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8. Examples of Multi-Stakeholder Processes

Related to an increased interest in public participation and to the implementation of Agenda 21, numerous examples of multi-stakeholder processes have been conducted over the last few decades. Not surprisingly, since the 1990s, there has been a significant increase of such processes within the area of environment and sustainable development. We have looked at a number of examples (in alphabetical order; links take you to the individual examples):

1.       Aarhus Convention Process (1996 – 1998)

2.       Beijing+5 Global Forum / Online Discussions (1999 - 2000)

3.       CSD Multi-stakeholder Dialogues (1997 - 2000)

4.       Environment Council: Brent Spar Dialogue Process (1996 – 1997)

5.       Financing for Development Civil Society Hearings (2000)

6.       Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) (since 1997)

Local Agenda 21 related Processes (LA21):

7.       A: Cooperation for Sustainable Development in the Lower Columbia River Basin (since 1999)

8.       B: Local Agenda 21 Processes (in the UK and elsewhere) (since 1992)

9.       Multi-stakeholder Dialogues at the 8th Informal Environment Ministers Meeting, Bergen (2000)

10.   Novartis Forum Events (1997 – 1999)

11.   OECD Conference on Biotechnology (1999 - 2000)

Processes developing strategies for sustainable development at the national level:

12.   A: National Strategies for Sustainable Development (NSSD) / IIED (1999 – 2001)

13.   B: Creation of National Councils for Sustainable Development (NCSD)/ Earth Council (since 1992) (forthcoming)

14.   UN Global Compact (since 1999)

15.   WBCSD / IIED Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development (MMSD) (1999 – 2001)

16.   WBCSD / IIED Paper Initiative (1997)

17.   WHO European Health and Environment Conference (1999)

18.   World Bank World Development Report / Online Discussion of Draft Report (2000)

19.   World Bank GEF Country Dialogue Workshops Program (GEF CDW) (since 1999)

20.   World Commission on Dams (WCD) (1997 – 2000)


We developed a set of questions (and issues) which were used to obtain a systematic overview of the various processes. In order to analyse these examples we sought answers to these questions by

using publicly available material (documents, web-sites): much of the process-design related information which we were looking for was available on the respective web-sites and in printed reports;

interviewing people from different stakeholder groups who were / are involved in the respective processes: in most cases, some relevant information was not available in publications. We therefore conducted interviews either in person, over the phone, or via email.

In most of the cases presented, we used a combination of literature research and interviewing.

Studying the examples was not intended to analyse a representative sample, or to give a full assessment or evaluation via a representative group of people being interviewed. The goal of studying literature and interviewing people was to obtain a descriptive analysis of the respective MSPs[1].



8.1. Overview of Examples


Among the large number of possible examples, we picked primarily ones which are directly related to sustainable development and Agenda 21 and/or are conducted around intergovernmental processes. We also included examples which are initiated by a group or organisations as well as those initiated and carried out by one single organisation. There are numerous varieties with regard to many of the questions we looked at –  ways of designing the MSP, identifying relevant stakeholders and participants, preparing meetings, documents, etc. The variety of examples also demonstrates the variety of projects and processes which are being called multi-stakeholder dialogues or processes (hence Chapter 4 for Clarification of Terms).

The following is meant to provide an overview of the examples studied, based on the questions we looked at[1].


8.1.1. General Information


Issues: The MSP examples we looked at address a wide range of issues: environment, development, sustainable development, human rights, labour, and gender equality.


Goals: There is a variety of goals listed in publications and by interviewees which can be grouped as follows:

Opening the space for stakeholder interaction: bring people together to develop constructive dialogue in an area of conflict; improve understanding of stakeholders, governments and donors; enter into a dialogue with government representatives; open up a closed process; generate stakeholder involvement (e.g. Brent Spar process; GEF CDW; OECD Conference).

Informing policy-making: inform and impact a policy-making process; inform an intergovernmental body; inform stakeholders (e.g. Beijing+5 online discussions; CSD stakeholder dialogues; FfD Hearings; WHO Conference; GEF CDW).

Produce information from an independent source: produce an independent assessment; conduct a rigorous review and develop recommendations and guidelines for future decision-making; develop and disseminate guidelines (e.g. for reporting) (e.g. MMSD; Paper Initiative; GRI; WCD).

MSPs as a political strategy: create a counterpoint to a planning proposal; support a global initiative and campaign (e.g. Lower Columbia River Basin process; MMSD).

Towards implementation: generate commitment by stakeholders to enact principles through joint activities or individually (e.g. UN Global Compact; GRI).

Specific goals of businesses: provide reputation management for companies; support alignment of businesses' internal / global policy; enable further identification of employees with a company (e.g. UN Global Compact, Novartis Forum).


Participating Stakeholders: MSP examples include a variety of stakeholders. In the examples studied, processes included three or more stakeholder groups. Definitions of stakeholder groups vary – from being based on the Major Groups identified in Agenda 21 (Chapters 24 – 33) to being identified specifically for an MSP, depending on issues and scope. Listed were:

Various UN entities (DESA units; SG's office; etc.); various UN agencies; other intergovernmental bodies; governments; NGOs (in various definitions: environmental NGOs, community groups, development NGOs, etc); academics / scientists; women's groups; farmers; business & industry; trade unions; local authorities; Indigenous Peoples; technical experts; ethics specialists; professional associations; media; water & forestry districts; affected people.


Time Frame: Time frames vary considerably, depending on the scope, level and goals of a process. Many are one-off events for which there is a preparatory period before the actual event and a period afterwards to produce reports and publications.

Most of the example processes which are related to one-off events take 5 – 10 months to carry out: e.g. CSD stakeholder dialogues; Bergen ministerial dialogue; FfD Hearings; Online Discussion of the World Bank Report 2000; Beijing+5 Online Discussions.

Some one-off events develop into follow-up processes which may be scheduled for 1 or 2 years: e.g. follow-up processes of CSD stakeholder dialogues (voluntary initiatives; tourism; agriculture).

