The concept of multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) is gaining evermore traction in international development cooperation. Aside from the Global Partnership itself, MSIs are recognized as an important means of implementation to realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2030.
In light of the rising popularity of MSIs, a valid question is ‘what makes MSIs work well and why?’ This question forms the basis for recently completed research, The Comparative Studies of Multi-stakeholder Initiatives. Drawing from 17 MSI cases, each unique in its own way, in four countries (Costa Rica, Indonesia, Kenya and Kyrgyzstan), the study pointed to various principles that seemed to be key to MSI effectiveness. In this blog we share some of the study’s findings in relation to one of these principles, that of inclusion.
Like MSIs, the concept of inclusion too has gained increasing attention. Inclusive partnerships is one of the four core principles of effective development co-operation agreed in Busan in 2011. Pledging to leave no one behind, the 2030 Agenda – with its goal on inclusive societies and call for collaborative partnerships – also has inclusion at its heart.
But what does inclusion mean for MSIs? When is an MSI inclusive? As the study confirmed, inclusion in MSIs can be complicated, but getting it right is a critical factor for MSI effectiveness.
Some of the challenges for inclusiveness in MSIs can be attributed to the increasingly complex aid and development architecture, with greater numbers and diversity of state and non-state actors. The acronym MSI was often used to signify ‘multi-sector,’ as it was to mean ‘multi-stakeholder’. However, this tri-sector approach (government, business and civil society) is simply too broad and no longer suffices. It is now clear that a sector encompasses a multitude of actors and interests, working at different levels of development. Unpacking these sectors or- stakeholder categories can contribute to a better understanding of inclusiveness with respect to a particular MSI and therefore its likely effectiveness.
What is meant by unpacking stakeholder categories? Take for example the sector ‘government’. One of the study’s findings was that the effectiveness of MSIs can be reduced by lack of coordination and coherence between government departments. If one or more government agencies that have power to influence the success of an MSI is not at the table, the initiative may not reach its goals. The same can be said of the heterogeneous civil society sector, where a diversity of views and niche areas are represented. Thus, the study recommended a design that is sensitive to the different interests in a sector and brings together – even from within a sector – the essential actors and various resources (e.g. political, social, etc.) required to get things done.
While the aforementioned example looks at horizontal relationships within a sector such as government or civil society, MSI effectiveness can also be affected by vertical divisions. The Global Partnership’s Mexico Communiqué encourages support to local and regional governments to enable them to assume more fully their roles in policy-making, service delivery, enhancing participation, and sub-national accountability. The relevance of this commitment today is supported by the finding of the study that MSIs can be weakened by the absence of the local actors, be they government or other non-state actors, in national deliberations. After all, often there is a ‘local’ aspect to the goals and objectives of most MSIs. The study thus recommended the creation of designated spaces at the table for local development actors that are directly implicated in the implementation of the initiative.
Another approach is to connect multi-level platforms and networks. What this approach could mean in practice, for example, is simultaneous discussion of areas of concern at national and sub-national levels by different stakeholders, who then also associate with each other vertically. This recommendation is drawn from the observations of the Scaling-Up Nutrition Initiative, which was used in the study as a comparative internationally-inspired MSI.
The examples above point to the need to look carefully at stakeholder profiles to determine which stakeholders should be at the table to give an MSI the right mix of interests and skills to increase its chances of success. So which actors should sit around the table to ensure that an MSI is effective? The study concluded that there is unfortunately no template for finding this ‘right’ mix of stakeholders, be it for a domestically-driven or internationally-inspired MSI. A good starting point is to have a number of committed representatives from different stakeholder groups, who share common areas of concern and goals, around the table to initiate a MSI. Power analysis and awareness of various entities within a particular sector – can point the way for stakeholder-expansion over time. For some stakeholders – especially the private sector – motivation to engage might not be immediately apparent. Reflecting on incentives that these stakeholders might be sensitive to can help in the development of appropriate value propositions to incentivize engagement.
The High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda already recognized in 2013 that “bringing to bear the energy and resources of everyone concerned with development – governments at all levels, international organizations, civil society, businesses, foundations, academics and people in all walks of life – is our singular challenge.” Indeed, the ambition of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda add urgency to bringing together the resources and value-added of diverse actors.
While the rationale for an MSI might be clear, the 17 case studies in the study – and more specifically the findings discussed above – demonstrated that operationalization is not always straightforward. In synthesizing the lessons from these case studies for the Global Partnership or the 2030 Agenda, the study offered some key recommendations for designing a MSI: 1) Unpack major stakeholder categories involved in the MSI; 2) Bring together the various resources from within and across sectors required to get things done and reach a sustainable outcome; 3) Create designated spaces at the table for local actors or establish multi-level platforms that are coherently connected; and 4) View the MSI as an iterative way of working, with inclusion as a process of expansion of stakeholders over time.
Want to know more? You can access the Comparative Studies of Multi-stakeholder Initiatives* via the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment website. Stay tuned for further Task Team blogs on this subject.
* The Comparative Studies of Multi-stakeholder Initiatives was commissioned by the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment and executed by Prof. Alan Fowler and Dr. Kees Biekart of the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam.
About the Author:
The Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment is a multi-stakeholder body that seeks to advance the role of civil society in development. Its participants come from three stakeholder groups: governments that provide development cooperation, recipient governments and civil society organizations (CSOs) affiliated with the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE).