Designing a Multi-stakeholder Process: Issues & Questions to be Addressed
In this chapter, we discuss a
number of questions, issues and challenges which need to be addressed when
designing and evaluating a multi-stakeholder process. These emerge from the
discussion of values and ideology (Chapter 6), from relevant scientific
research (Chapter 7), and from practical experiences (Chapter 8). We hope the
considerations help clarify a variety of options and point to the crucial
aspects which can make an MSP work or fail.
The chapter is organised
according to the proposed phases of MSPs, aiming to point out which decisions
need to be made and which options there are. A number of issues to be
addressed throughout the processes are considered in 9.6.
It is very worthwhile investing
time and resources in carefully designing MSPs in order to avoid failure.
Failure of MSPs can take the form of stakeholders walking away from dialogue,
the inability of a group to make decisions, the lack of implementation of
decisions reached. After a failed attempt to carry out an MSP, the situation
might be worse than before – entering the process raises stakeholders
expectations. Failure might increase conflict and distrust, confirm
stereotypical views and diminish the ability and readiness to listen or
collaborate – thus decreasing the likelihood of sustainable development
goals to be put into practice.
Due to the different types of
MSPs, some of the points and suggestions below don't apply to all MSPs. For
example, consensus-building is usually not an issue in pure dialogue
processes, and procedures of decision-making do not need to be considered.
There are many forms that an MSP can take. Each situation, issue or problem prompts the need for participants to design a process specifically suited to their abilities, circumstances, and needs. Participants must be able not only to put forth their individual goals and expectations but also to establish a common agenda that addresses a mutually agreed problem.
process will be more difficult the greater the differences between
participants' agendas, and if the issue to be addressed lies in an area of
existing or likely conflict. Finding mechanisms to help overcome
confrontational relationships and distrust will therefore need to be in the
centre of designing the process, particularly its initial phases. In
cases where conflict is apparent, MSPs need move from dialogue procedures to
conflict resolution, including options such as bargaining, third-party
mediation or dispute resolution techniques.
The most important mechanism to start building necessary trust from the outset is to design the process in a collaborative effort. This does not mean that there aren't going to be conflicts on the issues but helps to avoid confusions on process which tend to increase distrust. Agreeing on an MSP design on the basis of a collaborative effort helps to focus the process on the issues at hand.
MSPs can be used in a variety of situations as the various examples and types of MSPs demonstrate. They can be appropriate to address a contentious issue where there is a need for dialogue and/or consensus-building to enable those who can make decisions to make those which will be supported by a majority of stakeholders and therefore be implemented without causing conflict but allow movement forward. The MSP employed to prepare for the decommissioning on Shell's Oil platform Brent Spar following protests by Greenpeace and others about its proposed disposal at sea in 1995 seems a suitable example. The issue was highly contentious (in this case, receiving a lot of media attention, being one indicator) and Shell conceded that they had to find a solution which would satisfy stakeholders (see Annex I). However, the process was not designed to arrive at a decision on decommissioning but developed a set of criteria that stakeholders agreed should be adhered to by Shell when making the decision about decommissioning the Brent Spar.
can also be employed in situations where new developments are being proposed
by a stakeholder group and others need to become part of the process. An
example might be tourism resort development being proposed by a foreign direct
investor where local communities and other stakeholders need to be involved in
the planning and decision-making process.
Allowing sufficient time for
preparations and the process itself is another important general component of
designing MSPs. Many of the examples have been conducted within a short time
period which has in some cases created all sorts of problems – it can hinder
groups to participate in the preparations or altogether or to check back with
their constituencies. Negative effects on the quality of the outcomes and the
likelihood of agreement and implementation are easy to imagine. However, MSPs
should have a time frame to keep participants focused and to avoid large
ongoing costs. Designing the MSP is about striking a balance: between having
enough time to learn, consult and develop as well as having sufficient
pressure to deliver. Caution should be exercised to ensure that MSPs are not
be used by some participants as a
tactical device to delay or block decision-finding.
Procedures need to be agreed by participants
– procedures of preparation, communication ground rules for the
meeting, issues around confidentiality, decision-making (if applicable), rapporteuring,
documentation, relating to the outside, and fund raising. All these procedures
need to be part of considerations, ideally multilateral ones, in the designing
phase of an MSP. As a rule, any changes in procedure throughout the process
also need to be agreed – they should be suggested to the whole group and
dealt with by the whole group, including opportunities to check back with
constituencies if participants choose to do so.
order to ensure transparency about the design process, MSPs should not only
publish their discussions and outcomes but also keep records of their design.
Information should be made available on who initiated the process, who was
involved when and on which issues and questions, which mechanisms were
employed to identify stakeholders, issues, goals, rules and procedures, and so
Finally, the MSP group can consider preparing and signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or Terms of Reference that serves as the basis for cooperative work. The MOU can include the following components:
A clear distinction needs to be made between a forum of stakeholder dialogue and collaboration and the deliberations of a democratically elected body or governing council that takes the responsibility for decisions. However, if the MSP is designed around an (inter)governmental process, it is crucial that the linkages between the MSP and that process need to be clarified from the outset. It needs to be clear how the outcomes of an MSP (exchange of views or agreements) will be considered and utilized by decision-makers. A Memorandum of Understanding or Terms of Reference (see above) could cover these issues.
types of MSPs provide different kinds of linkages into official
decision-making bodies, particularly governmental or intergovernmental ones. Many
of the dialogue-focused examples studied (informing processes) have their weak
point when it comes to identifying their linkage into the decision-making
process. There is a need for transparency, ensuring that stakeholders are very
clear about what they are engaging in. There is also a need for equity, which
is difficult to ensure: Once there is a summary or report being put into an
official decision-making process, stakeholders will of course (continue to)
lobby decision-makers on the points most important to them. Their ability to
do so will depend on the resources at their disposal – clearly an issue of
A chair's summary or another
form of MSP outcome document can be produced and put into the decision-making
process. The production and the status of such a document needs to be agreed
within the decision-making body beforehand.
MSPs need a clear agenda and precise definitions of what issue or set of issues they are going to address. A crucial question is: Who can and who should identify an issue or problem area which needs to be addressed with an MSP? And how should that happen? Ideally, anyone who is a stakeholder should be able to suggest an MSP. This should take the form of suggestions to all stakeholders who need to be involved, followed by developing a common understanding, in a democratic manner, of which aspects and questions are the ones which most need a multi-stakeholder approach.
However, many stakeholder groups are not in the position to make such suggestions effectively, either because they lack information or resources or power to make themselves heard, or gain access to the ones which could start a process - or all of these. In many cases, issues to be addressed in a MSP are decided by the body which facilitates it and/or which has a vital / vested interest in an MSP happening.
Conducted in such a fashion, identifying the issues an MSP is going to address, will result in a unilateral decision, with stakeholder groups being invited to participate in a process which has a set agenda. This poses a dilemma for the invitees, since taking part in the MSP could mean agreeing to an agenda they might not approve of, whereas refusing to take part might lead to the MSP being conducted without them and their views not being included.
For the sake of ensuring the potential success of a process, appropriate measures need to be taken to avoid unilateral, non-transparent, and inequitable identifying of issues. These include:
The first substantive point on
the agenda of an MSP is issue-identification. The various representations or
understandings that stakeholders hold of the issue(s) at hand need to be
clarified to arrive at a precise question before the MSP. The various
understandings need to be clear for everybody involved to further establish
what the group is addressing – otherwise, the whole process will be hampered
by ongoing battles about what to include and/or to exclude from the
discussions. It is highly unlikely that stakeholders will share a common
understanding, hence the questions and sub-issues they will want to address
will be different. .
scoping of an issue area might also lead to identifying research and knowledge
gaps. In such cases, MSP design might involved to commission or initiate such
Out of initial scoping and
discussions a group of people can emerge who are interested in actively
pursuing the setting up of an MSP on a particular issue. This can be used as a
starting point for creating a coordinating group of representatives from
various stakeholder groups ensuring diversity of views. Upon setting up the
MSP, this group needs to be reviewed by all participants of the process and,
if necessary, re-composed, so that the process has a coordinating group
acknowledged by all involved. An example of such a process is the Global
Reporting Initiative (GRI).
It is important to create a
mechanism for sharing information and a base for a common knowledge base for
the process, ensuring that all concerned have equitable access to the relevant
information from the outset. Such a base does not need to be in one place, but
should be easily accessible to all. Everybody who might be involved in the
process should be informed of this information base and how it is being
In this initial phase, agreement should also be reached on the language(s) to be used in the process. This will normally depend on the issues and groups who need to be involved. Using one language, such as English, can be exclusive. Many of the examples we looked at reportedly suffered from using one language only, mostly due to lack of time and money. Sufficient resources need to be available for translations, if appropriate.