Processes which include several meetings at various levels, commissioned research, separate working groups, reviewed background papers and other input, run for about 2 years or more, e.g. World Commission on Dams; the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development process; Local Agenda 21 processes.

Finally, there are ongoing processes which do not have a planned closure date (or an extended one) but annual agenda items and other steps within the process: e.g. UN Global Compact, Global Reporting Initiative.


8.1.2. Classification

We have aimed to classify processes by type, level and diversity as outlined in Chapter 5.

Type: We tried to classify the MSP examples according to the proposed classification of various types and levels of MSPs. These are of course theoretically more distinct than in practice. Classification also overlaps with the goals of processes.

Most of the examples focus on informing a policy-making process, a particular intergovernmental body, and the like. These can be either 'only' dialogues or they can aim at consensus-building and agreement on positions, strategies, and/or output documents. In that case they are still informing but include mechanisms of reaching agreements and making decisions.

The processes involving some kind of consensus-building and/or decision-making also show a great variety: some are part of policy-making (Aarhus Convention), some are (partly) planning processes (LA21), others take an advising role (Brent Spar process). Others are developing tools (GRI), or independent analyses (MMSD; WCD) to be agreed within the process.

Level: Most of the example processes are international (12); some are regional (5), national (8), sub-national (3) and local (3). Some examples include sub-entities and processes at several levels (e.g. regional processes feeding into international ones).

Diversity: Diversity of stakeholders involved in the examples varies greatly, numbers of participating stakeholders (including governments and intergovernmental bodies) range from at least three up to ten and more[2].


8.1.3. Procedural Aspects


Designing the MSP: How was the process designed? And by who? Were there consultations with stakeholders on the design?

There are various strategies employed in the MSP examples. These can be grouped according to the level of stakeholder involvement; some employ a multi-stakeholder approach to the design:

One organisation initiating, designing, facilitating and carrying out the whole process: this can be a UN Body or Agency (e.g. UNECE, DAW, DSD, FfD, etc), another intergovernmental body (e.g. WHO), an individual company (e.g. Novartis), or another single institution (e.g. local authorities).

In some cases, the initiating body designs the process in consultation with stakeholders – one, two or more groups can be involved, either in separate consultations or via group consultation.

Sometimes, NGOs, multi-stakeholder organisations or professional facilitating organisations are contracted to carry out the process. In these cases, the process is often designed in consultation between the contracting partners. This can be carried out including further stakeholder consultation or not. For example, the initiative can come from a host country government who contracts an organisation (Norway contracting UNED Forum for the Bergen Ministerial Dialogues); a company contracting a professional facilitator (Shell and The Environment Council).

In many cases, processes have taken a step-by-step approach to designing and facilitating: initial scoping or planning meetings are initiated by one or more organisations. These meetings result in the founding of some kind of a steering committee (or task force, facilitating group, coordinating group, advisory group), which is usually made up of various stakeholder groups' representatives. This group then engages in further designing the process, and often adding new members on the way in order to ensure diversity and inclusiveness. In many cases, coordinating groups also develop the terms and principles of the process, appropriate levels, working groups, criteria for inclusion and balanced participation, etc.

In some cases, NGOs approach a decision-making body and suggest an MSP. This can then be further negotiated with the body in question, involving or not involving more stakeholder groups (e.g. World Bank report online discussions).

As our sample of examples is not a representative one, we cannot identify a most common approach. It seems, however, that efforts to design a process together, as an MSP itself, have recently become more common. This could be based on the often-reported experience that participants commitment to a process largely depends on their involvement in the process from the outset, including the design.


Identifying the issues to be addressed in an MSP: Who identifies the issues? And how?

In many cases, the issues to be addressed are set by an international agreement (Beijing+5) or determined by the decision of an intergovernmental body (e.g. UN GA, UNECE, DAW), or by a single initiating organisation (e.g. company, intergovernmental body). However, often issues are further defined and differentiated through the process. This can lead to a need to pose more precise questions instead of putting a broadly defined issue to a group process. This is being done by the initiating body alone or in more or less transparent consultation with stakeholder groups.

Sometimes, potential participants are presented with a number of issues or questions, and they can choose which ones they would want to address in their contribution (e.g. FfD Hearings). In other cases, issues have been defined by an initial draft document but have been broadened through the multi-stakeholder debate.

Where a process is designed to feed into an official, e.g. intergovernmental event, issues and agenda tend to be set by the agenda of that event. The multi-stakeholder participation process is then designed in accordance with that official process.

In cases where a coordinating group or similar body takes on the task of designing the process, it also works on defining the issues to be addressed (e.g. WCD, MMSD). Again, this can be done including further consultation with non-members. Diverse coordinating groups seem to be more inclusive when defining the issues. This is, however, also a question of available time (see below). Yet other processes are based on a process framework and issues vary by country (e.g. GEF CDW) or year (e.g. CSD stakeholder dialogues).


Identifying relevant stakeholders: Who identifies relevant stakeholders? And how?

Sometimes, stakeholder groups are pre-defined by international agreements (as Major Groups in Agenda 21) but there is still a choice to be made amongst them. And in many cases, stakeholder groups which are relevant to the issue at hand need to be identified. Some processes are by invitation only, others are semi-open, based on set numbers and definitions of stakeholder groups, others are completely open.

In many cases where there is a single initiating body (intergovernmental body; company), it will also be the one identifying relevant stakeholder groups for participation (e.g. CSD stakeholder dialogues; Novartis Forum). This can be done in consultation with stakeholder groups representatives, a contracted NGO or other body (e.g. MMSD), or via an initial coordinating group which can result in a wide outreach (e.g. GRI, WCD). Sometimes, particular efforts are undertaken to ensure participation by some stakeholder groups. Some processes engage in ongoing outreach throughout the process, sometimes supported by outreach and background material. In other cases, a kick-off event organised by one body or an initial coordinating group, is used to increase stakeholder involvement. Such events reportedly benefit from some well-known people attending (e.g. LA21).

