Editor's Choice, May 2016: the multi-stakeholder partnerships guide
‘Multi-stakeholder partnership’ It’s a mouthful of a phrase and not very business friendly. But just because it sounds like jargon, it doesn’t mean businesses don’t need them - and need to know how to navigate them.
So my Editor’s Choice this month is a guide to Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships, or MSPs. It’s not short, but it is practical. It’s called The MSP Guide.
What it covers is best shown in this diagram: reasons, phases, principles, ideas and tools.
My guess is that someone responsible for managing an MSP will pick it up with alacrity, but those who are merely ‘participants’ in an MSP might not realise it’s value. Well I’m sending it to a set of businesses I’ve been working with which are developing an agri partnership with businesses, UN organisations and value chain actors. The principles are useful for all, not just the one tasked with facilitation. As the guide notes, you may know MSPs where enthusiasm gradually drains away and impatience sets in. Flick through this guide and you will get a better sense of how to recognise and realise the long-term goal, and the process of getting there.
You don’t need to read the full 150 pages to find good takeaways.
MSPs are booming. At local, national, international level they are mushrooming and if inclusive business needs a supportive ecosystem, an MSP is likely to be the way to go. If you don’t know why to bother with an MSP, either don’t read the guide, or read its Section 2 to see how they can help tacked challenges that you can’t solve alone. I like this framing:
Like any good partnering guide should, it tells you to invest in the set-up process. It’s been said before, but I still see plenty of partnerships that try to skip through steps 1 and 2 of their diagram below. So if you focus on one part of the process guide, read these suggestions in Section 3 for how to build a shared vision and stakeholder support.
For each of these 4 steps, typical challenges are identified: going deeper or faster; keeping commitment up; relying on an external facilitator; doing M&E with busy people. These are good real world challenges with practical tips. Getting down to very brass tacks, page 40 has a typical 12 month timeline for an MSP and page 41 has an outline for a 3 day stakeholder workshop to align partners from different countries, and page 43 an agenda for a half day issue focused workshop. None blueprints, but all useful to see how others have done it.
Then the guide moves onto 7 principles (in Section 4) I wont’ spoil the story and give them all here, but they include my top one: communicate effectively! This section on principles provides a lot of material on how to mange complex problems, systemic change, power, conflict, learning loops and and dialogue vs debate. Not easy material. It will probably put you off if you’re not already in an MSP, but if you are struggling in the messiness of one already, this can help. I love the brief personal stories that bring these sections alive – the junior who did not dare to speak up for his company at a World Bank meeting, the partners that faded after the photo opportunity of the signing ceremony, the learning facilitator who got brushed away in the last minute of the meeting.
Section 5 looks at how to turn this into practice. It has useful insights on the different roles of facilitators as convenor, moderator and catalyst. Section 6 covers a range of tools, Section 7 gives personal perspectives from different sectors, and the report concludes with additional resources.
The compendium of tools is impressive and well worth dipping into: 60 tools to tackle different challenges within a partnership. Many of them take around an hour or even less. You certainly won’t want to deploy them all but it’s a great compilation of tips and tricks to keep in your toolbox.
Quotes are well used throughout. I will finish by letting two of my favourites speak for themselves, as they reflect much of the spirit of this work:
Trust comes on foot, but leaves on horseback”. Attributed to Johan Thorbecke, the Dutch politician responsible for the first constitution of the Netherlands in 1848. Partners think that collaboration will change the world. Then it doesn't, and they think that it failed. But often the collaboration changed something- the way some part of the system works and delivers outcomes. It is a matter of understanding the nature of change itself.
The MSP Guide by Herman Brouwer and Jim Woodhill with Minu Hemmati, Karèn Verhoosel and Simone van Vugt. Published by Wageningen UR's Centre for Development Innovation
For more on the importance of multi-stakeholder partnership, see also a webinar conversation with Ted London, who emphasises that inclusive businesses need to build a support ecosystem for business success, through partnerships.
This post is a part of the May 2016 series on Partnerships delivering inclusive businesses. View the whole series for more business examples, research and insights on partnering for impact.