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Executive Summary

"Traditional processes of coordination need to be supplemented by a series of practical arrangements which provide for more active, cooperative management (…) both within the United Nations system and extending to other involved intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations" (UN Secretary General Kofi Annan 2000a).

The present report puts forward a methodological framework for designing multi-stakeholder processes (MSPs)[1], aiming to contribute to the advancement of such practical arrangements as the UN Secretary General is referring to. We believe that MSPs represent a promising path, both around (inter)governmental processes and independent of them. However, it is necessary to further clarify the nature of such processes and their principles; develop guidelines on how to effectively conduct them; and learn from experience.

The term multi-stakeholder processes is used to describe processes which aim to bring together all major stakeholders in a new form of decision-finding (and possibly decision-making) structure on a particular issue. They are also based on recognition of the importance of achieving equity and accountability in communication between stakeholders, involving equitable representation of three or more stakeholder groups and their views. They are based on democratic principles of transparency and participation, and aim to develop partnerships and strengthened networks between stakeholders. MSPs cover a wide spectrum of structures and levels of engagement. They can comprise of dialogue (statements, exchange and discussion), or grow into processes encompassing consensus-building, decision-making and implementation. The exact nature of any MSP will depend the issue, the participants, the time-frame, etc.

MSPs are akin to a new species in the eco-system of decision-finding and governance structures and processes. They have emerged because there is a perceived need for a more inclusive, effective manner for addressing the urgent sustainability issues of our time. A lack of inclusiveness has resulted in many good decisions for which there is no broad constituency, thus making implementation difficult. Because MSPs are new, they are still evolving. Because they are people-centred, people need to take ownership and responsibility for them, using and refining them to serve their own purposes and the larger purposes of the global community of which they are part.

The report presents a number of building blocks as a basis for the suggested framework and guide: clarifying the goals of MSPs (Chapter 2); looking at MSPs in the context of the ongoing debate on global governance and global governance reform (Chapter 3, by Felix Dodds); clarifying the terms and definitions of various forms of stakeholder involvement and engagement (Chapter 4); identifying different types of MSPs (Chapter 5); clarifying the value and ideological basis of MSPs (Chapter 6); analysing scientific findings relevant to designing MSPs (Chapter 7, by Jasmin Enayati); and analysing existing examples of various types of MSPs (Chapter 8). Chapter 9 presents a framework mainly based on the sequence of possible stages in the 'life-span' of an MSP which is the basis of the step-by-step guide.

Multi-stakeholder processes are an important tool for sustainable development. Their objective is to promote better decisions by means of wider input; to integrate diverse viewpoints; to bring together the principal actors; to create trust through honouring each participant as contributing a necessary component of the bigger picture; to create mutual benefits (win/win rather than win/lose situations); to develop shared power with a partnership approach; to reduce the waste of time and other scare resources associated with processes that generate recommendations that lack broad support; to create commitment through participants identifying with the outcome and thus increasing the likelihood of successful implementation. They are designed to put people into the centre of decision-finding, decision-making and implementation.

MSPs relate to the ongoing debate on global governance and global governance reform. Chapter 3 discusses some of the history and the increase of stakeholder involvement with the United Nations and the impact of recent UN reform packages. Mechanisms of stakeholder involvement developed by the UN Commission on Sustainable Development receive particular attention as they are the most interesting political space for Major Groups within the United Nations and in the area of sustainable development (also see Chapter 8 & Annex I). UNAIDS offers another innovative example. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the supplementary and complementary role of stakeholder involvement vis-à-vis the roles and responsibilities of governments, and a call for clear norms and standards. MSPs are meant to give voices, not votes to stakeholders and the suggestions made here are aiming to make these voices heard and used most effectively.