In longer term processes which involve various activities at several levels or in several working groups, very often the stakeholder base will increase over time as activities develop and more groups become interested (e.g. GRI). Stakeholder participation is sometimes limited by a governmental or intergovernmental body's decision; the reason being given is that only a small number of participants can be accommodated in a limited space or time (e.g. CSD stakeholder dialogues, Bergen ministerial dialogues).

The activities related to identifying stakeholder groups often remain intransparent and the criteria employed are sometimes not available. In contrast, some processes operate on the basis of publicised criteria which have been developed within a coordinating group of high stakeholder diversity.


Identifying MSP participants: Who identifies participants? And how? Possibly different for the various participating stakeholder groups

In most cases we looked at, identifying participants within a stakeholder group is up to the group itself; they elect or appoint their representatives to the process. Processes of election or appointment can be more or less transparent. Often, identification processes are most transparent among NGOs involved (e.g. CSD stakeholder dialogues).

In other cases, participation of stakeholder representatives is by invitation by the initiating body only (e.g. OECD Conference). However, this is often done in consultation with stakeholder groups in order to ensure some level of representativeness. In other cases, the process is not aiming at stakeholder groups being represented by their chosen representatives, and organisers invite members of stakeholder groups at their own discretion (e.g. Novartis Forum).

In some processes, particularly online discussions, access is completely open and there are no access controls employed. However, in these cases people are participating in an individual capacity and not on behalf of an organisation or stakeholder group, and are asked to identify themselves so that the group position can be identified (e.g. Beijing+5 online discussions; World Bank Report online discussion; GRI). These processes also involve massive outreach efforts, which can be specifically targeted to ensure regional or gender balance.

Many processes employ some kind of monitoring of numbers to ensure balanced participation by the various stakeholder groups involved (e.g. Brent Spar process).

Sometimes it seems necessary to actively reach out to potential participants (e.g. FfD regarding business representatives). Small stakeholder groups can share one representative to a process (Lower Columbia River Basin process). Aiming at a very broad process but an overseeable group size, the World Commission on Dams opted for a two-tiered approach of a small Commission (12 members) and a large Forum, which served as a 'sounding board'.


Setting the goals of an MSP: Who sets the goals? And how? Can goals develop over the course of the MSP – e.g. from an informing process into a dialogue / consensus-building process; from mere exchange of views to implementation?

Goals can be set from the out-set by one initiating organisation with or without consultation with stakeholders or a coordinating group (e.g. Beijing+5 online discussions, Novartis Forum, FfD hearings, OECD Conference). In processes around intergovernmental bodies, these are often based on existing international agreements. Goals can also develop over time through the MSP itself (e.g. GRI, WCD, MMSD, LA21, Paper Initiative). Some MSPs have a mix of pre-set goals and goals developing over time, beyond the given set (e.g. UN Global Compact).

Choices with regard to goal development can be due to time limits, e.g. when a process has to deliver a certain input according to an official agenda and time table (e.g. WHO Conference, World Bank Report online discussion). Sometimes the way goals develop will depend on the way a chair chooses to facilitate a dialogue meeting – towards identifying common ground or contentious issues (e.g. CSD stakeholder dialogues).


Do participants have opportunities to check back with their constituencies when changes are being proposed?

This seems to mostly depend on the time frame and the resources available. Checking back with constituencies is usually possible in MSPs involving several meetings or allowing for input and comments into draft documents within a reasonable time period. At one-off events, involving constituencies is only possible in the preparatory period. With regard to resources, groups with easy access to the Internet, resources for communication and meetings find it much easier to check back with their constituencies than those lacking those resources.


Setting the agenda: Who sets the agenda? And how? Do participants have opportunities to check back with their constituencies when changes are being proposed?

The agenda for an MSP - preparations for a one-off event or agenda of a long-term process - can be set by an initiating body alone or in consultation with stakeholder groups. Sometimes it is not quite clear how that was done or various sources contradict each other.

Agenda-setting can again be facilitated through a contracted body organising the process (e.g. Brent Spar process) and/or a more or less diverse coordinating group (e.g. GRI). In some cases, the process of developing the agenda is not predictable – it might or might not be carried out with stakeholder consultation or has initially been developed in consultation and recurs in regular intervals based on the same scheme (e.g. CSD stakeholder dialogues).

In MSPs around intergovernmental meetings, the MSP agenda is largely dependent on the official agenda (e.g. of preparatory meetings, deadlines for background papers, etc). In MSPs steered by a diverse group and going on over a longer period of time, agenda-setting is part of that group process, and in many cases can change, adapt and develop over time, which makes the agenda of the process itself the result of an MSP (e.g. GRI, WCD). Where MSPs comprise various strands of work in different working groups, these often develop their agenda themselves (e.g. MMSD).

In the UN Global Compact, for example, we find a mixture of a pre-set agenda (e.g. annual requirements) and an agenda developing through the process (e.g. issue dialogues).


Setting the time-table: Who sets the time-table? And how?

In MSPs around intergovernmental meetings, the MSP time-table is determined by the official time-table (e.g. UNECE, Beijing+5, FfD, CSD). Independent processes aiming at impacting policy-making in a particular political process set their time-table accordingly (such as MMSD for Earth Summit 2002; World Bank Report online discussions). MSPs organised by a single entity mostly have a time-table set by that entity (e.g. Novartis Forum, OECD Conference).

In some cases, facilitating bodies propose a time-table which is then discussed and in some form adopted by the group (e.g. Brent Spar process, Bergen Ministerial Dialogues). Ongoing MSPs with a (diverse) coordinating group sometimes see time-tables developing over time, mostly within a given overall deadline (e.g. WCD).


