Multistakeholder approaches: why bother?

Difficult changes need people to move together in alignment

In a reflection on the development of sustainable consumption, Chandran Nair is clear that market forces, regulation and technology alone won't be enough to address unsustainable consumption practices: there will also need to be broader societal change, and indeed discomfort.

Rupert Howes, in his perspective on in fisheries, suggests that for us to achieve sustainable fisheries, we're ultimately going to need a complicated blend of effective national and international legislation, pressure from consumers, making sustainable standards the norm, and raising awareness of sustainable practices right throughout the fisheries supply chain.

With an enormous increased in the global urbanised population, human settlements could be a strong part of the solutions for sustainable development, writes Diane Diacon, but only if government administrations, the public and the private sector can be involved together.

Surveying the development of WWF, Yolanda Kakabadse asserts that addressing all sustainable development and conservation challenges, from protecting tigers to conserving forestry, require government, business, communities and individuals to work together.

Global changes come from multiple local changes

Harriet Lamb, writing about Fair Trade – an approach designed to engage all stakeholders in supply chains, from producers to consumers – talks about how you have to make it 'easy' for people to change their practice if you want them to take on change themselves.

Sara Parkin, writing about the development of the global movement of green parties, notes that one of the strengths of green parties is their individual ability to focus on local circumstances and politics, whilst also operating globally as a coordinated diaspora.

More is achieved by building on other people's strengths than undermining them

Bjorn Stigson writes about the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which began from the need for business to participate in sustainable development solutions. He points out that business cannot succeed in a society that fails – so WBCSD has produced a legislative agenda for governments, outlining what businesses would need to be able to contribute optimally to sustainable development.

David Okali, charting the development of the Nigerian Environmental Study Action Team, describes the challenges of operating as a multistakeholder network across Nigeria. He also reflects on the point at which NEST started to work with business, rather than against it – a transition that so many NGOs have made.

Empowering the marginalised enables them to engage

Looking at the last 40 years of IIED, Camilla Toulmin reflects on the effort that often has to be made to build the capacity of marginalised countries and people, and to give them an effective independent voice, if they are truly to be able to participate in multi-stakeholder processes.

Consensus is a powerful leader

And Ranjendra Pachauri describes how, in the effort to tackle climate change, the IPCC has needed to bring together a global scientific collaboration on a scale not seen before.

Perhaps this need for multi-stakeholder approaches is one of the things that makes achieving sustainable development difficult: working with many different people, organisations, initiatives etc. – each with their own agenda, perspective and background – is complicated, and hard work.

Certainly it would seem that collaboration, empathy, cooperation and negotiation need to be in the skills set of anyone working towards sustainable development, as well as realisation that they're not going to achieve much on their own.

March 2013

5675153856_0ce520b24f_b human chain bw.jpg

Human chain formed at Marina Beach for "India against Corruption"
Kanna B / Flickr

Big Questions

Big Question pages are editorials, pulling together common strands, and sometimes different opinions, from across all of the perspectives, timelines and discussions on Sustainable Development Perspectives.

Other big questions

The modern-day sustainable development movement has developed principally over the past 50 years. But forecasts today suggest we don't have that long again to overcome perhaps much bigger challenges. So how can we move fast enough?

The challenges of sustainable development are often huge, inter-connected, comprehensive and fundamental. Some practical steps from authors’ perspectives on getting over the sense of futility and making effective change.

It's easy to focus on big, hard-hitting targets: corporate strategies, government policies, intergovernmental agreements etc. But often, the big achievements in sustainable development have come from working with ordinary people in extraordinary ways.