Ideally, identification of
relevant stakeholders should be guided by consideration of the nature of the
issue concerned, and based on communication with stakeholders as well as an
open call for participation.
It is essential that all
relevant stakeholders are represented in an MSP. It requires careful analysis
and consultation among those initially involved to identify all who need to be
part of the process and to reach a necessary balance, e.g. of South and North
or women and men. This may involve making special efforts to identify
Clearly, there is a lot of power
involved in the making of decisions on participation. Each process needs to be
clear and transparent on who identifies stakeholders, how that is being done,
how stakeholders are being reached and informed, etc. Criteria used and
processes employed to measure those criteria need to be made transparent and
In many cases, such decisions are not clear,
and invitations are extended by the facilitating body without (visible)
external communication. In other cases, stakeholder groups are being picked
from a set group of stakeholders, such as in the CSD dialogue process where
the nine Major Groups identified in Agenda 21 define the group to choose from.
For example, social groups such as faith communities, the elderly,
parliamentarians, the education community, cyclists, or others might be
appropriate, depending on the issue at hand. Participation needs to be based
on the same social groups as cultural and economic activities in communities,
be they global, national or local - particularly as they are relevant to the
respective issue. In other words, careful analysis of which are the
'high-impact categories' is crucial – with regard to many issues, for
example, gender is such a category and policies affect women and men very
differently. In other cases, gender might not be such an important category.
Careful "social mapping" can ensure involvement of all parts of a
community of stakeholders. Building on earlier experiences can be very useful
but developing "traditions" too quickly is dangerous. Societies are
dynamic and ever-evolving, new stakeholder groups or differentiations of
previously united stakeholder groups might develop and need to be taken into
account when "mapping the scene" of relevant stakeholders. There is also a need for mechanisms for inviting additional stakeholders
into the process if gaps become clear.
A crucial question is which
bodies to approach to represent stakeholder groups. Criteria should include:
legitimacy and accountability of stakeholder representatives towards their
communities; equity within the represented stakeholder communities as regards
their participation; democratic processes of election / appointment of
representatives; expertise; commitment to the MSP approach. Well established
networks and caucuses of NGOs working on particular issues are in many cases a
good starting point.
Critical discussions about the
representativeness and legitimacy of stakeholder representatives have focused
on NGOs, and certification and self-regulation mechanisms have been suggested
(Edwards 2000a, b). Certification is an important option, particularly if the
question of who should govern or control a certifying body can be adequately
addressed. In many cases, NGOs have been developing mechanisms of
self-governance to ensure democratic, transparent and truly participatory
processes as a basis of their mandate. Networks such as the CSD NGO Steering
have been organising themselves within frameworks of agreed rules aiming to
ensure that developing positions and strategies is being done in a
representative and democratic manner. Increasing equity is particularly
important with regard to regional representation; NGO participation from
developing countries needs much more support and resources. - However, one
should keep in mind that these questions not only apply to NGOs but other
sectors of civil society as well, such as the business community, trade
unions, local authorities, women, and so on.
There needs to be sufficient
stakeholder involvement to ensure that an MSP is going to have sufficient
legitimacy. For example, among NGOs, there seems to be a split developing
between those who are prepared to engage in multi-sectoral work and those who
are not. If substantial parts of a sector are distancing themselves from a
process, it will lack legitimacy. In such cases, it might
be better to reconsider the setting up of an MSP and/or to carefully work out
what kind of legitimacy it can claim, and
conduct it clearly within those limitations. The question is of course,
what criteria should be employed to determine what a "substantial
part" of a sector would be?
Often, there are good intentions regarding involvement that are frustrated by the basic infrastructure of involvement. Issues of meeting time, meeting place, transport, childcare, and handicapped accessibility, etc, need to considered. There will be some stakeholders that, for cultural, religious or other reasons, bring their own barriers. Special activities may be required if their input is to be included.
Principally, when decisions
require government action, the appropriate policy and regulatory authorities
should participate in an MSP. Involvement of governments and/or
intergovernmental bodies is also an important strategy to deal with concerns
by governments and others that MSPs are intended to weaken or reduce the role
of governments. In contrast, government involvement in MSPs ensures that MSPs
fulfil an appropriate supplementary and complementary role to governments.
Problems may arise from large
numbers seeking to participate. There are limits to how many people can
effectively consult in a meeting. However, this problem should not result in
exclusion of stakeholder groups but rather in finding creative and
constructive ways of inclusion of all while keeping group(s) at manageable
Various examples studied have
employed such creativity: The World Commission on Dams was a small group of 12
members but instituted a larger "Forum" of over 60 organisations
around it which acted as a "sounding board" for all processes,
drafts, etc., and ensured wider outreach into the various stakeholder
networks. For the CSD stakeholder dialogues, NGOs tend to consult within their
constituencies and beyond to include, for example, contributions of women and
indigenous peoples when preparing for and participating in a dialogue, The
same method was employed in the preparations for the Ministerial Dialogue at
the 8th Informal Environment Ministers Meeting in Norway, 2000.
Groups can also choose to include different phases of enlargement and
downsizing in the process.
Voluntary involvement is key. There is no point in trying to impose dialogue or partnerships upon stakeholders. It will create mis-trust and can have a disempowering effect. Empowerment and confidence of stakeholders is not a renewable resource. Partnerships need to be based on trust, equality, reciprocity, mutual accountability and mutual benefit.
Another question concerns possible secondary or tertiary consequences of policies, e.g. agreements within a local community which might affect adjacent communities. If possible, such potential consequences should be addressed, and the question of involving representatives of those such affected needs to be considered.
Each stakeholder group needs to make their own decision about participation in an MSP if they judge that it has a pre-set agenda. The problem can be minimised by consulting stakeholders adequately at the start of the process itself. Stakeholders need to be informed sufficiently and early enough to make their decision, which includes the right to say "No" to any arrangements. Such information should include what role the MSP groups will play (i.e. advisory, decision-making), what the what the expected time commitment will be and over how long a time period, and what is expected from each participant (how many meetings, how much time outside of meetings).
Problems may arise because people may
participate in a process with no intent to follow certain rules of discourse
or – in the case of consensus-building or decision-making processes - to
reach an agreement. Participants may want to use the process as a stage to put
forward their views with no intent of listening or integrating others' views.
Based on rules of procedure and any communication ground rules agreed
beforehand, the facilitator should point out if an when a stakeholder doesn't
play by those rules. Facilitators should not only rely on their own judgement
but take on concerns that participants might raise (in private or in the
meetings) about the seriousness of other participants. The group then needs to
deal with the issue in a problem-solving manner, applying agreed rules of
discussion and decision-making.
Having identified participating
stakeholder groups, decisions need to be made as to who should represent those
groups at any given meeting. Ideally, stakeholder groups identify who should
represent them. The integrity and hence the effectiveness of a process can be
compromised if the participating stakeholders are not given the opportunity to
determine their representatives through their own processes and mechanisms.
There are, however, numerous
restrictions and constraints, which need to be considered in this context.
Examples include: time to consult within constituencies who should represent
the group; time constraints of people who the group would want to represent
them (taking part in MSPs is - for most stakeholders - not part of their job);
lack of resources for people to travel; being unavailable or available too
late to allow proper planning and decision-making; and language (and
restricted availability of translation). Another major restriction to this
kind of self-determination is the fact that bodies who initiate MSPs often
invite certain people as representatives of their groups, with unknown
criteria of selection being employed.
The process of identifying
individuals to represent groups is greatly helped by regular election or
appointment processes within stakeholder networks and associations – e.g.
caucus co-ordinator elections among NGOs, appointment of representatives to
particular processes by stakeholder groups such as industry, trade unions and
Preferably, stakeholder groups would also be transparent to others about their elections or appointment criteria, and about criteria being used to identify individuals with expertise on the respective issues at hand. An MSP process should therefore not only allow and require stakeholder groups to appoint their representatives to the process but also require them to be transparent about the procedures they use to make these decisions. In some cases such as local community participation in MSPs, stakeholder should consider "layered" participation to spread the burden of having to deal with unfamiliar norms and cultures (Hemmati 2000d).
Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (SAFS) Caucus to the CSD, for
example, carried out an elaborate process to identify the NGO group of
representatives to the CSD stakeholder dialogues on sustainable agriculture at
CSD-8. Based on the agreed criteria of balancing by gender, region, age and
expertise/background (grass roots vs. academic experts; local vs.
international expertise, and including a significant number of indigenous
peoples representatives), the caucus developed a list of potential members of
a team of 20 representatives. This was discussed and agreed in the caucus.
Problems may arise if stakeholder representatives change
and different individuals are involved on and off over time. This should be
avoided whenever possible. If representatives have to be replaced, they need
to be carefully briefed by the person whose part they are to take, and be
introduced to the group.
government involvement is required, it should be such that it ensures the
buy-in from those capable of making the final decision. Where lower-level
officials have to take an MSP suggestion with such prior buy-in through the
formal decision-making system, the necessary decisions might not be taken.
/ Organisation Back-Up
During the various phases of an MSP, there is need for certain structural / organisational / institutional support, back-up or facilitation. This is a very important aspect, as a failure of sufficient organisational support may lead to the MSP to fail. Experiences have shown that responsibilities need to be clearly marked and be known to all participants, to avoid diffusion of responsibilities, ensure proper communication, and in general ensure a smooth running of the process. Experiences as well as research also show that flexibility is very important. As MSPs are addressing behavioural changes at least as profound as changes of systems and structures, they need to be supported by a flexible administrative and facilitation structure which can be adapted as processes, their participants and their needs develop over time.
Again, such organisational arrangements should be part of the planning phase, which should include all relevant stakeholders and potential participants. Such arrangements are also closely related to the question of funding, as secretariat services tend to be costly.
MSPs should ideally be designed
and facilitated by people who are not stakeholders and have no interest in the
outcome of the process. In some cases, that might be possible; in many cases,
it won't be – simply because of the complex and wide-ranging nature of
issues of sustainable development.
Similar to the goal of
objectivity in science and research, it is difficult to think of individuals
or institutions who are truly neutral or don't have any interest in a
particular process or outcome.
To ensure that there is a trustworthy 'honest broker' in place, organisations charged with designing and facilitating an MSP need to
At the international level,
United Nations bodies seem appropriate, particular if processes require or
benefit from involvement of intergovernmental organisations. United Nations
bodies also have the benefit of relative neutrality towards various parties,
regions, etc. A problem might be that United Nations and other
intergovernmental bodies only represent governments and have to operate on the
basis of rules of stakeholder involvement which in most cases are fairly
restrictive. These institutions are also quite often reluctant to take on
additional administrative tasks, due to already overstretched budgetary and
Another option are organisations which are
multi-stakeholder themselves, governed by elected representatives of all Major
Groups and other stakeholders. Few such organisations exist at the various
Yet another option is to found a
facilitating body for the sole purpose of facilitating the MSP in question.
Some of the examples we looked at have either fully or partly employed this
option – e.g., the World Commission on Dams with its own Secretariat, hybrid
bodies / joint project entities of several organisations such as WBCSD / IIED
for the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development Project, etc. Advantages
include: that the constitution of such a body can be tailor-made for the
purposes of the MSP; that staff will be taken on for the specific task; that
fund-raising goes to the specific body and its purposes; that a new body may
be perceived as more neutral and having no other accountability structure and
responsibility than to the process itself. Disadvantages include the necessary
investments in time and resources to found an organisation and provide a legal
status which allows it to receive funds of various kinds, and the formality a
process can develop once it has a formal structure and organisational basis.
Indeed, some experiences have shown that
the lack of formal legal status or constitution has created an informal
and flexible framework which benefited the process.
The choice, of course, depends on a number of
factors, the most important of which might be the time-scale and size of a
process. For preparations of ‘one-off’ events, an MSP-initiator - or,
preferably, - a group of various stakeholders agreeing to design an MSP - may
assign an appropriate organisation to facilitate the process, or might simply
choose to organise the event themselves. Such a procedure needs careful
consideration of possible consequences regarding legitimacy and credibility of
the process. However, problems can be addressed by ensuring maximum
transparency about what is being done and why, and by checking with other
stakeholders that the procedure is being perceived as appropriate. The issue
can also be addressed by initiating an MSP and for the facilitating
organisation to take an explicitly back-seat role throughout the preparations
and at the event itself. Different requirements arise in the case of processes of larger size and
complexity which take more than a single event and its preparations to be
Again, it seems advisable that
discussions about appropriate organisational set-ups be part of the designing
process, and therefore be conducted in a multi-stakeholder fashion as well.
Here it is important to tell the relevant people what is being planned, to
seek their advice on who else to
be consulted, and to do so. Presenting a fixed and rigid structure and plan is
not advisable, rather, initiators of MSPs should demonstrate flexibility in
response to the requirements and suggestions of potential participants.
Otherwise, the process might lose out on the diversity of participants which
will in the end decrease credibility and effectiveness.
MSPs require funding for capacity building and a wide range of operational aspects. If appropriate resources are not available, the process will be in danger of failing due, for example, to lack of participation, facilitation, information dissemination and implementation options. It will also be in danger of being unbalanced or unequal, by putting better resourced stakeholders in more advantageous positions.
Participation requires resources for people to prepare for and attend meetings, to consult within their constituencies, and to build their capacities to influence negotiations at local, national and international levels. Larger and/or long-term processes need a stable funding base for their operations, including organisational and secretariat services.
Fund raising targets and
strategies beyond initial start-up funding need to be agreed by the group;
roles and responsibilities need to be clearly assigned. Participants need to
be fully informed about funding sources, budgets, etc. Keeping the process
independent of individual funders is important; mixed funding sources are a
way around that problem.
contributions such as printing, mailing, gifts of space, etc. can add value
and should also be sought.
suggestion is that the UN, governments and/or independent foundations set up a
trust fund to support setting up of MSPs by providing financial resources and
other assistance for stakeholder and public awareness and access to
information (see, for example, Alexander 2000). This should, as a priority, be
invested in the participation and empowerment of groups who are most
disadvantaged in terms of resources, such as developing countries
representatives and NGOs.
In effect, inadequate funding will undermine the capacities, effectiveness, and possibly the entire potential of MSPs. The challenge here for society is to find mechanisms which enable MSPs to be created around priority issues which require urgent progress, and not just on those that are popular or have wealthy backers. This will be no easy matter to resolve.
In principle, no participant
should have a direct role in funding of an MSP, since this could lead to
further distortions in power relationships and compromise the integrity of the
outcomes. Here, work need to be done in defining the role and mechanisms of
independent, purpose-built trusts and other arms-length financial structures
designed to ensure adequate funding for the process in question. UN bodies may
be well-placed to take the lead in further work on this question.
In weighing up the costs of
funding an MSP process, governments, business and other stakeholders
should take into full account the high costs of operating current ‘business
as usual’ systems, which often create an adversarial atmosphere. In many
cases these are not producing decisions, or decisions which are being
implemented. Given the high stakes surrounding many of the sustainability
issues (e.g. climate change), it might be readily concluded that an investment
in MSPs might prove to be cost-effective, particularly since they offer the
possibility of more creative options, and the virtual certainty of a
strengthened network of stakeholders.
needs to be a rough symmetry of powers by assembling representatives of
various stakeholder groups so that there is a balance of view points
represented. It is important to identify the 'high impact categories' within
each particular MSP – categories that will differ significantly and
therefore need to be sufficiently represented and in balance.
with equal participation from all participating stakeholder groups attempt to
increase equity between different sectors of civil society in their
involvement and impact. They aim to level the playing field between groups
whose 'traditional' lobbying activities largely depend on their resources and
are therefore grossly imbalanced.
also needs to be sufficient diversity to make the largest possible number of
resources available to the group. A mix of experts and novices is not harmful
but can, in contrast, be helpful (see 7.3.). In MSPs, we can indeed consider
all participants experts and novices at the same time: experts of their own
views and knowledge, and novices to much of the others' views and knowledge.
An MSP should always include at
least two representatives of each stakeholder groups (gender balanced).
Research on minority influence (see 7.4.5.) has shown that a single member
with a divergent view will be less heard and may her/himself become reluctant
to contribute the divergent view. We also know that (power) minority
representation needs to be above a certain critical level;
this needs to be kept in mind with regard to such broad and over-arching
categories as gender or region.
However, in addition to such balances what matters is what and whom is to be represented. For example, gender balance cannot by itself ensure that gender aspects will be addressed. The inclusion of participants with expertise on gender issues is crucial.
should not be expected to represent more than one stakeholder group because
individuals can only a 'wear a limited number of hats' (at least in a balanced
manner!) and it makes communicating difficult if a person keeps changing roles
(even if that is done explicitly).