Preparatory process: How is the dialogue being prepared (consultations within constituencies; papers; initial positions etc.)? Are preparations within stakeholder groups being monitored somehow?

There is a great variety of preparatory processes within the sample we looked at. Choices largely depend on the goals, size, level and duration of MSPs, and on whether they are only dialogues or involve consensus-building and decision-making.

One-off event MSPs are often prepared via various kinds of communications, bi-lateral or involving representatives of all participant groups. Some MSPs involve the preparation of initial stakeholder background or position papers (e.g. FfD Hearings). Such preparatory papers are submitted in advance to a dialogue meeting which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. In some cases, these are analysed and compared to further prepare for a meeting (e.g. CSD stakeholder dialogues, Bergen ministerial dialogue). In some cases, preparatory material is produced to help stakeholders decide if they want to participate (e.g. Brent Spar process: CD ROM, user friendly documents) .

MSPs aiming to produce a common agreed document require different processes. Drafts can be prepared by a coordinating group, a secretariat or facilitating body (e.g. WCD; Brent Spar) and put out for comments to all participants. Upon re-drafting, documents can be put to a plenary meeting for final discussion and adoption, either by consensus or voting mechanisms. This process can be involve several layers, e.g. moving bottom-up from country to global level (e.g. MMSD, NSSD).

In MSPs initiated and organised by one body, preparations often involve discussions between the inviting body, consultants, invited speakers and other stakeholder representatives, in a rather informal process (e.g. Novartis Forum, OECD Conference).

Larger processes tend to engage in a multitude of multi-stakeholder meetings and sub-processes at different levels and on specific issues. Each of these can have a separate preparatory process. Some long-term processes involve the commissioning of background or research papers, sometimes including their submission for comments to all participants. MSPs that involve small group work often hold large strategy meetings and produce newsletters to keep everybody informed about the different strands of ongoing work (e.g. WHO Conference).

Preparations of different participants of online discussions can vary significantly – some might not prepare at all, some might hold national meetings to prepare (e.g. Beijing+5, World Bank Report).

The amount of consultation within stakeholder groups preparing for a dialogue varies; in some cases or for some groups, there is a lot of consultation. Preparations within stakeholder groups are not monitored in any 'official' way although NGOs in some cases carry out consultation in a publicly accessible manner (e.g. via open list serves).


Communication process: How is the communication conducted?

Nearly all MSP examples make intensive use of web-based communication, some report "huge email traffic", and most publish their (draft) material on websites which are often developed for the process itself. Web-based communication also allows a large number of people to be involved, is relatively cheap for a lot of people, and very quick. It allows transparency through open list serves and publicly accessible websites. The downside, which is mentioned by quite a few interviewees, is the large gaps in Internet access, particularly between South and North.

Only online discussions operate without any face-to-face meetings, and thus completely exclude people who don't .have Internet access. The lack of face-to-face feedback can also make communication more difficult.

MSPs involving a one-off event are often prepared via email, but also use telephone or video conferencing or pre-meetings. One-off events mostly involve a mixture of formal and informal meetings.

Longer-term or multi-layered MSPs often involve a mix of national or regional meetings and fewer international ones. These are often flanked by (electronic or printed) newsletters, brochures and other publications. Some made use of CD ROMs.

Small working groups within larger processes, particularly international ones, also tend to primarily use email. Local processes involve a lot of face-to-face meetings but also use a whole array of other communication channels.

Face-to-face dialogues are often conducted with a mixture of presentations, question and answers, and discussion. They can also involve a mixture of plenary and small working groups meetings, presentations, panel discussions, side events with more information communications, and the like. Some MSPs also use more elaborate working group techniques such as phases of brainstorming and discussion, meta-plan, etc.


Dealing with power gaps: are there power gaps between participating stakeholder groups? How are they being addressed / dealt with?

These questions are rarely addressed in published material and do not necessarily come out in written interviews. Where they are addressed, most people asserted that there are indeed power gaps, e.g. between governments and NGOs, between NGOs and business, between the MSP group and the decision-making body it was aiming to inform or impact. Power gaps are also due to differences in Internet access – checking back with constituencies, consultations within stakeholder groups, keeping track of developments is much more difficult if you don't have regular and easy Internet access in an MSP, which is largely conducted electronically.

People perceive that power gaps are rarely openly addressed. In some cases, they are explicitly being dealt with by giving each group the same no of seats and support those in need with funding for travel, production of preparatory material or communication (e.g. CSD stakeholder dialogues). Some MSPs aim to balance power by balancing the numbers of participants who are presumably in favour, against or neutral towards the issue or question at hand (e.g. OECD Conference).

People also noted that different groups have different bases of power, e.g. access to information, decision-making power, presumption of good intentions ("moral advantage"), access to building coalitions, ability to take quick decisions, etc. It was said that these different power sources might create a balance, which is less obvious than when looking at only one power base such as decision-making power or financial resources. Interestingly, some interviewees said that power gaps were balanced through lack of interest, preparation or coordination on the side of a potentially very powerful group.


Are there mechanisms of meta-communication during the process? What kind?

Mechanisms for meta-communication – communicating about the way we communicate and the process we are involved in – are rare components of MSPs. In some cases, people reported that there was spontaneous meta-communication in an informal manner. Many interviewees asserted that it would have been beneficial for the process if there had been encouragement and some kind of formal and transparent mechanism for meta-communication. This question also goes back to the initial design question. If there is a coordinating group designing the process, it is more likely that this group also addresses the communication process, how to deal with power gaps, how to deal with dead-ends in decision-making, etc.


Decision-making process: procedures of agreement (depending on the type of MSP): Is agreement being sought? If so, how is that conducted? And by who?

In many MSP examples, there was no agreement sought so the question doesn't apply.

MSPs can spontaneously develop into consensus-building. This question also shows the importance of chairing: even dialogue-only processes can be chaired towards identifying common ground and possible (e.g. future) agreement, or they can be chaired towards identifying areas of conflict (e.g. CSD stakeholder dialogues on agriculture in 2000).

