Multi-stakeholder partnerships need greater local involvement to fulfil their peace-building potential

There are a growing number of multi-stakeholder partnerships (MSPs) in post-conflict settings ('post' being a phase that may involve re-emergence of conflicts in some cases or more settled peace agreements in others) that seek to enhance human security and peace building efforts. Such partnerships bring together different stakeholders in the peace building process to promote a holistic approach to (post)-conflict reconstruction and better governance. Although many MSPs involve multiple organisations, as well as representatives from the public sector, they often fail to encourage local participation and ownership. The MultiPart research project analysed MSPs in three post-conflict countries and recommends that the EU develops guidelines on engaging with MSPs to ensure less domination by international actors.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships (MSPs) involve at least three different types of actors, coming from the public, private, civic or donor arenas (with at least one public sector actor, such as a ministry, municipality, public school, public commission etc). The MultiPart project analysed the contribution of MSPs to peace building and human security by considering twelve case studies: four in the Democratic Republic of Congo, four in Kosovo and four in Afghanistan. Researchers used a combination of primarily qualitative methods, such as secondary literature analysis, document analysis, in-depth semi-structured interviews and focus groups.

The research indicates that MSPs tend to be initiated by international actors and the format usually follows one of three paths:

  • The MSP model is imported from a location where it has already worked.
  • International donors re-organise existing local organisations.
  • The MSP is a follow-up to other projects that have been implemented by international donors.

As such, MSPs tend to be dominated by international actors including international agencies, such as the UN, multilateral and bilateral donors, and a number of International NGOs (INGOs). Even though the modalities of engagement differ depending on the type of international actor involved, the MultiPart project shows that MSP formation and activities typically involve a hierarchical approach in which international actors are dominant.

Under certain conditions MSPs can enhance human security and peace building, especially if the partnership is constructed with a clear purpose in mind. However, local involvement was rarely found in the case studies. This could be due to a clash between interests and preferences of different MSP members. For example, in the MSP ‘Action Plan on Peace, Justice and Reconciliation’ in Afghanistan, there was competition between international donors with the perverse result that local stakeholders had an incentive to avoid reconciliation as tension provided a leverage for funding.

Although there is often a multi-stakeholder composition in MSPs, there is a lack of multi-stakeholder procedures, such as mechanisms of activation, governance and coordination, as such procedures would imply a more egalitarian and participatory approach on the part of international actors. In addition, the partner relationships are rarely equal. For example, the goal of the Kosovo-based MSP, ‘SPARK’ (Sustainable Partnerships for Returns in Kosovo) was to increase the responsibility of municipalities by training them to take over the return process of ethnic minority returnees, however community involvement was weak and the returns process remained under international management. Even in the more successful MSPs, there is a tendency for the ‘same faces’ or a limited group of domestic actors to be engaged in donor initiatives.

Two main reasons explain why the potential of MSPs is often not fully realised: a lack of commitment of sufficient resources by international agencies to achieve long-term sustainable outcomes, or the wrong type of engagement of partners.

For example, it may be better to involve external stakeholders more indirectly in the partnership. Given the short timeframes of donor presence and funding, and thus the questionable long-term sustainability of their initiatives, it might be more effective for external actors not to engage as key partners, but rather facilitate MSP processes that are driven exclusively by local actors. International agencies tend to dominate and can unconsciously undermine MSPs. For example, pressure from donors for short-term results can inhibit long-term planning.

MulitPart produced several recommendations for the EU and other international actors:

  • Local MSP partners should be carefully selected with an option not to involve an international actor if appropriate. Stakeholders must be committed to long-term success of the MSPs.
  • MSP design should involve local stakeholders from the beginning to ensure their opinions are considered. Planning should assess whether there is the need for international actor involvement.
  • The purpose of the MSP should be defined and assessed by a strength-weakness-opportunities-threats (SWOT) analysis to ensure the MSP has the most appropriate form.
  • International domination of decision-making should be limited and, transparency of the MSP’s procedures and tasks should be encouraged.
  • Flexibility must be built into MSPs in terms of their structure, funding and management so they can adjust to changes.

There are several EU policy instruments and financial frameworks that promote human security through MSPs; however there is a lack of coherent actions and an absence of EU guidelines for engaging in MSPs. The project recommends greater EU co-ordination of policy around MSPs and the creation of a supportive environment for home-grown MSPs. More specifically, these are some of MultiPart’s recommendations for individual policy instruments:

  • The European External Action Service (EEAS) was created in 2009 and will build on a network of 130 EU delegations around the world. MultiPart recommends that EEAS establish a two-year committee across relevant bodies, such as DG Development and DG Enlargement, to develop a guiding framework for EU selection, support or engagement with multi-stakeholder partnerships. It suggests that funding decisions, assessment and monitoring of MSPs could be undertaken by the EU Delegations to integrate local needs and ensure contact with local stakeholders. To enable this, delegations could establish outreach units and information clearing units.
  • EuropeAid provides development assistance worldwide, often through MSPs. Consultation with local stakeholders could ensure its tender processes are open to all. The development of clear benchmarks and best practices would allow accurate evaluation of MSP work. Alongside this, better co-ordination with organisations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank could improve involvement with MSPs.
  • Development cooperation guidelines should provide a framework to take into account local contexts and stakeholder goals when allocating funding for MSPs through mechanisms such as the European Development Fund. To achieve sustainability the EU needs to be more flexible and allow local partners more say in decision making.
  • EU Programme for the Prevention of Violent Conflicts should include reporting on EU engagement with MSPs and develop principles and guidelines for building local and regional capacity.
  • Instrument for Stability (IfS) should support MSPs that aim to enhance peace building through building medium or long-term capacity to ensure they become self-sustainable.
  • European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) should establish clearer criteria for how the EU engages with local partners and there should be a separate section on MSPs within the evaluations of its programmes.
  • Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions provide military and security support for crisis management. MultiPart suggests that CSDP missions should work together with projects funded by the EIDHR and IfS to build interactions with local populations in host countries.
  • The European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) also undertakes partnerships in emergency response work. The importance of maintaining a humanitarian space is a key issue in relation to such partnerships; however as the MULTIPART case studies did not cover emergency-type partnerships, further work will be needed to issue recommendations for ECHO.

MSPs can make an important contribution to post conflict reconstruction but their aims need to be clearer and they need to ensure greater integration of local partners. So called ‘exit strategies’, where the international partner withdraws from the MSP, need to be reviewed, and guidelines developed on MSP engagement to guide the relevant EU policy instruments.

MultiPart – Multi-stakeholder Partnerships in Post-conflict Reconstruction: The Role of the European Union (duration: 1/4/2008 – 31/10/2010) was a Specific Targeted Research Project funded under the 7th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 4 – Europe and the world.


Contact: Professor Andrea de Guttry,