Multistakeholder partnerships (MSPs) involve organisations from different sectors – from government/the public sector, the private sector, and civil society – working together. The idea is that by coordinating their actions, they can share risks, and combine resources and skills to solve common problems.
For example, stakeholders engaged within MSPs can: encourage a government to adopt standards or laws on integrity; promote business regulation; and/or facilitate the adoption of a model to prevent corrupt practices.
Drawing on case studies of three such partnerships, a new U4 Issue presents important research on this topic. In undertaking the research, the authors draw on the ‘ANIME framework’ (Abbot and Snidal, 2009) to assess their potential impact, using the indicators of: agenda setting, negotiation of standards, implementation, monitoring, and enforcement.
Illustrative partnerships with unequal power structures
The focus is first on the Infrastructure Transparency Initiative (CoST), which coordinates members from government, civil society, and the private sector to disclose, validate, and use data from public infrastructure projects. The initiative deters corruption via transparency of information and by ensuring fair competition in procurement in the infrastructure sector. The MSP is highly representative of actors from all sectors, but government has an enhanced role.
The second case focuses on the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN). Its members are private companies that own or operate commercial vessels and companies in the maritime value chain. Through collective action, this MSP has been able to reduce bribe demands during port calls; to support businesses to say ‘no’ to corruption; and to improve governance frameworks in the port sector through regulatory reforms. Although it is governed by the private sector, a project working group is required for all initiatives that involves a mix of members, business associations, civil society, and government.
The third case investigates the World Economic Forum’s Partnership Against Corruption Initiative (PACI). This is also a business-led initiative, with members from different sectors from across the world. The main way it promotes anti-corruption is via initiatives to encourage dialogue and by collaborating with governments, international organisations (such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime), think tanks (eg, the Basel Institute on Governance), and civil society organisations (such as Transparency International). Participation within PACI stems mostly from business and civil society.
Greater than the sum of their parts
Each MSP was able to address collective action problems that individual stakeholders could not have dealt with alone. CoST relies on skills from the private sector and the government’s capacity to enforce transparency in the infrastructure sector. An example includes ensuring transparency for public tenders in Ukraine via the infrastructure open data portal. MACN has implemented and enforced collective actions that have contributed to fewer incidents of corruption. An example comes from its use of a new regulatory framework in Argentina, which decreased corruption incidents by 90%. Meanwhile, the coordination between civil society and the private sector within PACI has allowed new ideas to emerge in international events, such as the Agenda for Business Integrity.
Limits to checks and balances
Yet the research found that enforcement of principles within MSPs remained an issue. Partnerships are based on members’ voluntary commitment and non-legally binding agreements. Therefore, members may lack the capacity or willingness to act where principles are contravened. This was true in the case of CoST, whose high reliance on the public sector was found to lower its enforcement capacity. As a result, many CoST initiatives were at the time of writing on standby or had ceased to operate. This was also true for MACN, whose members enjoyed the improvements to their reputation the partnership brought. Yet it did not examine its members’ commitment towards the partnership’s principles.
This shows the limit of multistakeholder partnerships in terms of their capacity for checks and balances. Because they are based on trust and mutual interests, such scrutiny would be detrimental to the partnership.
Shared best practice and promoting new ideas
The study found the different networks could improve outcomes by adopting best practices from outside their own networks:
- MACN could share its risk assessment and incident reporting mechanism
- CoST could share its skills around how to structure a multistakeholder group on the ground
- PACI could contribute its know-how on organising international forums on integrity and anti-corruption issues.
The research also showed how development agencies and public sector leaders could benefit from a dialogue on how they could increase integrity and address corruption through MSPs. This could be through changes in government legislation, by establishing models or norms in a particular sector, or by promoting new ideas on integrity.
They could also engage with and use national and local multistakeholder partnerships, to address corruption in their sectoral work.
Read more in Multistakeholder partnerships as agents of integrity (U4 Issue 2021:14)