In some cases, where initiating bodies have restricted the number of dialogue
participants to a very small number of people, there are problems having all
relevant high impact categories represented and balanced. This is very
problematic – again, problems with high numbers should be dealt with more
creatively than by unilaterally limiting numbers.
(extreme loyalty and lack of divergence; see 7.6.) should be avoided by
checking that a significant number of participants is dependent on another
member or grouping (who would easily assume leadership and dominate the
This question relates back to the various types
of MSPs. The goals and levels of stakeholder involvement vary considerably: a
frank exchange of views; agreeing upon disagreements; exploring possible
common ground; achieving (partial) consensus; making decisions; implementing
decisions; monitoring and evaluating implementation; revisiting them. Goals
need to be achievable and understandable. MSPs raise expectation of
participants, and failure or delay could cause frustration. Furthermore, goals
perceived as unachievable or unrealistic from the outside and/or relevant (inter)governmental
bodies may decrease the MSPs impact on official decision-making.
Agreeing a common goal (and
agenda) will be more difficult when differences between participants goals are
significant, even more so if the starting point is an area of existing or
potential conflict. In these cases and before trying to agree common MSP
goals, participants have to first overcome histories of distrustful and
In many cases, the decision
about the goals of an MSP is taken by the initiating body, through inviting
stakeholders to take part in an MSP. However, ideally, goals should be set
following an exploratory phase enabling participants to map out the space for
a particular MSP. These should then be reviewed by the MSP group, modified
where necessary, and adopted. There is a need for a phase allowing people to
assess each other's understandings of the issue, to evaluate possible common
ground, and to reconsider how far they want their collaboration to go.
This also depends on the level
at which the MSP is being undertaken – international ones, no matter if they
are "dialogues" or "full MSPs" allow for smaller scales of
concrete action (specific development projects and the like) than those at
national or local level. Whereas Local Agenda 21 processes might
assemble the relevant actors to renovate a city centre, for example, a
global dialogue like the Global Mining Initiative is attempting to go back to
local and national constituencies from an international perspective and help
them implement possible decisions with a new group of partners at national and
Time also needs to be allowed
for stakeholders to consult anew with their constituencies when new proposals
regarding MSP goals, e.g. concrete collaborations, are put forward.
Setting a concrete common agenda
after agreeing issues and goals is a key MSP design issue. It can be suggested
by an initial coordinating group but needs to be put to the group as a whole
and be agreed by all participants. MSP participants need to agree how to
proceed, how much of an exploratory phase is needed, how much time they need
to prepare, how many meetings one would need and what issues they should
address in which order, how long meetings should be, how they should be
facilitated, documented, etc. Logistical issues (i.e. exploratory phase, time
needed for preparation) should be addressed separately from substantive issues
for the first meeting (i.e. goals, key issues).
It will be necessary to agree
which aspects relating to the agreed issue before the MSP will be addressed in
which order. It is very important to keep a close check on power differences
throughout this stage, otherwise more powerful and vocal stakeholders will
succeed in dominating the agenda with their representation of a problem, and
the subsequent exclusion of issues will not reflect the representations and
requirements of marginalised groups. As MSPs should be indeed designed to give
an equal voice to everybody, enough time and effort should go into this stage.
Setting the time-table
It is vital to meet the
requirements of all stakeholders and their constituencies when designing a
viable time-table for an MSP. Even a one-off or single event requires a
preparatory phase; hence, all MSPs need a time-table.
For example, when preparing for
the Ministerial Dialogue at the 8th Informal Environment Ministers
Meeting in Norway, 2000, NGOs insisted on including the contributions of women
and Indigenous Peoples, working through their respective CSD caucuses. The
indigenous peoples caucus had to decline such involvement as there was not
enough time to consult the draft NGO background papers within their
constituencies. Instead, they sent a representative to speak at the dialogue,
and the NGO background paper included contributions only by NGOs and the
The best solution to such
problems is to design the time-table through consultations and agree it among
stakeholder groups need to have equitable access to all information. The
process of designing an MSP should include what is required of participating
stakeholder groups as regards their preparations. Participants need to agree
upon a preparatory process, depending on issues, goals, scope, level,
resources and so on. There are different options, which should be discussed,
have shown that preparations in written format can be beneficial. Requiring
all participating stakeholder groups to prepare initial position papers
be a viable tool. Preparatory documents should have an agreed, common format.
As a minimum, they should be fully referenced and include background
information. They also need to be submitted well in advance to allow others to
can also include an analysis of initial background or position papers. If an
MSP includes extensive preparations among and within stakeholder groups and
involves publication of such initial background / position papers before any
actual meeting, each stakeholder group can also prepare initial reactions to
the views of others. This can allow for quicker progress, as it allows
participants to speak for their constituencies even when reacting to positions
MSP coordinating group and/or the facilitating body can be charged with
analysing the preparatory material in a manner that encourages discussion at
the MSP meeting(s). One option is to put all positions into a matrix format
for comparison (as was done in the above-mentioned examples).
Another option is the so-called "(cognitive)
mapping": Via interviews or analysis of material or a combination of the
two (by an independent body), trains of thought, points and arguments are
mapped out in a graphic structure which not only portrays the content of a
paper but also the structure of causes and effects, values and proposed action
and other components of the views that a person or a group has of a particular
subject. Such "individual maps" can be combined into
"meta-maps" portraying the various arguments, thoughts and
suggestions of a number of individuals or groups. Meta-maps can then also be
put forward to a group for discussion. Nowadays, there is software available
making it relatively easy to develop such maps out of text material.
It will be worth experimenting with such techniques in MSPs, particularly in
phases preparatory to actual meetings. Any such efforts need of course be
agreed by the group. It will be worth experimenting with such techniques in
MSPs, particularly in phases preparatory to actual meetings.
overview material produced should be made available to all participants well
in advance of a meeting where positions are to be discussed. In MSPs that are
one-off events, pre-meeting communication is crucial before and after overview
material is available.
a general rule, there needs to be sufficient communication amongst
stakeholders before an actual meeting. Email list servers and telephone
conferences are options which many of our examples have used. Sufficient
resources need to be available on all sides to enable equitable pre-meeting
MSPs can also include components of group
‘brain–storming’, when everybody is asked to put forward ideas which
will be collected without initial judgement and put to the group later for
discussion. Brain-storming cannot always be prepared through consultations
among constituencies as it capitalizes on the creativity generated in the
actual face-to-face group interaction.
regard to any dialogue or consensus-building phases, which may include ideas
and suggestions which have not been made available to all participants before
the meeting, there needs to be a group decision on how to deal with the
question of consultation with constituencies. Do people get to consult with
their constituencies and reconvene? This will depend on the type of MSP. If it
is a one-off event which starts and finishes over a day, such consultation
will not be possible. If the dialogue goes on for a couple of days, then it
might be possible to consult by email. Again, equity needs to be ensured; not
all stakeholder groups' constituencies have the same kind of access to the
Preparation of initial position papers can run the risk of having MSP group members with fixed positions, creating a barrier towards finding common ground and agreement. Thus, the first step can also be to bring participants together to agree upon a common vision of what they are trying to achieve or what their community (country or world) would look like if they were successful in achieving their goals. After the vision, the MSP group members can come to agreement on their goals. This provides a common framework for working together – which will be especially useful once different positions become clear.
options can of course be combined; for example, a first step of developing a
common vision can be followed by preparing position papers by stakeholder
groups. Such papers would then focus on outlining strategies to achieve the
common vision. Over an ongoing process, mechanisms of checking back with
constituencies, e.g. when moving towards a decision, need to be clear so that representatives can speak for their constituencies when
possible agreements are different from the initial position of their group.
important question in this context is the representation of stakeholder groups
by MSP participants. MSP participants may want to design a process where
participants can speak for their constituencies, which will require
consultations within constituencies. Horizontal communications within
stakeholder groups is as important as communications between stakeholder
groups. It might be useful to agree processes of acceptable consultation
processes within constituencies and even mechanisms to monitor if and how that
is being done. As a minimum requirement, participating stakeholder
representatives need to make clear on whose behalf they are speaking and with
what authority. Participating stakeholder groups need to be transparent about
how they carry out the agreed preparatory process, e.g. how they consult
within their constituencies. Stakeholders may choose to conduct their
preparations publicly, e.g. via open email list servers as some of the CSD NGO
Preparation should also include, if possible, information
about the modes of communication to be used during the MSP. For example, it
may be helpful to reproduce the ground rules / guidelines developed here (see
below). Or, even better, you might choose to adapt those for the specific
purpose of the MSP.
