Legitimacy of multi-stakeholder processes

Civic Action03 Dec 2010Mine Pabari

Although I missed out on the morning sessions, I found myself launched straight into a highly charged and useful debate centered around four key questions;

– In what ways can change agents/facilitators best support MSPs;

– How can the energy and commitment for MSPs be sustained;

– How can MSPs be legitimately funded; and

– How to engage the necessary actors (including private sector and indigenous groups)?

This blog item was part of the ‘Engaging stakeholders for change’ dossier

Increasingly, multi-stakeholder processes are being used in response to ‘tough’ problems such as responding to climate change, fighting poverty, and creation of sustainable business models. Many development organisations and networks have become aware that these change processes are of an increasingly ‘emergent’ nature, and need to be facilitated. The Change Alliance is an emerging global learning network which aims to support good practice in facilitating and strategizing around multi-stakeholder cooperation for systemic change.

From 1-3 December 2010, 20 facilitators of multi-stakeholder processes from across Africa are meeting in Nairobi. Co-hosted by the Change Alliance and SNV, to exchange experiences with leaders, researchers and donors. This ‘Inspiring Change’ event aims to share and collate state-of-the-art experiences and explore ways of supporting and strengthening capacity for effective facilitation of multi-actor processes.

This blog provides an online discussion platform for speakers, participants and other experts in the field, where they can reflect on the discussions and opinions voiced at the Inspiring Change event as well as further discuss the wider topics it addresses.

During the discussion, it very quickly became obvious that, in spite of the wealth of experience out there – there are still a number of unanswered questions. For example – who exactly is/should be an MSP facilitator and what are the different models that work under different circumstances? Some, for example, felt strongly that this is a role that should be carried out internally – by those most involved in the initiative. However, the value of bringing in a professional process facilitator, particularly during conflictual situations was also recognized. Other questions revolved around legitimately funding MSPs – particularly in complex situations where there is an apparent contradiction between the realization of pre-defined results and allowing for results to unfold as we adapt on the basis of experiences gained and new insights.

From a personal perspective – we have some way to go before MSPs are fully recognized a legitimate and necessary way of bringing about systemic change. While many of us are regularly engaged in MSPs – we don’t seem to have a handle on the language we need to effectively communicate and advocate for what it is we do. What does a “good MSP” really look like? And what skills/expertise are required of an MSP facilitator? What concerns me is that while the “jargon” around MSPs seems to be rapidly gaining ground (with many a forum being marketed as a “multi-stakeholder platform”) – this is not being accompanied by a sense of professionalism (one needs to be trained to be a recognized “Agriculturalist” or “Economist” but apparently, we seem to think we can simply be born as/evolve into a good process facilitator) . It’s my view that until this happens – we will continue to struggle to establish a sense of legitimacy around and the support required for effective MSPs.

The good news, though, is that with the Change Alliance and a number of similar initiatives – the discourse has begun!