In the past few years, terms such as "stakeholder statements", "(multi-)stakeholder dialogue", "stakeholder forum", "stakeholder consultation", "discussion" and "process" have been used by various actors. Meanings of these terms overlap and refer to a variety of settings and modes of stakeholder communication. Chapter 4 clarifies the various terms referring to multi-stakeholder processes and outlines the definitions used in this report.

There are different types of MSPs, varying with regard to their scope, level and diversity of stakeholder groups involved (Chapter 5). They range from informing processes to monitoring processes and mechanisms, implementation processes, and what we call 'advanced multi-stakeholder processes' which include not only dialogues but consensus-building, decision-making and implementation. MSPs can also be conducted at local, national, or international levels, with some processes involving activities at several levels. Finally, MSPs can involve different numbers of stakeholder groups und thus vary in diversity, with increased diversity posing specific challenges as well as opportunities.

As with any problem-solving or governance approach, there are certain value bases or ideological fundaments underlining the promotion of multi-stakeholder processes. These include fundamental concepts such as: sustainable development; quality of life and economic well-being; good governance; democracy; participation; equity and justice; dignity; respect for others; unity in diversity; leadership; credibility; and public opinion. Other important concepts can be derived from these, such as: achieving quality solutions and concrete implementation; effectiveness; (economic) success; learning; solidarity, collaboration and partnerships; transparency; access to information; inclusiveness; legitimacy; accountability; informed consent; responsibility; and appropriate modes of stakeholder communication. Chapter 6 outlines these concepts as they relate to multi-stakeholder processes. The suggested framework and guide attempt to identify strategies and mechanisms, which allow these values and concepts to be put into practice.

Scientific research relevant to the practical design of MSPs, particularly with regard to modes of stakeholder communication, can be found in social and organisational psychology. Chapter 7 reviews such findings, particularly those on decision-making processes in groups of high diversity, to provide further theoretical and empirical basis for the suggested framework. Among the conclusions are: MSPs and their participants need to take a learning approach to operate within a transparent, agreed and yet flexible framework. Aspects of group composition need to be considered carefully. Trust-building and overcoming stereotypical perceptions are among the first important steps. Formal group procedures are an important tool to successful communication and decision-making. Allowing the space for group members to reflect upon the process they are engaged in is also very important (meta-communication).

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. Chapter 8 looks at a number of examples, many around official decision-making processes at the international, national or local levels, and some independent initiatives. The examples vary with regard to the issues they address, their size and scale, the way they have been designed, their linkage into official decision-making, etc. We have conducted literature research and interviews with people who have been or are involved in the example processes. The goal was not to evaluate but to obtain a descriptive analysis of the respective MSPs and to collect practical approaches, problems encountered, and creative ideas of how to deal with them. The wealth of experiences provides valuable insights and examples of creative solutions to common problems of MSPs, which we have used as an important resource for the suggested framework and guide.

On the basis of these building blocks, we have developed a list of issues and questions which need to be addressed when designing MSPs, guided by a step-by-step procedure and including some general and organisational questions (Chapter 9). This is an attempt to translate the rhetoric of values and the empirical findings into practical conclusions and suggestions on how to do it.

Finally, we have summarised our conclusions in a set pf principles and a step-by-step guide to designing multi-stakeholder processes (see below in this summary).

No “one-size-fits-all” framework exists for all kinds of MSPs and the suggestions made in the guide below do not have the intention of pretending that there is one. Rather, they should be taken as an open-ended check-list of aspects which need to be addressed when designing, carrying out and evaluating an MSP.[2]

[1] "(…) the word 'stakeholder' refers to people who have an interest in a particular decision, either as individuals or representatives of a group" (The Environment Council)[1]. This includes people who (can) influence a decision as well as those affected by it.

[2] Part V contains the References and five Annexes to this report: Annex I provides the presentations of the examples we looked at; Annex II describes the methodology of the project; Annexes III and IV offer a glossary and a list of acronyms; and Annex V lists the people who have in one way or the other contributed to the present report.



Contact Minu Hemmati and Felix Dodds for further information.