As described above, we have used several kinds of philosophical-theoretical and empirical resources to develop a set of principles and practical rules to guide communication within MSPs. We have aimed to extract from the various sources what seems to be common conclusions of the various approaches and relevant to MSPs.
commentator contributed an example illustrating how inappropriately some
people deal with consensus-building: A person, supposedly funding and running
a consensus process, when asked how the process was going, replied "We've
nearly convinced them, the bastards".
Modes of stakeholder communication will need to be culturally specific and be designed depending on the problem area and the stakeholders involved. The following principles, rules and practical mechanisms are being recommended for consideration when deciding on the ground rules for stakeholder communication:
Again, problems may arise
because people may participate in a process with no intent to follow the rules
of communication. Based on the rules of procedure agreed beforehand, this
should be put to the whole group through the facilitator. The group then needs
to deal with the issue in a problem-solving manner, applying agreed rules of
discussion and decision-making.
Stakeholder communication, particularly in processes involving consensus-building and implementation, need to provide the opportunity for participants to work together as equals to realize acceptable actions or outcomes without imposing the views or authority of one group over the other.
However, fundamental differences exist between stakeholders, e.g. in knowledge and information, nature and amount of resources, and size - defining significant power gaps and unfair distribution of bargaining and negotiating power. For example, local and indigenous communities and trans-national corporations are both stakeholders, yet they are rarely on a level playing field (Hemmati 2000d).
Constructive stakeholder communication between unlikely partners must be built slowly and carefully. Communication and trust must be established before engaging in negotiations. It is therefore essential to devote sufficient time to dialogue to develop mutual understanding. Crucial components of dialogue processes, such as honesty, openness and trustworthiness are indispensable but it takes time and commitment for everybody to demonstrate these qualities.
There is no point in treating power and power gaps as taboos – they need to be addressed openly and creatively. This of course needs to happen early in the process, often before trust has been built. Indeed, addressing this difficult question openly and discussing how to deal with it can significantly help to build that trust.
Key conditions of dialoguing and decision-making in processes within unequal power relationships are to:
these conditions are not met, there will be a great risk that the powerless
will have no real voice, no real involvement in the issues, and that no
partnerships can develop. This problem relates to questions of
capacity-building for MSP participants in terms of access to information and
resources, political experience, negotiating skills, and so forth.
building for participation
MSP participants should be well-equipped to reflect their stakeholder
groups’ views and interests. There will, however, be areas where no one
stakeholder group has sufficient background or knowledge, or where there is an
imbalance of access to information, knowledge
and thus power.
Where participants lack this
knowledge and/or processes lack that balance, for example on cross-cutting
issues such as global institutional architecture and process, trade policy,
etc., then capacity building measures for the group should be considered.
In many cases, there is also a lack of
knowledge of global structures and processes, particularly with regard to
often intricate cross-cutting issues such as of international institutional
arrangements and agreements and trade relations. For the benefit of all
parties planning to engage in MSPs, information about relevant agreements,
policies and legislation needs to be shared widely. It also needs to be made
available in appropriate format, such as in local languages and non-expert
for example, community-based organisations are to effectively participate in
international processes, they need to be briefed about the context of their
and local level political processes may be even more difficult to understand
than those at the international level, as national and local policy processes
tend to be more opaque, involving uncertain interests and a mix of decisions.
In order to achieve optimum results, providing information about such policy
processes would therefore be desirable, where possible.
What capacities and skills are necessary? Here
the list is long, but includes issues as knowledge about relevant policies,
agreements, institutions; language skills; negotiating skills; time and
people / representatives; and capacities to consult within constituencies. It
might also be valuable for MSP members to participate in trainings and
practice group decision-making skills beyond conflict resolution, including
communication, running effective meetings, team building, negotiation, and
facilitation. It is important to note that capacity-building needs to meet
needs as defined by the 'recipients' – based on self-evaluations. Designing
capacity-building measures therefore needs to be an interactive process of
those receiving and those offering capacity-building.
capacity-building measures needs to be an interactive and equitable process of
those receiving and those offering capacity-building. The group needs to openly address those
questions and decide upon which capacities and skills are necessary and who
should provide capacity-building. Independent 'honest brokers' of process and
issue knowledge are required to provide capacity-building, and, again, the
question of language(s) and translation is important.
Finally, the group needs to
decide where to seek the funds for capacity-building measures, if necessary.
As with the question of MSP funding in general, independence of funders is
important (see below).
In the beginning of an MSP, face-to-face meetings certainly help to build trust (e.g. Renn et al 1996). They provide direct interaction in a manner that allows for more channels of communication to be used (e.g. body-language) and offer more opportunities for informal contact and issue exploration. On the other hand, electronic communication can provide a good basis for neutralising differences in status and personality, as related to gender, age and ethnicity. Nonverbal characteristics will have less effect which can benefit minorities. Research also suggests that electronic communication is more likely to reflect diversity. Written communication seems to focus people more effectively on the contents of the message. On the other hand, without inflection or body language the tone and intention of electronic statements can be easily misconstrued. "Communicate clearly, not cleverly" seems to be a good guiding line for electronic communication. Thus, the Internet could be the ideal tool for collecting suggestions to a given problem in a brain-storming effort or for getting an overview of the diversity of opinions on a given subject matter. However, to for consensus-building purposes, the Internet is not the most useful tool.
allowing virtual communication, the group needs to check if this approach is
feasible for all participants. The same applies to the use of certain IT /
software tools (such as Lotus Notes; MS Word Track Changes). Some participants
may work under tight constraints in terms of equipment and capacities. Again,
inequitable Internet access can create enormous biases in favour of those who
can access the web regularly and cheaply.
In conclusion, the choice of communication channels depends on the MSP phase; resources available to all participants; scale and size of the process; and cultural preferences. The guiding line should be that the group agrees what kind of meetings are necessary for what purposes.
MSP meetings need facilitation and a facilitator need to accepted by all participants as a suitable person without a direct stake in the process or the decision to be taken. In several of the examples studied (and in interviews with people involved in them), it comes out very strongly that professional facilitators are seen as having a role to play – they can usually be accepted by everybody as impartial and are familiar with useful group work techniques. Facilitators who do not have expertise on a particular issue can also act more neutrally and will be perceived as not having a stake in the discussions. However, people also feel that a facilitator's commitment and integrity, high standing, political stature, experience in the political processes and expertise on the issues, charisma and other personal characteristics can be a crucial factor for the success of an MSPs. On the other hand, outside facilitators can also provide training on meeting facilitation to build the MSP groups (or community's) capacity to facilitate an ongoing process themselves. Using several facilitators, e.g. representatives from different stakeholder groups, to co-chair meetings or facilitate on a rotating basis, is another option that should be considered. These options should be discussed in the group so that an agreement can be reached which everyone is satisfied with.
As the goal of MSPs is to discover common ground – agreements, or agreements upon disagreements - and to build trust among participants, facilitators should encourage people to speak freely and invite every participant to take the floor. This also means actively drawing out quieter participants. Facilitators need to keep track of everybody's contributions to pull out aspects of common ground and to summarise what has been said at regular intervals. They also need to keep track of which points might be missing in the discussion and encourage the group to address aspects that haven't come up yet.
Facilitators should carefully keep to set time-tables and agreed speaking time, which need to be the same for everybody. Facilitators also need to be sensitive regarding issues on which participants will need to consult with their constituencies.
The use of flip-charts, meta-plan or other facilitation techniques can be very useful to keep track of what is being said, enable summarising, and help decision-making. Such techniques also allow for the same pieces of information to be displayed in various modes (oral, written), which helps participants to follow discussions and actively contribute. Such techniques can also relieve participants from taking notes themselves, allowing people to look at each other rather than at their note pads, which helps to create trust.
group work techniques worth considering include scenario workshops, future
labs, round table debates, citizen juries, and the like. It is worth
experimenting with different techniques.
MSPs do not avoid decisions or require abdication of leadership – but call upon leaders to forge partnerships that work toward developing solutions. Facilitation, which to a certain extent takes a leadership role, needs to be flexible and responsive to different situations and communication styles. Therefore, facilitators need considerable diagnostic skills to correctly assess a given situation.
need to help create an open and positive atmosphere which will encourage
respectful listening and possibly learning and changing of views among
Facilitators should help the participants and the group to surface 'what is
hidden', allowing time for each participant to share concerns, thoughts, and
feelings. At the same time, facilitators need to help the group to stay
focused. Facilitators should also help ensure that all participants feel
recognised and part of the group; recognition and belonging are important
have an essential role to play to ensure equity in discussions. Powerful
people tend to speak more and more assertively, criticize more, speak more
commandingly, interrupt others, and general exert more influence (see 7.8.).