Larger processes aiming to develop a consensus-document often involve a multi-layered approach to consensus-building. Some agreement is often built within small working groups who then submit their outcomes to all participants for further comments and final agreement. Often, such final agreement is being sought at a final plenary meeting. Some processes intentionally avoid voting procedures and work to find consensus (e.g. GRI), some involve voting procedures or allow minority positions being reflected in an outcome document (e.g. NGO preparations for CSD stakeholder dialogues; to some extent the WCD report).

Some MSPs rely on a professional facilitator or an experienced chair to identify the appropriate time for seeking agreement by the whole group (e.g. Brent Spar process).


Implementation process: Depending on the type of MSP: How is implementation being decided / planned / conducted? By who?

In most of the MSP examples, there was no implementation sought, at least not at the given point in time. In the case of informing processes around intergovernmental bodies, implementation of any consensus depends on the intergovernmental process taking MSP outcomes into account and into the official decision, and subsequently the appropriate bodies to initiate implementation (e.g. MMSD).

Some ongoing processes which came out of CSD stakeholder dialogues are supposed to look at implementation (e.g. in the form of joint implementation projects), and to report back to the CSD within a given time frame. In the case of the Aarhus Convention, implementation is now, after the adoption of the Convention, a case for national governments, and NGOs are expected to play a key role in the implementation process as well as to monitor national implementation efforts. In the Brent Spar process, potential implementers (i.e. potential contractors of Shell) were part of the process. In the GRI process, implementation will depend on the companies' activities, a process which is also expected to initiate re-designing of the reporting guidelines developed. With regard to Local Agenda 21 processes, it was observed that there are no objective studies to assess the implementation of LA21s. In the case of the UN Global Compact, there is disagreement if the process involves implementation or not – critics claim it doesn't, some business partners report that it does produce changes within their companies.


Closing the MSP: How and when does the process conclude? Who is making the decision and how?

MSPs around intergovernmental processes and/or aiming at a particular event close within the time-table of that official process or given event (e.g. Beijing+5 and World Bank Report online discussions, WHO and OECD Conferences, Novartis Forum events). Interviewees sometimes report that an MSP was planned as a one-off event but may inspire more such processes subsequently, or have led to ongoing processes (e.g. WHO Conference, Bergen ministerial dialogue, CSD stakeholder dialogues). Other MSPs close with a final meeting which has been scheduled when setting the time-table within the process (e.g. WCD, MMSD) but often involve follow-up processes at various levels, mostly aiming at feeding the outcomes into official decision-making.

Ongoing processes do not report a closure but expect to develop over time, e.g. into monitoring and implementation processes (e.g. GRI).


8.1.4. Structural Aspects


Structures / institutions of the MSP: Secretariat? Facilitating body? Board / Forum…?

Many processes are being supported by a secretariat or similar body (e.g. WomenWatch for the Beijing+5 online discussions, CSD Secretariat, FfD Secretariat, OECD, WHO, Novartis). In other cases, an initiating body contracts an NGO, a professional facilitator, or a multi-stakeholder organisation to organise and back-up an MSP.

Some longer-term processes have given themselves their own base (e.g. WCD, GRI). Such MSP bodies develop their own constitution, others function in an ad hoc process with bi-laws. Diverse governing boards or executive committees are meant to ensure adequate representation of all participants' views in the governance of the body and the process. Multi-layered processes might work with various bodies at local, regional and international levels. Some processes work with diverse coordinating groups guiding the affairs which are primarily organised by one or a small number of organisations.

UNECE had a working group for the Aarhus Convention process, plus a "Friends of the Secretariat" group. WCD worked with a special Secretariat, a small Commission, and a large Forum. Local authorities will mostly organise LA21 but sometimes create a body for that purpose which can also be a mix of local government and independent or multi-stakeholder institution.

Within stakeholder groups, coordination is provided by associations (e.g. ICC, WBCSD, ICFTU), networks and steering committees (e.g. NGO Steering Committee, caucuses), and umbrella institutions active in the area of interest (e.g. ICLEI for local authorities).


Facilitation: Who facilitates the MSP? Exact role of a facilitating body? How does the facilitating organisation work with stakeholders? Does that include secretariat services?

This question was understood as inquiring about the actual facilitation or chairing of meetings:

Online discussions are regularly moderated, with messages being screened for length and relevance. Moderators communicate directly with participants whose messages need to be reformulated. Moderators are often taken on as external consultants.

Around official intergovernmental processes, officials such as Bureau chairs tend to chair stakeholder dialogue meetings (e.g. CSD, FfD). Joint chairing by government representatives and NGOs also takes places (e.g. Bergen ministerial dialogues). Within LA21s, local authority representatives usually chair meetings. One-off events organised by a single body usually appoint chairpersons from among various stakeholder groups (e.g. OECD Conference) or other professions (e.g. journalists at Novartis Forum events). Pre-meetings tend to be prepared and chaired by the body coordinating the process. Interviewees reported that using professional facilitators was beneficial but that having a charismatic, respected chair was equally successful.


Documentation: Rapporteuring from meetings; summarising outcomes; publication of documentation – by who? when? And how?

Many MSPs report that a large number of documents are produced over time as drafts are commented on and re-drafted; meetings are minuted; additional background and research material is submitted, etc. In many processes, pre-final documents or meeting minutes are only distributed electronically via email and/or website.

Online discussions are often fully archived on the Internet and publicly accessible. Summary documents of such discussions are produced by the organising body and made available in electronic and printed format.

There are various mechanisms for rapporteuring: In most processes, minutes are taken by members of the organising body (e.g. Brent Spar process, FfD hearings, CSD dialogues), draft reports might be forwarded to participants for amendments and comments. Minutes can also be taken by different stakeholders on a rotating basis and publications produced by one of the facilitating bodies  involved on a rotating basis (e.g. Lower Columbia River Basin process).

