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Sustainable International Development: the Case of Multistakeholder Partnerships

Sterre van Campen & Sara Garcia

The world is increasingly striving towards more sustainable development. However, this is a multi-faceted and complex issue. Consequently, this necessitates sophisticated solutions and responses. Over the last decades, there is increasingly recognition for the importance of cross-sectoral collaboration. Cross-sector collaboration can be through governments, international organisations, NGOs, private sector, civil society and academia. Such collaborations are also referred to as a multi-stakeholder partnership (MSP).

MSPs generally have four core features (Partnerships 2030, n.d.)

  • It involves stakeholders from at least three different sectors
  • Who work together as equals
  • They collaborate through and organized and long-term engagement
  • Their aim is to contribute to the common good.

In addressing emerging problems, such as the consequences of climate change, innovative solutions are necessary. MSPs may be employed for various purposes:

Source: Brouwer and Brouwers 2017, p. 16

The MSP Guide outlines the four phases of multi-stakeholder partnerships: initiating, adaptive planning, collaborative action and reflective monitoring (2016, p. 25). Furthermore, it establishes seven core principles: embrace systemic change, transform institutions, work with power, deal with conflict, communicate effectively, promote collaborative leadership and foster participatory learning (2016, p. 41). Finally, there is a broad range of tools available for MSP processes. The MSP Tool Guide groups these tools into six distinct groups, based on their purpose: connection, issue exploration and shared language, divergence, co-creation, convergence, and commitment (Brouwer and Brouwers, 2017, p. 2).

Each MSP is unique and will require different tools, depending on the stakeholders involved and the issue at hand. Generally, MSPs require dedication, engagement and commitment. Therefore, the question remains to what extent it is possible to implement MSPs on a large scale, given the extensive effort required to ensure the success of an MSP. One crucial aspect for success of an MSP is facilitation. Facilitation is a valuable tool in enabling effective communication and promoting collaborative leadership, which are essential for MSPs. In this sense, the facilitator’s mission is to support people to develop their best ideas through the following guiding principles:

Source: Kaner et al. 2007, p.311


An example of a case of successful facilitation occurred in Peru and was documented in "Ponerse en la posición de ellos: la mesa de dialogo de Tintaya”. This concerned a mining company, which was operating in a region where a displaced population previously lived. Consequently, significant mistrust between the stakeholders made it challenging to have a dialogue. Through facilitation, it was possible for the different parties to collaborate and ensure that everyone involved felt that their interests were considered. The participants emphasized the fundamental role that the facilitator played in this process. He was a person who was trusted by all parties and viewed as neutral. They also mention that he made use of different techniques to facilitate the dialogue and to be able to reach results. Finally, the community saw an improvement in their quality of life, and all the participants were satisfied with the result.

In addition, it is important to note that it is crucial to adopt a critical approach in assessing whether MSPs are diverse, inclusive, representative, and equitable. In assuring this, an external facilitator can play an important role.

The importance of MSPs is also evident in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs current Foreign Aid and Trade policy, in which they are encouraging cross-sector collaboration (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2022). The Netherlands has employed a Dutch Diamond Approach, which ‘recognises the value addition of government, the private sector, civil society and knowledge institutions working in partnership to realise development results. Within the Dutch Diamond Approach, the competences of partners are combined and the various goals, funds, risks and responsibilities are pooled together. The corporate efficiency and market-oriented methods of the private sector are linked with the local knowledge of civil society organisations (CSOs). Knowledge institutions contribute their expertise, while governments act as brokers and co-financers’ (OECD, 2016, p. 5). This can also be viewed as a form of an MSP.

The MSPs have also played a crucial role in the current global climate crisis. For instance, the Dutch Fund for Climate and Development (DFCD) has enabled private sector investment in projects aimed at climate adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. This has been achieved through a partnership between financial institutions (FMO and CFM) and NGOs (WWF-NL and SNV). The DFCD seeks to overcome two prohibitive market barriers to financing climate adaptation and mitigation projects: (1) available funding and (2) originating bankable projects (DFCD, 2019), which can only be achieved through collaborative planning and the engagement of multiple stakeholders.

In conclusion, MSPs are a valuable tool, particularly in the increasingly intricate world of international (sustainable) development. Yet, it remains to be seen how widely employed MSPs will be in the future.



Brouwer, Herman and Woodhill, Jim, with Hemmati, Minu, Verhoosel, Karèn and van Vugt, Simone (2016) The MSP Guide, How to design and facilitate multi-stakeholder partnerships, Wageningen: Wageningen University and Research, WCDI, and Rugby, UK: Practical Action Publishing.

Brouwer, Herman and Brouwers, Jan, (2017) The MSP Tool Guide: Sixty tools to facilitate multi-stakeholder partnerships. Companion to The MSP Guide. Wageningen: Wageningen University and Research, CDI.

DFCD. (2019). Dutch Fund for Climate and Development. Bid Application. Retrieved from: https://www.fmo.nl/l/en/library/download/urn:uuid:b5e503d6-c0c9-49a1-9058-90020356c663/200401_dfcd_bid_book_public_final.pdf?format=save_to_disk&ext=.pdf

Kaner et al. (2007). Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making. San Francisco: Community At Work. Retrieved from: http://www.storypikes.com/workshops/PDFs/Facilitators%20Guide%20to%20Participation%20by%20Sam%20Kaner%20with%20Lenny%20Lind-Catherine%20Toldi-Sarah%20Fisk%20and%20Duane%20Berger-2007.pdf

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, (2022). Policy Document for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation: Do what we do best. Retrieved from: https://www.government.nl/documents/policy-notes/2022/10/10/policy-document-for-foreign-trade-and-development-cooperation-do-what-we-do-best

Partnerships 2030, (n.d.).  What is an MSP? Retrieved from: https://www.partnerschaften2030.de/en/what-is-a-msp/#1498752944771-3fe10158-99e2