Often, powerful participants will also seek to marginalize the message of the
minority if it threatens their self-interest. They may also attempt to
marginalize the messenger and undermine the status and credibility of minority
representatives. In such cases, 'dialogue' is not what it should be but
"becomes a temporary anti-depressant or sedative, buying time for the
powerful to act with impunity" (Franklin 1999).
cases of conflict, the facilitator should encourage participants to focus on
the "positive intent" or "grain of truth" in their
opponent's position. This can be done through encouraging participants to
restate opposing views in one's own words ("active listening" or
"mirroring"). When exploring differences, facilitators should ask
problem-solving questions, not judgmental ones – and encourage all
participants to do so.
summarising, differences should be stated clearly, and no pressure to conform
should be allowed. Stating and restating common ground and agreements along
the way can help to build confidence and momentum.
decision is stalled, the facilitator can summarise points of agreement to
re-focus the group and build on common ground. Asking participants with
dissenting views to suggest alternatives can be another important tool to move
forward. When no agreement can be reached on an issue, the facilitator (or
participants) can suggest to agree to revisit it at next meeting.
In some cases, it might be worth considering working with special facilitators to be the link into particular stakeholder groups. For example, at the local level, it might be advisable to work with local facilitators to develop appropriate meeting styles (Hemmati 2000d).
Suggestions regarding how to deal with participants who do not 'play by the rules' have been outlined above and facilitators have a key responsibility to deal with such behaviour and/or concerns appropriately.
Rapporteurs (or persons responsible for reporting on the group's activities) need to be assigned beforehand and agreed by the group, as does the documentation process itself. Rapporteuring needs to be done in the most neutral fashion possible, reflecting the full breadth and depth of discussions. If summaries and reports are not perceived as truly representative of what happened, the whole process will suffer with regard to credibility, participants' commitment and the quality of decisions. The coordinating group (or facilitating team, MSP facilitating body) should suggest rapporteurs and a documentation process and put that to the group for decision.
In the example of the Lower Columbia River Basin process, the group worked with different stakeholder groups providing rapporteurs on a rotating basis. This can not only spread the work load more equally but also increase the sense of ownership on all sides.
following suggestions regarding decision-making of course only apply to
processes which aim at agreements.
Participants need to agree in the beginning of the process on what decision-making process will be used. Consensus is the preferred method of decision-making because it will generate better solutions and commitment by all. Seeking consensus will urge participants to find an agreement that incorporates all viewpoints. Consensus can take different shapes – for example, unanimity (total agreement), or willingness to step aside and live with the "whole package" (and not block if one disagrees with one or the other point). Groups should also explicitly decide if and when they want to enter into decision-making. It also needs to be made clear at which point consensus should be tested and/or a vote being sought, and what majorities are needed to constitute a decision by vote. We suggest the following: The group should strive for unanimity as this fosters patience exploring possible common ground, but a majority vote should be introduced to bring about a conclusion and make the decision, if necessary. The group should make the decision about the appropriate time of voting. A decision can be reached when the respective majorities of the stakeholder groups represented are in favour of it. Minority viewpoints should be recorded in final decisions when consensus can not be achieved.
of decision-making should not be entered too early. Groups of high diversity
can have a tendency towards depolarisation and compromise (see 7.4.). As long
as the discussion process is not exhausted and not all ideas have been put
forth and scrutinized, however, the group should refrain from entering into
decision-making. Groups need to be challenged to deliver maximum creativity
which can be an important task for the facilitator. Premature consensus or
majority rule tends to lead to decreased commitment to a decision and will
therefore be an obstacle to implementation.
fundamental right to self-determination of communities needs to be respected.
In cases where a potential agreement affects the future lives of a stakeholder
group, they need to have the right to say "No". For example, if all
stakeholders except the local community agree to a tourism development plan,
the plan should not be carried out. Discussions on the question if a
"No" is being based on sufficient information should be allowed.
However, placating participants as making uninformed or incompetent decisions
is destructive and needs to be avoided.
There are a number of possible procedures that will help groups to agree without compromising prematurely:
Again, based on the rules of
procedure agreed beforehand, the facilitator should point out if and when a
stakeholder doesn't play by those rules, and address concerns that
participants might raise (in private or in the meetings) about the seriousness
of other participants. The group then needs to deal with the issue in a
problem-solving manner, applying agreed rules of discussion and
MSPs need clear goals, cut-off points and concrete,
identifiable outcomes. Participants need to develop a sense of ownership not
only of the process but also of an output that they feel comfortable promoting
– a concrete set of suggestions, toolkits or subsequent agreed actions. Once
the group agrees that this point is reached, an MSP should be closed.
Depending on the type of process and the timing vis-à-vis official decision-making processes, there are various conditions that will define the type of documentation process required. For example, it is always preferable to have draft minutes and reports put to the group for review before they are published. If there is enough time, these can be sent out to participants, giving a clear deadline for comments. Unless otherwise stated, no comment should count as agreement (i.e. one of the rare cases where silence can be taken to mean assent). If there isn't enough time, drafts should be discussed with the group present directly after the meeting. Often, a facilitator's summary - rather than a document formally endorsed by the group - is the best choice, particularly if there isn't enough time for participants to check back with their constituencies. Endorsements by stakeholders will require various procedures of constituency agreement and will be a necessary component in decision-making and implementation processes. These will not be required in dialogue processes where the group has been able to discuss a chair's summary, and which is clearly labelled as such.
All documentation should be forwarded to other stakeholder groups and made publicly available.
Action plan / implementation
Once a decision has been
reached, all of those involved need to make sure that is implemented, and to
engage their constituencies' support. This requires opportunities for
participants to check back with their constituencies and enough time for
consultations within stakeholder groups. Without solid support from the
represented stakeholder groups, decisions will not be implemented
In cases when consensus was achieved, everybody involved should support it and do their part in implementing it. In cases of agreements reached by majority vote, different option can be promoted: On the one hand, one can argue that once an agreement has been reached, both the majority favouring it and those originally opposed should respect, support, and carry out the decision. However, that will only happen when minorities accept majority decisions. Without such acceptance the result may be "tyranny of the majority" and minorities may not do their part. Only when everybody does their part can a decision be properly evaluated and changed if genuine deficiencies in the decision are detected. On the other hand, individuals should always have the right to speak out against a decision even if they participated in a process. Participating in an MSP should not mean that people give up their right to oppose a decision down the road that they do not agree with.
Any implementation needs to be
based on agreed roles and responsibilities. It needs a clear plan outlining
who is to do what, when, where and with whom. An action plan needs to be
agreed by the group. It needs to be developed by an assigned person, group, or
body and put to the group for discussion. Otherwise, so-called 'diffusion of
responsibilities' - when everybody believes somebody else but them is
responsible for carrying out a task - is likely to take place.
The group should also decide how
to monitor implementation. Monitoring activities can be assigned to a group
made up of different stakeholders to ensure neutrality and balance. Another
issue is the question of how to deal with non-compliance. MSPs which involve
implementation activities need to agree what to do if stakeholders don't do
what they agree they would.
Dialogue processes need to
provide the space to possibly develop into advanced MSPs which include
decision-making and implementation – if groups want to move from talking to
joint action. However, participants need to agree on how to take the process
forward, who should facilitate it, where the additional funds should come from
and who should raise them, etc. Principally, groups need in such cases to
engage in a supplementary MSP design process.
groups may decide to move into a new phase, possibly with a new set-up, to
pursue promoting the outcomes, engaging in implementation and/or monitoring of
implementation. In some cases, follow-up will involve some kind of
institutionalising, which needs to be worked out by the group. This may
include finding a new institutional "home" for a process; engage in
new fund-raising activities; and so on. As some examples such as the Global
Reporting Initiative and the World Commission on Dams have shown, transitions
need to be carefully planned, prepared and managed.
Most MSPs which are conducted around
governmental or intergovernmental processes are, first and foremost, informing
processes. Decision-making bodies should make very clear
the outcomes of stakeholder involvement is being used in decision-making; and
this information needs to be available well in advance of stakeholder
However, the often purely informing role of stakeholder participation around (inter-)governmental bodies should be expanded. "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" (Annan 2000a). 'Stakeholder dialogues' and other mechanisms of MSPs informing official decision-making should also benefit from immediately involving stakeholders them in the steps towards implementation. Stakeholders could be invited to study decisions and engage in action-oriented discussions on how to implement them. For example, the stakeholder dialogues at the beginning of CSD meetings could be complemented by sessions towards the end of the meeting. Stakeholders could be brought together again to work out how to implement the decisions, which tools, strategies and partnerships would be needed, etc. This would capture stakeholders' engagement and could generate more commitment, spark off partnerships and concrete pilot projects and programmes as outcomes, the results of which could be fed back into the policy-making process at an agreed time. 'Stakeholder implementation conferences' around official events would be another option in order to involve stakeholders more directly, particularly in developing models of implementation.
