Multi-stakeholder platforms: Analysis of working methods and effectiveness

Research reports | 13.09.2011 | CGM 2011-10

COGEM commissioned a research project to analyse the working methods and effectiveness of multi-stakeholder platforms. The research focused on experiences with and effects of multi-stakeholder platforms and identified potential learning opportunities to evaluate to what extent these platforms could be used as a tool in the discussion around genetic modification. Schuttelaar & Partners conducted the project.

The full report in Dutch can be downloaded here. Below you can find the English summary of the project:

“During this research project, we have analysed the working methods and effectiveness of multi-stakeholder platforms (MSPs), and come to the conclusion that 15 indicators of success are of relevance for MSPs. This opinion is based on the results of desk research, an online survey among national and international MSPs in the agro food sector, and 12 interviews with experts from science, government, business and NGOs.

Different indicators are relevant for MSPs dedicated to sharing knowledge, creating support or implementing results. In addition, two factors have proven to be relevant for each type of MSP. Indeed, mutual trust and the exchange of knowledge between participants of an MSP produce better co-operation between participants, and – in time – better decision making within MSPs.

In addition to the 15 indicators of success, this study has enabled us to develop 3 main conclusions. The first is that MSPs enable a high degree of professionalism. Indeed, attention and clarity in the approach and structure of an MSP allows more space for the dialogue processes, increases trust by participants and society at large and increases transparency of the dialogue. As a result, MSPs tend to devote more attention to the structures and procedures within a platform, namely: (1) the goal of the platform, (2) the means needed to achieve this goal, and (3) the relevant participants to involve in the process. With regard to the informal processes occurring within an MSP, we also conclude that in addition to a formal leader, such as a chairman, informal leaders must be identified and recognised. These informal leaders play a major role in creating bridges between participants.

The second conclusion about the effectiveness and working methods of MSPs relates to the relationship of participants with their constituent organisation. This relationship is made up of two elements. The first is the participant’s mandate to make decisions or to take part in activities within the MSP. The second element relates to the degree in which participants can involve their constituent organisation within the dialogue and decisional processes of the MSP. Participants in MSPs whose primary goal is to share knowledge or implement results are especially in need of a mandate, while those active in MSPs that create support must be able to involve their constituent organisation. The mandate is in these latter MSPs of less relevance. Furthermore, we also conclude that the relationship with the constituent organisation is strongly linked to the seniority of the participants. Indeed, participants that are familiar with dialogue processes and that have worked for a long time at a strategic level within their own organisation are considered to more easily involve their constituent organisation.

Our last conclusion highlights trust as an essential element of a successful MSP. Trust is important at several different levels. First of all, trust is important for the informal dynamics of an MSP, as well as for the willingness of participants to begin the dialogue. With good informal dynamics, participants are more quickly willing to share knowledge and provide transparency as to the interests of their constituent organisation. Furthermore participants need to have confidence that their individual interests are respected by other members of an MSP. These individual interests determine the space for negotiations relating to the goals of the MSP.