Depending on agreement being sought or not, MSPs might work towards a consensus, an endorsed document which usually goes through several stages of drafting and re-drafting (e.g. GRI, LA21). Another option are chair's summaries which can be presented for comments but don't need endorsement (e.g. CSD stakeholder dialogues in some cases, Bergen ministerial meeting). In MSPs initiated and organised by one body, summaries and reports are often produced by that body only (e.g. Novartis Forum, OECD Conference).

The question of rapporteuring and documentation is linked to the question of linkage into official decision-making as the ways in which documents are produced and fed into the process can decide upon them being picked up by an official process or not (see below).

MSPs might also produce extensive material that is publicly available, preparatory or reflecting the outcome - interactive websites, CD ROMs, background and issue papers, knowledge management systems are such options (e.g. Brent Spar process, MMSD).


Relating to non-participating stakeholders: Do other stakeholders know about the process? Can they feed into the process? And how?

Answers to this question depend on the goals of the process, the resources and time available, and the limitations sometimes set by governments or intergovernmental bodies.

In many cases, interviewees regret that there is not enough information available for other stakeholders except those who are aware of the process because of general or previous involvement (e.g. Aarhus Convention).

Many processes rely more or less on publishing their material on the Internet; sometimes they engage in outreach activities to make other stakeholders aware of the process. Open processes often continuously work to involve more stakeholders through pro-active outreach activities (e.g. GRI). Media related activities are mostly used to inform the general public (see below). The extensive use of specialist language or UN jargon reportedly often hinders involvement of stakeholder groups.

Most processes, however, do not have formal mechanisms for non-participating stakeholders to be informed and/or get involved - it depends on them showing interest and approaching the MSP facilitating body. Non-participating stakeholders can sometimes feed into the process through linking up with participating stakeholders. This can be difficult due to tight timelines (e.g. Bergen ministerial dialogues). Online discussions are mostly not limited to particular stakeholder groups but of course access depends on access to the technology.

Most of the examples studied here have been held in English – a reflection of many international processes but also of the authors' common language being English. The online discussions on the draft World Bank Report allowed contributions in French and Spanish, which were, however, not translated due to lack of resources.


Relating to the general public: What kind of information about the MSP is available to the public? Via which channels? Who is providing that information? Can the public comment / ask questions / feed in? And how?

Many interviewees stressed the need to convey the message of the respective MSP to the public in plain language – and often reported about difficulties to do so. Limited time, highly specialised issues and financial constraints further limit public outreach.

Many processes rely on their material being publicly available on a website. However, this is reportedly not being seen as ensuring public access, due to lack of information about the site and jargon-loaded language. This is most often the case with MSPs on specialised or highly technical issues. Some MSPs produce various materials for public dissemination. Press releases and conferences are the most common. School packs, brochures, CD ROMs, and videos are less commonplace. Reports are often widely disseminated but feeding into the process remains difficult for the general public. Local Agenda processes often use local media such as newspapers and radio to inform the public and to generate increased involvement. LA21s also seem to be the processes easiest accessible by the general public. Press coverage of one-off events is often ensured by inviting journalists to attend (e.g. WCD, GRI) or to actively participate at an event, e.g. as facilitators (e.g. Novartis Forum).

Some processes engage in public media related activities, most frequently towards the end of the process, launching an outcome document. Launch events can be big public events involving celebrities (e.g. WCD). Media work is most often done by the coordinating organisation. If there is a lot of public interest in an issue, it will be in the news. This is most often the case when contentious issues are being addressed (e.g. Brent Spar process).


Linkage into official decision-making process: Is the MSP linked to an official decision-making process? Of governments, intergovernmental bodies, other stakeholders? Via which mechanisms? How transparent and predictable are these mechanisms? Can stakeholders impact the mechanisms? And how?

This is a particularly important question as most MSP examples aim to impact policy-making and implementation.

Around official decision-making processes, MSPs can have various forms of linkage mechanisms. Principally, it is up to governments or intergovernmental bodies to take up outcomes of an MSP meant to inform their decision-making (e.g. MMSD, World Bank Report online discussion, WHO Conference). For the Beijing+5 online discussions, there was a summary prepared as a background document for the next PrepComm. For the FfD Hearings, summaries are submitted to the 2nd PrepComm as official reports to the meeting. At the Bergen ministerial meeting, a chair's summary of the dialogues was taken to the closed official meeting the next morning. For the CSD stakeholder dialogues, the CSD Secretariat has in recent years produced a summary in the chair's name which is then being handed to negotiators for the CSD decision, along with the summary of the CSD High Level Segment. In the preparations for the Aarhus Convention, the multi-stakeholder involvement was part of the official process. In the NSSD process, outcomes will feed into OECD preparations for 2002 and be taken up at a OECD High Level meeting. With regard to the UN Global Compact, interviewees disagreed as regards linkage into official decision-making.

Independent processes work with their participants to take on the outcomes and implement them; however, these may spark government interest and take the process outcomes into official decision-making (e.g. GRI). The WCD uses the outcome report to impact governments reviewing their policies on large dams.

Some interviewees report that the respective MSP was not sufficiently linked into official decision-making and that this could have been designed better to increase impact. Some MSPs have to rely on ad hoc linkage mechanisms. They can be impacted by stakeholders but governments are not formally agreeing a regular procedure. Others rely on lobbying based on their outcomes, and seek government involvement to facilitate linkage into official decision-making.


Funding: Is the process being funded? By who? Who is fundraising? How much does it cost? What impact do funders have on process, structures & outcomes? 

Some processes being facilitated by UN or other bodies are funded through their core budget (which can be a trust fund for a particular process, e.g. FfD) and additional travel funding, particularly for NGOs and representatives from developing countries (e.g. FfD Hearings, CSD stakeholder dialogues). Funds are often generated short-term from individual governments. Other participating stakeholder groups are funding their participation themselves, particularly business. One-off events initiated and organised by one body are often completely funded by that same body (e.g. Novartis Forum, Bergen ministerial dialogues, OECD Conference, LA21s by local authorities).

Many processes rely on various funding sources from the UN Foundation, other private foundations, UN agencies, individual governments, donor organisations, multi-lateral development banks, private sector associations or individual companies, NGOs, and/or research institutions.

Funding without contributions from the private sector tends to be perceived as lending an MSP more credibility; and arranging for multiple funding sources is seen as beneficial for independence. Within our sample, there is only one example where the process itself agreed a fund raising strategy and carried it out via its facilitating body, i.e. the World Commission on Dams.

Many MSPs report that insufficient funds are impeding the process and its impact. Overall costs vary significantly (see Annex I).


8.1.5. Additional Comments

Interviewees and MSP reports raised a number of additional issues and comments, which are relevant to the task at hand.

Types of MSPs: Ongoing processes are seen by some people as more successful than one-off events. However, one-off events can reportedly serve as starting points and build the necessary trust to continue engagement.

Defining the issues: Over-simplifying the issue in the beginning of an MSP can create problems of addressing the questions which would need further development. A sufficient problem identification phase in the beginning is key. In a similar vein, keeping the agenda-setting process open allows further crucial issues to be identified through the process. Sometimes it takes time for these to emerge, e.g. social, economic & equity issues within primarily environmentally focused processes.

Stakeholder participation: Some MSPs reportedly benefited in terms of decreased power gaps because of the lack of participation, preparation or coordination by a potentially powerful stakeholder group. MSPs need to take care not to lose those who cannot easily become involved in further discussions, working groups, etc., due to lack of time and resources. Early involvement of those who need to be involved is beneficial, otherwise an MSP can lack credibility and have less impact. As a general rule, one should note that participation processes take more time than expected. Many processes seem to have key people who were drivers and persisted in pushing the envelope and keeping others people involved.

Power gaps: It is recommended that people should keep in mind that power can be based on various kinds of resources. Power gaps do exist but different groups have different advantages (access to information, decision-making power, presumption of good intentions, access to building coalitions, ability to take quick decisions). The challenge is to identify one's power base and work with that – for example, community organisations and NGOs often succeed in bringing the media on their sides which reduces the actual power of business and governments. MSPs tend to make those in power feel threatened, an issue which needs to be addressed by carefully defining the desired role of the MSP.

Chairing & facilitation: Independent facilitation is regarded as better than facilitation being provided by a stakeholder or body which is not seen as independent.

Outcome documents: MSP output should be summarised in short documents to ensure wider readership.

Meta-communication: Many processes don't have such mechanisms and would reportedly benefit from them.

Consensus-building & decision-making: Is consensus compromise by another name? Many people would not want to see an MSP leading to compromise but to consensus which integrates various views. Agreeing ground rules for decision-making is crucial.

Rapporteuring: It is important that every stakeholder has an opportunity to be the recorder of decisions taken. For example, minutes should be taken on a rotating basis.

Implementation: If one sector leads an MSP, there is a danger that all others will look to the leading sector for implementation.

Closure / follow-up: As decisions to NOT do something are almost always revisited, the advantage goes to those organisations who have staying-power.

MSP effects: MSPs can help build trust between participating stakeholders, e.g. between government or local governments and communities. This is perceived as very important as there is reportedly often a lack of trust.

Costs and funding: MSPs are expensive and need a solid, well-prepared funding base to function properly and according to ideals of inclusiveness, equity and transparency.


8.2. Reported Problems and Conclusions

Some of the examples studied here might not be MSPs in the strict sense according to our definition, because they a) did only involve two stakeholder groups plus governments, and b) did not involve direct interaction of several stakeholder groups (e.g. FfD Hearings).

It appears that in some cases, there are different views on a process, its strengths and weaknesses. This is only natural as MSPs are about working in an area where there is a wide range of views and diverse actors. Differences arise, for example, with regard to the perception of power gaps (more on the side of weaker groups), of transparency (higher on the side of organisers), etc. This also reflects different basic values or hierarchies of values. Whereas for many NGOs, for example, transparency and equity are high priorities, some business and governments can place more importance on quickening processes and producing outcome in a short time period. Our analyses have been limited as regards the numbers of people we interviewed and more representative samples would most certainly generate an even wider range of views.

Multi-stakeholder nature of processes: that have involved a diverse group of stakeholders from the start (e.g. as an initial coordinating group) can better take into account the different viewpoints throughout the process. This is understandable as they are likely to have been designed with a strong view to inclusiveness, transparency, equity, etc. But this is also an issue of increased commitment (and active input) of participants who have been involved right form the start. Where stakeholders have not been involved from the beginning, they sometimes question that much effort has been made to be inclusive.

Issues & goals: MSPs need specific objectives. Investing sufficient time into problem identification and agreeing issues and goals is key. A lack of agreed, specific objectives can impede an MSPs effectiveness – or at least can make it being perceived as less effective. It was recommended that MSPs should always tackle the most easy and common ground first in order to build trust and pull out some real initial achievements - then it can start to face the more contentious areas. Focusing on the issues and creating a problem-solving group culture is an important pre-requisite for success.

Capacity: One commentator observed that lack of capacity is the first major problem of MSPs – lack of human and financial resources, time, and information and knowledge to enable meaningful participation. There is a need to ensure equitable capacity for participation. This has to be taken into account when designing an MSP, including its fundraising strategies and targets. The question of who is to design and provide human capacity-building also needs to be addressed.

Stakeholder participation: MSPs seem to often be in a "chicken and egg situation": "So you start the work and then expose the work to wider group of people or do you start with a very open process and get pulled in 20 directions immediately"? (Church 2001) Step-by-step processes of increasing stakeholder involvement in the design process seem to be commonplace in cases where design is done through a body or process which involves several stakeholders. New participants joining the process always require additional attention as they will have a less strong sense of ownership of the principles elements that already exist. In general, many processes lack gender balance and many lack regional balance.

