We use the term 'minorities' to refer to minorities in power and/or number. A single person can be representing the most powerful stakeholder or be the best prepared participant and thus dominate a group; and a large number of representatives of a powerless stakeholder group can have no influence on a process.

[12] For example: The World Commission on Dams chose the format of a small and exclusive Commission, accompanied by a large and inclusive Forum which served as a 'sounding board'. At the Bergen Ministerial Dialogues, women contributed to the preparatory papers of the NGO group as the number of groups allowed to prepare papers was limited.

[13] This would include for the group to satisfactorily answer questions such as: Who controls the resources? Who determines the criteria? Whose institutional capacities are developed? Who will own the history of the experience? (Patel 2000).

[14] The issue of civil society engagement is both a very important as well as a difficult point which needs to be addressed within the global governance debate in general, and in MSPs in particular. The legitimacy of NGOs, for example, has been raised a critical point by various actors, in a more or less constructive way (see elaborate discussions by Edwards 1999, 2000). Some of the criticism, e.g. with regard to democratic decision-making within NGOs or the question of who they effectively represent, can equally be raised with regard to other stakeholder groups such as business associations or trade union federations. For the purpose of the discussion here, we want to underline again that the legitimacy of a process depends on its democratic, transparent, and equitable design as well as the legitimacy of its participants. - It is also worth noting that a large number of developments which aim to increase legitimacy of processes has been coming from the NGO community. For example, within the CSD process, the NGO community's preparations (dialogue background papers; selection of participants) are widely considered to be the most transparent. NGO Issue Caucuses’ around the CSD also employ measures of additional inclusiveness by taking on input from Major Groups caucuses. The same applied to the preparations for the Bergen Ministerial Dialogues. - It is also NGOs who usually have the least problems with publishing their views and (self-)criticism regarding a process.

[15] For example, the Commission on Sustainable Development in 1999 brought together stakeholders from a wide range of backgrounds to discuss sustainable tourism for the first time at a global level. This posed a challenge to all involved and was successful at least in the sense that it created a dialogue where people listened to each others' viewpoints (see Example: CSD Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues).

[16] If traditional systems of dominance should be called "democracy" - because they do (also) have communication and social learning at their roots – (as done by Dietz 1995) is questionable. Our understanding of democracy is outlined above.

[17] The term 'minorities' can refer to smaller groups ('minority in numbers') or groups of less status and power ('power minorities').

[18] This has been asserted in many publications and by any interviewees we consulted. For example, the UK Coalition Against Poverty (UKCAP) talks about "how genuine participation demands a huge change in attitudes and behaviour by policy makers and professionals", and a "sea change in attitudes and behaviour by decision makers" being "essential".

[19] Renn et al. (1995) have based their evaluation of models of environmental discourse on the work of Habermas. Their work provides one of the very few practical approaches to analysing public participation mechanisms firmly rooted in state-of-the-art theory of communication and dialogue. The book is an excellent source for the purposes of developing design concepts for MSPs and has been a major source for the chapter on modes of stakeholder communication. – Other authors have also employed Habermas approach on the ideal speech situation to develop criteria measuring the performance of public participation discourse (see Renn et al. 1995).

[20] Habermas refers to communicating as "communicative action" (based on "speech act theory" by Austin 1969) to stress that he's concerned with what people do in discourse.

[21] Habermas asserts that every speech act makes a "validity claim", saying that as part of the underlying normative agreement that makes speech possible, a speaker who makes an assertion implicitly presupposes that the validity claim can be verified to the satisfaction of all participants (see Webler 1995: 43pp).

[22] Dietz (2001) adds a 5th one: making "the most efficient possible use of resources", a "standard criteria of welfare economics and utilitarian ethics" (ibid. FN 15).

[23] We have chosen to use the term "consensus-building" in this report instead of "consultation".

[24] Bahá'ís also strongly support consultative mechanisms of participation around governments and intergovernmental bodies: "Institutions and those in positions of authority would do well to create conditions amenable to the meaningful investigation of truth, while fostering the understanding that human happiness and the establishment of peace, justice and unity are the ultimate goals of this investigation." BIC: Consultation

[25] "In the tradition of critical theory, (…) individuals ought to be free of all forms of domination. Once they are free, people are able to enter into social relations that encourage personal development as well as social and cultural reproduction. The key is critical self-reflection. Habermas promotes introspection among free and autonomous beings so that they will think about the type of society that they want, before committing to new relations" (Renn et al. 1995: 9).

[26] .. and there is empirical evidence supporting this view: for example, Triandis 1989, 1995 (see Chapter 7).



Contact Minu Hemmati and Felix Dodds for further information.