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Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives: What do we know and where do we go from here?


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This week, T/AI is excited to be bringing together a diverse and experienced set of individuals to explore learning about Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives (MSIs).  We will be focusing both on the space for citizen and civil society participation in these initiatives (and more broadly), which is closing in many countries across the globe, as well as on sharing learning from across initiatives and stakeholder groups, to take stock of the evidence and think about the implications for practitioners.

It is a timely moment to take a closer look at what we know about MSIs and where we go from here.  The past decade has seen a proliferation of international MSIs addressing public governance issues.  These MSIs bring together actors from government, private sector and civil society to tackle diverse governance challenges, from governing natural resources extraction to promoting participatory budgeting. Examples include the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST), the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT), and the Open Government Partnership (OGP), to name a few.  In essence, these initiatives seek, through various modes of operation, to promote improved government transparency, responsiveness and accountability.  They form a subset of a larger universe of international MSIs that address a broader range of issues, from reducing conflict diamonds to ensuring fair labor standards, often focused on governing trade or other commercial activities.

This growth demonstrates the popularity of MSIs as a response to complex governance challenges that have proven difficult to address through other efforts, both international and locally led.  Yet the rapid expansion of MSIs with these goals raises critical questions about the role of such mechanisms in addressing challenges related to government transparency, responsiveness and accountability.  Activists, funders, and others have begun to ask whether and how MSIs generate on-the-ground impact.

The T/AI and the World Bank are collaborating to bring some new insight to these questions, both through a synthesis report on the ‘state of the evidence’ of MSIs and a 2-day workshop to share learning and experience by a diversity of MSI stakeholders.  This work builds on previous dialogues that T/AI has helped to convene (see reflections from a round table discussion here and a previous workshop here).

Some of the questions we hope to think about throughout this process include:

  • What are the Theories of Change of MSIs and how do they fit with our understanding of governance deficits, specifically the challenge of getting from transparency and openness to real accountability?
  • What are the roles of societal actors in these frameworks, who represents diverse citizen voices, and how level is the playing field within MSI spaces and processes?
  • How do MSI mechanisms and processes intersect with national-level political institutions, processes and dynamics?
  • How can pro-accountability actors (and their external supporters) best leverage MSI opportunities to pursue tangible changes?

Brandon Brockmyer, who is working on consolidating the report on the evidence base of MSIs, reflects on some of the emerging issues here.  For a reflection on questions raised at an earlier discussion on MSIs, see here.

We may not be able to answer all of these questions to our full satisfaction with our current knowledge.  However, T/AI and others are working to build new learning about the role of MSIs in different contexts, as part of our broader engagement with research in the transparency and accountability field.  T/AI will be partnering with Global Integrity to carry out a study exploring OGP dynamics across multiple country contexts.  We are also exploring how MSIs can intersect with other pro-accountability efforts in a more systematic and joined up manner.  Look for more sharing as these projects move forward.

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