Following the release of the latest edition of The Annual Review of Social Partnerships (ARSP), Associate Editor, Jill Bogie, discusses the role of multi-stakeholder partnerships in building a more sustainable future.
One of the reasons that ARSP is such a great resource is the diversity of perspectives that it offers and the huge variety of subject areas where cross-sector partnerships (CSPs) are applied. From this variety, one of the notable themes in this year’s issue is multi-stakeholder collaboration. The editors of the Publications Section observe that there is a growing interest in the governance of such arrangements. It is a topic that is covered in each of the five sections of ARSP.
The different forms and applications of multi-stakeholder arrangements show how members of the ARSP community are leading the way in their work, both in research and in practice, and how they are developing new thinking around cross-sector collaboration.
Multi-stakeholder partnerships dominate the institutional literature and in practice,
they are a key focus of partnerships driven by the public sector and/or public policy. One could argue that the increased attention given to multi-stakeholder arrangements is driven by the inclusion of multi-stakeholder partnerships (MSPs) in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). MSPs are discussed in the ARSP by several contributors including Stella Pfisterer (policy making platforms); Lamberto Zollo (global platforms to support the SDGs); Lea Stadtler and Adriane MacDonald (teaching social inclusion and CSPs); and Judith Houston (responding to climate change risks).
Other forms of MSP have a different purpose and function and may be described as market driven or private governance structures; they are voluntary regulatory organisations that have emerged in areas where public sector regulation is seen to be lacking, particularly in global supply chains. In the ARSP, Ben Cashore discusses MSPs in global supply chains, such as forestry, and he describes them as non-state market-driven global governance structures or NSMDs. He explores different pathways or causal logics that may be applied so that NSMDs can be used to influence public policy and effect transformation of global supply chains.
Multi-stakeholder collaboration can also extend beyond the dominant logics and three authors in ARSP propose alternatives that embrace interdependence , different strategies for large systems change , and the role of partnerships in turbulent environments
. In this form collaboration is systemic and directs attention towards the issues and common interests rather than directly at a specific partnership or stakeholder.
Freeman et al. recognise the interdependencies and network of relationships in multi-stakeholder contexts. They focus on the relational level and highlight the
important role of conversations to explore values, common goals or interests and processes of collective value creation. Steve Waddell explains how new, more collaborative forms of organization can facilitate change at systemic level. Going beyond the network view, large-scale systemic change requires an awareness of a broader range of strategies, greater flexibility and more unplanned engagement. With a focus on experimentation and emergence, collaboration can increase the capacity for collective learning. He advocates multiple strategies that encourage and challenge different perspectives in order to harness the power of multi-stakeholder collaboration. In the face of turbulence and complexity, John Selsky also argues for a shift in attention towards the ecosystem or field level, of which a specific organization or partnership is only one element. He says that CSPs play a central role in this context in order to achieve collective impact and effect social change.
There is considerable opportunity for further research and for the development of new practices in multi-stakeholder arrangements, not only with regards to governance and structure but also on other aspects such as processes, relationships and communication. By definition, multi-stakeholder arrangements need to embrace the complexity of multiple perspectives and there is still much to be learnt about how to do this without relying on more familiar forms of power, authority, control, structure and legitimacy.
The depth of the ARSP is evident in this brief overview of the different multi-stakeholder arrangements. This is only one subject area and ARSP presents a variety of perspectives from research and practice, on a range of topics. It also covers a range of different literatures, theoretical perspectives, case studies and practice examples. One could say that ARSP is a transdisciplinary space in the broad sense of the term. It is a unique and valuable resource to a diverse and growing community of people that care about the big issues facing society at global, national and local levels; people who also believe that working together, in partnership or in collaboration with others, is essential to creating a better future.
The ARSP is written for and by cross-sector social partnership (CSSP) academics and practitioners focusing on non-profit, business, and public sectors, who view collaboration as key to solving social problems such as climate change, economic inequality, poverty, or biodiversity loss and environmental degradation. Issues of the ARSP are free to access online and can be downloaded directly from the Greenleaf website.