Linkage to constituencies: Over the course of an MSP, some participants reportedly do not work well with their constituencies which creates problems for the process. They might tend to check with their organisations but not the broader constituency. Checking back with constituencies also depends on enough time and resources being available – differences can create power gaps. Another problem is what The Environment Council has called "constituency drift": It may occur when stakeholder representatives take part in a process and learn through it, while their constituencies have not had that experience and do not necessarily agree with changes regarding views or strategies. This demonstrates the need for participants to work closely with their constituencies, particularly in MSPs which aim at agreements and implementation. The need to check back with constituencies can however reportedly also be (mis-)used as a veto-power or at least to stall a process of consensus-building and decision-making.

Preparations: MSPs seem to benefit from preparatory material such as stakeholder position papers to be available well in advance. It helps to make best use of the usually limited time available for multi-stakeholder meetings. This needs to be part of the design process and commitment to meet deadlines for submissions will be increased if participants have been part of the design process.

Formal procedures or communication, consensus-building and decision-making: In general, it can be said that such formal ground rules seem to help an MSP. They also to create transparency about processes which is sometimes lacking – be it because information is not being publicised or not easily accessible.

Consensus-building and decision-making: Agreeing the ground rules for communication, particularly for seeking consensus and making decisions, is a crucial component of processes which aim at some kind of agreements. Concealing conflict can be used to achieve consensus-building which is not worthy of the name. An MSP can be rendered meaningless if the diversity of views and requirements leads to rather vague language in the outcome documents rather than acknowledging differences and working on them (at least towards agreement upon disagreement). Open, honest, respectful and equitable communication and sufficient time will help to avoid concealing conflict for the benefit of the process.

Power gaps: This issue seems in many processes not to be sufficiently addressed. It is certainly among most difficult questions. In some examples, it is being mentioned that lack of participation, preparation or coordination of governments, intergovernmental bodies or business has benefited the process through making a potentially dominating group less powerful. Some NGOs feel that strong and well-coordinated business involvement, for example, tends to dominate an MSP and lead to biased outcomes.

Dealing with power gaps needs to be given serious attention when designing an MSP and throughout the process (also see: meta-communication). Some processes deal with the problem by assigning the same number of seats to all groups. Yet this is not the only aspect – differences in resources, capacities, education, eloquence, language skills, etc. impact power balances.

Meta-communication, i.e. communication by a group about its own processes, is reportedly lacking in most cases, and people say that more meta-communication would have been beneficial. Informal meta-communications can impede (perceived) transparency; therefore, some formal or plenary mechanism should be developed to help the group communicate about the way it communicates.

Linkage into official decision-making processes is another crucial point. In many cases, there is a lack of transparency in this regard and governments and intergovernmental bodies are often reluctant to outline in more detail how processes feed into their decision-making. Creating transparent linkages is an important question in the design phase. Early involvement of decision-makers and potential implementers is recommended.

Coordinating organisations: It is questionable if processes which are entirely designed by one body can be develop into true dialogue processes which the participants can take some ownership of. (Sometimes, this is of course not the priority goal.) They are more likely to be perceived as lacking transparency and legitimacy. Particularly in cases where companies or government bodies create dialogue processes in such a way, they can easily be discredited as mere PR jobs.

NGOs are (increasingly?) being taken on to facilitate processes – by businesses, business associations, governments, intergovernmental bodies. In such cases, the contracted organization tends to aim at openness, inclusiveness, transparency, equity and other key characteristics of MSPs which ensure increased credibility. It might be feasible to promote such practice. However, contracted organisations becoming fully depending on funding through MSP facilitation eventually turns them into consultancies. It might not be bad thing for NGOs to develop a consultancy part of their operation but needs to be taken into account.

Time lines: A number of problems arise from time constraints. However, people also assert the need to work within time-lines to keep an MSP focused. Compressing MSPs into the time-tables of official decision-making processes can be frustrating and a barrier to establishing a transparent, democratic and inclusive process. Quite often, decisions to include some kind of MSP in the preparations for an official meeting come late in the process. The reported fear of many (inter)governmental bodies towards developing "never-ending", expensive processes also needs to be dealt with by making realistic suggestions and agreeing dates of closure and reporting back mechanisms. Time limits are also a barrier towards increased involvement by other stakeholders and the public and/or consultation within constituencies. Stakeholder groups have different cultures and different requirements due to their different structures and mechanisms of decision-making, access to information and communication, and human and financial resources. Learning and acknowledging each others positions, looking for a way to integrate them and building trust takes time; hence time limits are a barrier to real dialogue.

Implementation: There is general criticism of voluntary initiatives such as MSPs, particularly from NGOs. MSPs can be criticised as "talk-shops" and being mis-used as legitimisation while not having to do anything. Monitoring MSP follow-up is important, otherwise the process may not lead to much result. There is a question, however, regarding who should take on the role of monitoring an MSP outcome / implementation process.

Building on previous experiences: This seems to be done in some processes and not in others, at least there's little information available in what way processes build on or learn from previous experiences. It is more likely if the same initiating or coordinating bodies are involved. There is need for more networking and exchange between processes and documenting lessons learnt for future MSPs.

Funding: Many MSPs report funding problems; process constraints and weaknesses can develop due to a lack of funding. It is important that MSPs are sufficiently funded and that developing fund raising strategies and targets are part of the design process, taking into account the requirements of various stakeholder groups. The World Commission on Dams seems to be an exceptional case in this regard and is being flagged by many as a leading example.


[1] Full presentations of the information gathered are given in Annex I.


[2] Some processes work on the basis of the definition of Major Groups in Agenda 21 (e.g. CSD stakeholder dialogues, UN Global Compact), some don't (e.g. WCD, Aarhus Convention).



Contact Minu Hemmati and Felix Dodds for further information.