6 July, 2016

Case Study Review: Country Context and Ownership in Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives

By The Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment

The 2008 Accra Agenda for Action first brought attention to the importance of inclusive partnerships for development. Acknowledgement of the centrality of the principle of ownership dates back to the 2005 Paris Declaration. Both inclusive partnerships and country ownership are core principles of effective development cooperation endorsed by the Global Partnership today and are central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The 2030 Agenda recognizes ownership as a key ingredient for sustainable development and regards multi-stakeholder partnerships as an important means of implementation. But what does it look like in practice when inclusive multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) take account of the principle of (country) ownership? The Comparative Studies of Multi-stakeholder Initiatives (hereafter: study) looked at this question within four country contexts (Costa Rica, Indonesia, Kenya and Kyrgyzstan) and recently presented its findings to the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment.

The study explored how particular country and partnership conditions can affect – either positively or negatively – the effectiveness of MSIs. Drawing from seventeen cases, the study identified the concept of ‘democratic disruption’ as one pertinent country condition. Countries have varying democratic political systems in which power is distributed differently across major institutions of the state and society.

These systems and power relations are not static. By way of example, where state officials are involved in an MSI, the study noted that elections can bring about smaller or larger shifts in the individuals involved and the approaches used. This can create new opportunities for progress. Effective leadership in an MSI must be able to anticipate, be prepared for, and be able to take advantage of disruptions that democratic processes bring.

The study identifies the importance of multi-level governance as an influential country condition in three of the four countries. Local ownership here is key. In a highly decentralized environment, political commitment on the part of local governmental actors – who have authority to define priorities, develop local regulations and allocate resources – was often essential to achieving the objectives of an MSI. The study therefore recommended the creation of designated spaces ‘at the table’ for local actors, be they government, civil society or the private sector.

The skills that an individual brings to an MSI, not just an organizational engagement, were also seen to be a key condition for an effective MSI. Though organizations come together around a shared interest in an MSI, the right people need to be at the table. In several cases, MSIs greatly benefited from the skills, competencies and reputation of particular individuals (‘champions’). In fact, the study found that individuals can be more significant for MSI effectiveness than formal designs and ‘ideal’ models of collaboration. Amongst the particularly useful skills are soft skills, such as stakeholder sensitivity and adjustment to context.

The concept of ownership naturally raises the question of ownership by whom? When it comes to MSIs, one of the aims is to extend ownership for an initiative beyond government. So what does this mean for MSIs? With governments frequently playing a leading role – primus inter pares (first among equals) – broader ownership translates into a need for collective governance of an MSI. MSI governance requires a deliberate and sensitive approach to equitable collaboration. Non-state stakeholders should not be seen as mere supporters of state efforts, but as equal partners that are essential to a genuine collaboration in which each actor brings unique contributions to the MSI.

A distinctive feature of this study is that it also examined the role of what the researchers termed the ‘interlocutor’ for an MSI. The interlocutor can be best defined as the entity that hosts, facilitates, leads or acts as a secretariat for an MSI. The study looked at the different roles of the interlocutor in country-owned MSIs. The findings in relation to the multilateral Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Initiative – which was used in the study as a comparative internationally-inspired MSI – were particularly interesting at the country level. With an international Secretariat based in Geneva, the SUN Initiative is implemented nationally in a multi-stakeholder fashion.

So what did the study discover about the role of the interlocutor in this nationally-implemented SUN Initiative? An interesting finding from the perspective of ownership is that in some cases there was a need for prescription. By way of example, actors engaged in an MSI may need guidance on how to initiate a multi-stakeholder process or welcome a constructive critical assessment of their performance.

In the case of SUN, it was noted that respect for ownership should not be seen as excluding a mutual discussion on the quality of the initiative at a country level. Such discussions should not be part of top-down prescriptions, but rather take the form of peer-to-peer learning. Though evidently it is important to avoid top-down prescriptions, this finding suggests that ownership and external guidance are not mutually exclusive. In some cases, a balance needs to be found between ownership with country-level multi-stakeholder steering on the one hand, and a certain level of guidance, sensitive to the importance of country realities, from the interlocutor (in this case an international secretariat) on the other hand. This finding suggests that the interlocutor can play an important role in helping provide direction.

To summarize, when it comes creating ownership in MSIs for the purpose of effectiveness, the study offered the following recommendations: 1) Be prepared for and able to take advantage of democratic disruptions; 2) Create designated spaces at the table for local actors; 3) Have the right organizations and the right individuals at the table; 4) Use a deliberate and sensitive approach to equitable collaboration, and 5) Do not preclude external guidance.

What becomes clear from the study is that there is no one-size-fits all template for undertaking an effective MSI. While from the different MSIs one can identify important conditions for success, ultimately the design of an MSI needs to be tailored to its particular (country) context. This is a challenge development stakeholders will need to face and address as they promote and create various MSIs in support of implementing the SDGs.

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 were 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:

TaskTeam-logo-01The 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).

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