Such a mechanism could be taken one step further by consulting a multi-stakeholder forum on draft (inter)governmental decisions and resolutions. This would provide feedback to governments as to the practicability and likelihood of implementation of policies. Such an approach implies some stakeholder involvement in official decision-making itself and would need political decisions to be taken by governments and the relevant intergovernmental bodies. However, as Reinicke et al. (2000: 117) point out, "it is the duty of the United Nations to lay out to its members the challenges that face them at the dawning of a new millennium and provide them with an achievable agenda for meeting those challenges".
MSPs are meant to effectively give "a voice, not a vote" (Edwards 2000: 29) – or, rather: voices, not votes. This principle, "structured to give every interest in civil society a fair and equal hearing - is crucial to resolving the tensions that have emerged over NGOs and their role" (ibid.). The same applies to the private sector. For this principle to be an acceptable guiding line, certain conditions have to be met, options include certification and self-regulation, and increased equity between various civil society actors – e.g. between different stakeholders such as business and NGOs, between stakeholder representatives from developing and developed countries, between women and men, between rich and poor, between ethnic majorities and minorities and Indigenous Peoples, and so on.
on principles of stakeholder participation are timely and underway. (Inter)governmental
bodies should experiment with different mechanisms and share experiences.
Mechanisms of meta-communication
Multi-stakeholder processes need
to include mechanisms allowing participants to reflect upon the process they
are participating in, throughout the process. Even if issues such as agenda,
participants, ground rules of communication and decision-making, necessary
structures, resources, capacity-building and so forth have been agreed by
participants at the outset, there needs to be space for reflection upon that
same process, i.e. meta-communication. How this is best done will depend on
length, scope and size of the group involved, and structural and
organisational arrangements within the respective MSP.
For example, meta-communication
can be ensured by facilitators asking for reflections on the process at
certain points in meetings or through feedback loops being coordinated by a
process secretariat. It is important that such feedback exercises are being
suggested to the group to discuss in a transparent and inclusive way and
that all participants are included in the exercise. Some level of
formality of such meta-communication is therefore desirable.
As has been underlined before, groups increase their
effectiveness if they work on the basis of an agreed set of rules – hence
they need to communicate about the way they communicate. Meta-communication
also allows space for dealing with problems which arise when members feel
others aren't playing by the rules. In culturally mixed contexts, which is the
case in many MSPs, meta-communication also allows participants to find out
what are indeed cultural differences, which are more common than we generally
tend to believe. For the process of meta-communication and agreeing
procedures, it is helpful if the group is provided with information about the
effects of high diversity, so that they can creatively deal with problems that
they might not be aware of.
to non-participating stakeholders
MSPs should be kept open for input from
non-participating stakeholders. This can be done via a frequently updated
website, which is an easy but also problematic strategy (see above).
Participating stakeholder groups should also consider calling for inputs
non-participating groups, particularly in cases where the number of
participants has been limited.
For example, the NGO group has
called for input from the women's caucus and the Indigenous Peoples caucus
when preparing for CSD stakeholder dialogues or for the Bergen Ministerial
Dialogues. Another option has been demonstrated by the World Commission on
Dams process, which consisted of the Commission itself, with 12 members, plus
a larger Forum with over 50 organisations. The Forum served as a
"sounding board" for all process considerations and draft material
and allowed the inclusion of a larger number of groups and a larger variety of
calls for input need to provide clear information on how it will be considered
and used. Similar to "hearings" and "consultations" that (inter)governmental
bodies often use to obtain stakeholders' views, those who invest time and
resources in providing such input need to be able to make an informed decision
on weather they feel it is worth the effort. Experience has shown that people
won't participate (again) if they don't see where their inputs are going. That
doesn't mean that an MSP has to take every input on board but it is required
to be clear about the processing of such inputs.
Problems arising from
non-participating stakeholder groups aiming to disrupt and hinder the
multi-stakeholder process should be addressed within the group in order to
develop a common strategy, if possible.
Many of the other issues raised
with regard to relating to the general public also apply here.
Relating to the general public
Relating to the general public
is very important. MSPs in sustainable development are new developments in
decision-finding and governance, and touch on issues of concern to everybody.
Many processes are specialist ones, addressing issues which are highly
technical and require a professional or quasi-professional knowledge base. In
these cases, the choice should not be to put relating to the general public
low on the priority list, but rather (as mentioned above) to face the
challenge and make the process and its issues understandable to the general
public. Even though sustainability questions relate directly to people’s
everyday lives, many involved in sustainable development debates often find it
very difficult to explain what they're doing in a language free of jargon.
This observation applies equally to Local Agenda 21 processes as to those
around the United Nations. A useful motto for all participants can be:
“communicate as if people mattered”.
To facilitate this process,
consideration should be given to engaging people (and 'experts'!) from outside
the process to convey the message to the general media.
This is a question of resources and prioritisation – and should not be
forgotten when fund-raising for an MSP!
A good information strategy
includes identifying target audiences; developing partnerships with key
information sources; identifying appropriate methods and channels; creating
effective messages; and evaluating strategies.
To optimise public communication, it will be also important to release
information progressively throughout all stages of a process and not only to
present a finished product. This should be the norm, and not just in cases
when one wants to open the process for input and comments from the public.
Within the MSP, it will be
crucial to agree on who shall relate to the public – e.g. through agreed
statements / web site contents etc. – and how. In general, every participant
should be able to share information to the public and present it from their
perspective. To avoid public confusion, however, the communication from the
process / group as a whole should be agreed and coordinated. As noted, a
process might decide to assign this task to an outside, independent body .
Discussions should also include
the choice of media. Especially in the case of global processes, an MSP might
need a mix of channels, as different media are easily accessible in different
parts of the world. Television, in connection with Internet sites, might be
suitable in industrialised countries, particularly the US, while radio could
be more appropriate in developing or industrialising countries. The reality is
that huge numbers of people are not consulted or readily accessible to
decision-making processes. In structuring an MSP, decisions need to be made
about how close to the affected communities the process shall take place. In
some cases, it might be appropriate to take the MSP to the people, rather than
locate it in, say, at UN Headquarters in New York.
Hohnen (2000a) notes that one of
the main challenges "for the designers of multi-stakeholder
processes" will be to "enable and encourage inputs from parties both
within and without the process" (ibid.: 7), saying that the Internet
offers an "ideal tool for facilitating transparency and cost-effective
input from civil society throughout any dialogue".
The advent of internet indeed
enables wide public communication and consultation. For this to be effective,
however, several concerns need to be addressed. As noted above, these include
communication with disadvantaged groups (victims and/or beneficiaries of the
‘digital divide’), and the need to summarise materials and key questions
in a manner than encourages and enables public interest and input. The
Internet is a means, rather than an end. The placing of information on the web
should not be regarded as “communication” or “consultation”, but as a
means of enhancing it. The greater the focus of the MSP, and the extent to
which it can be concrete about the choices to be made, and their implications,
the greater the chance will be that the public will engage.
Web-sites can be regularly
updated, are relatively cheap to maintain once they are set up and running,
and are hardly restricted with regard to the amount of information which can
be put up. They can be interactive and include message boards, chat rooms,
list servers, etc. They can also allow web-casting of meetings, provision of
video-streaming and radio broadcasts.
The issues and examples analysed
in the present report do not allow for developing a “one-size–fits-all’
formula for all kinds of MSPs. Nor would that be necessary. Rather, the
issues raised should be taken as a check-list of aspects which need to be
addressed when designing, carrying out and evaluating an MSP.
Despite a great number of
processes which have been carried out over the last few years, and those which
are on-going at the moment (of which there seems to be an ever-increasing
number), it is remarkable that there is little communication between the
various processes. One reason appears to be that people have typically worked
within specific sectors, such as environmental sectors or human rights, or at
different levels (international, regional, national and local). In pursuit of
their specific goals, they have traditionally built networks within their
sectors but rarely across the sectors and issues.
As the sustainability debate has
demonstrated, however, there is a high degree of inter-connectedness of issues
and their solutions. There is now a real question about the limits to which
advocacy on a single technology, policy or product can be effective. MSPs are
being created not only because (as Hohnen 2001 has argued) "business as
usual, government as usual and protest [or: advocacy] as usual" are not
working well enough. They are emerging because the solutions are often as
complex as the problems, and all stakeholders have ideas about possible
solutions and need to be part of them. The challenge is to provide them with
the fora to bring their wisdom to the table effectively.
As this report has shown, what
is potentially emerging is a large amount of expertise and experience which
seems at the moment to be scattered and rather un-connected. People carrying
that expertise, however, form a rich and resourceful 'community of practice'.
As we move ahead in developing MSPs, it will be important to enable them to
network, share their experiences and create opportunities to learn from each
other. This could start off with more informal networking via an email list
server; and lead to common learning exercises, the results of which could be
made available for people who are designing new or adapted multi-stakeholder
Within or in close collaboration with the United Nations, it would be desirable to set up some kind of unit or mechanism for information exchange and overall coordination or advice on matters of multi-stakeholder participation. Reinicke et al. (2000) have suggested a clearinghouse to act as an information hub. This should also include developing material for member states, laying out the various options and experiences as well as suggestions on how to move forward. Such a unit would benefit from several staff being seconded in by various stakeholders groups organisations.
Also see Reinicke 2000, identifying four key challenges raised by
non-state actor involvement in public policy networks: the 'selection
challenge'; the 'inclusion challenge'; the 'asymmetric power challenge';
and the 'legitimacy challenge''.
An example which is not included in this study but offers insights on how
to go about designing an MSP in a multi-stakeholder fashion is the
development of the Urban Environmental Policy in Durban, South Africa. In
stage 1 of the process, consultations with stakeholders lead to a 'public
workshop' and an 'officials workshop', our of which the facilitating
agency developed a draft process agreement document. This was the put to
review by the MSP founding meeting which involved all stakeholders.
(Commonground, South Africa, 2000)
The perceived incompatibility of goals between two or more parties"
(Smith & Mackie 1995, Glossary). Note that the definition refers to perceived
incompatibility. One outcome of an MSP can be discovering that
people's perceptions of one another are inaccurate. For a discussion on
factors that make environmental problems especially contentious, see Dietz
2001; and Annex II: Glossary.
course, such dialogue circles [as Sustainable Development Councils] are
easier to initiate and manage before any lines get drawn in the sand. If
conflict is already a factor, 'multi-stakeholder' processes can still
occur but the stakes rise and the model changes to conflict resolution.
(…) … they remain a versatile tool for keeping people talking and
reminding everyone their adversaries are human, too" (The Earth
This is also an example for the need to uphold the right to say
"No" to plans and developments. Local communities need to have
that right, even when they engage in a multi-stakeholder planning and
Also see the AA1000 Standard developed by the Institute of Social and
Ethical Accountability, which requires that a management system documents
the ways in which stakeholders were identified (see Bendell 2000b: 2).
governmental or intergovernmental decision-making bodies should be obliged
to continually evaluate their work and pursue ongoing dialogue /
consensus-building with the wider community – in the form of
multi-stakeholder dialogues - to assess and, if necessary, revise their
This is in fact very much in tune with recommendations coming out of
family and marriage therapy – the most important phase is often the
first one, when people are asked to develop their definition(s) of a
problem. It forces people to listen carefully and to role-take.
Experiences have shown that investing time and effort into this is a
crucial success factor.
In some of the examples studied
(see Chapter 7) this has been the case, e.g. in the UN FfD hearings where
the Secretariat actively seeked out business representatives from
Reinicke et al. (2000) talk about the "operational and participatory
gaps in governance" that Global Public Policy Networks (in many ways
similar to MSPs) can fill.
UNED Forum is such an organisation, operating domestically within the UK
(as UNED-UK) and internationally. It has a UK-based multi-stakeholder
Executive Committee, with members being elected or appointed within their
sector and term limits; and a (growing) International Advisory Board with
representatives of the key organisations from all sectors, aiming at
regional and sectoral balance and with newly introduced gender balance
See, for example, Hohnen: Greenpeace and the Financial Sector, p15.
Standard social 'high impact categories' are gender, ethnic group
membership, age. For MSPs in the area of sustainable development, 'high
impact categories' are all Major Groups as of Agenda 21. However,
depending on the issue, some Major Groups need to be differentiated into
several high impact categories such as, in some cases, development and
environment NGOs, developing vs. developed country NGOs, etc.
Research on gender has shown that the critical level lies at about 15 –
For example it makes no sense to label a young woman from Zimbabwe who is
working with an environmental NGO as a representative of women, youth,
developing countries, and environmental NGOs. Expecting such
representation and differentiation is, quite simply, ridiculous.
Eden & Ackermann (1998), for example, have been developing the
technique and suitable software for mapping procedures and work on the
basis of 20 years of research and practical experiences. The authors use
mapping procedures for organisational strategy development. For example,
they conduct interviews with all executive members before a strategic
board meeting. These are then translated into individual maps (and checked
back) and meta-maps. Both become the basis of the strategy discussions
amongst the board. It is interesting to see how many differences in board
members views of the overall purpose of a company and suitable strategies
to pursue them, can be uncovered through this technique, for the benefit
of well-informed discussions in the group.
See Markowitz (2000) for a detailed description and examples of creating
community visions in Local Environmental Action Programs in Central and
Eastern Europe; see Reinicke et al. (2000, pp65) for examples at the
global level (World Commission on Dams; Global Water Partnership).
see, for example, Knowledge Transform (2000), Mathews (2000), Whiffen
Another example is that, during the preparations for CSD-7 in 1999, NGOs
experienced in the CSD provided training for the industry representatives,
the World Travel and Tourism Council, in order to ensure a level playing
For example, this has worked well in the Brent Spar process.
 This has been asserted for the World Commission on Dams, with regard to meetings of the Global Compact and the UN CSD, among others. It is important to keep in mind that charisma – a concept very difficult to define – is partly made up of high social intelligence and the ability to respond to various social situations in a flexible manner.
Another aspect underlining the importance of balanced group composition
See Markowitz (2000: 155) for a brief and practical analysis of various
decision-making rules and their implications for high- and low-stake
Other techniques aiming to counter premature compromise or agreement are
using "devil's advocates"; work parallel in different small
groups on the same task; avoid public voting.
For example, at the CSD in 1999, stakeholders were invited to comment on
the Secretariat's draft summary of the dialogue sessions over night; at
the Bergen Ministerial meeting, stakeholders met late in the evening to
discuss a draft of the chair's summary.
 A common problem is that when a group reaches a compromise, not everybody will afterwards support it. Quite often, minority members will not support the implementation but rather keep their views – and sometimes even work to undermine successful implementation of a solution, and, after failure, being able to point out that they were "right all along". MSPs – in case they are aiming at working together to implement a solution, not at initial, open dialoguing – need to yield a consensus about a way forward that all involved will be committed to implementing. Given trustworthy, transparent, continuous monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, likelihood for successful implementation is highest or, if the decision was wrong, common learning leading to revisiting the decision, if all involved commit to try what has been decided to be the way forward.
Such political decisions also relate to institutional changes for
participation, on which there is little research. Such research is
underway, for example at the Institute for Development Studies in Sussex,
UK (The Participation Group), and should be considered. It will be
important to know more about processes that have supported and enabled the
institutionalisation of participatory practice, and there is a need for
open spaces for reflection and analysis within organisations seeking to
set up participatory mechanisms (such as the United Nations and its
agencies; government departments, etc.). – Along the same lines,
Reinicke et al. (2000: 116) are suggesting that the UN should set up a
clearinghouse to serve as "a centre for knowledge management that
assembles and disseminates the lessons learned in the networks around the
Meta-communication: [from Greek 'meta' = higher] communication about
communication: exchanging information, views, opinions about the way we
communicate in a given situation and structure. An important tool in
communication processes, particularly in groups of high diversity of
language, culture and background (see 6.2. /
Watzlawick's axioms of human communication).
If marketing and PR specialists are able to sell consumers – us! - the
second car or fridge and a lot of other things we don't actually need,
they should be able to 'sell' sustainable development issues and those of
See Markowitz' (2000) guide to public outreach campaigns as part his
"Guide to Implementing Local Environmental Action Programs in Central
and Eastern Europe", a detailed and practical resource for
stakeholder participation processes at the local level. – A training
manual for facilitators will be published in 2001.
A Knowledge Management term describing to people who do similar work but
do not necessarily work in the same organisations or sectors.