Here’s what I discovered about multi stakeholder partnership (MSP)

For close to a year, I have been working on a project evaluating a complex heath system initiative to improve maternal and newborn outcomes in designated South African districts. The process has been lengthy, tedious, complex and has met countless challenges. We have conducted interviews with various key stakeholders involved in the planning and implementation of the initiative. In the process of the interviews, one word “multi-stakeholder partnership” caught my attention, to the point of wanting to know more about it.

In this blog I talk about how I went about finding more on multi-stakeholder partnership and what I discovered.
My search started with simple google and PubMed searches of the term multi stakeholder partnerships (MSPs). I discovered that there is a vast field of literature talking about MSPs mainly in the arena of global development and global health.
Some key things I learned from my quick searches include how MSPs are defined and their purpose, why people argue for MSPs, types of MSPs, and what makes for effective MSP.

1) How MSP are defined and their purpose
Multi-stakeholder partnerships are defined as innovative forms of governance to address implementation and participation challenges in global development.1 They provide a platform for multiple stakeholders to work and learn together, make decisions, and take actions for the collective good.2 They are also defined as ongoing relationships between diverse stakeholders, joining their expertise, resources and sharing risks to achieve agreed goals.3 The purpose of engaging in MSPs is to enhance the capacity of stakeholders and their organizations to effectively achieve their goals.4

2) Why argue for MSPs
Multi stakeholder partnerships establish structures for collective governance by bringing together stakeholders from different disciplines and backgrounds to address complex social issues that no one has the capacity or resources to solve alone (partnership). In doing so, MSPs complement the roles of existing governance structures within organizations and provide platforms for collective learning and innovation.

3) Types of MSPs
MSPs vary in nature and purpose, their scope ranges from addressing a specific problem locally to addressing systemic challenges. Joint projects and joint programmes address a specific problem, whereas strategic alliances and “collective impact partnerships”3 address systemic challenges.

4) What makes for effective MSPs
MSPs do not always produce the intended result, so to be effective MSPs need to consider systemic change, enable transformation, solve conflict, address issues of power, and foster social interactions and learning.

Systemic change
Multi stakeholder partnership should be able to embrace whole system thinking, recognizing complexity, unpredictability and emergent change.

MSPs should enable transformation, through change in the way people do things, change in behaviour, change in rules, and change in values.

Working with power
MSPs need to address power differences amongst stakeholders, by helping them use power constructively.

Dealing with conflict
MSPs bring stakeholders with divergent expectations, and/or interests; as such conflicts are inevitable in MSPs. Hence, dealing with conflict is critical to ensure effective partnership.

Effective communication and engagement of all stakeholders
MSPs should create a platform where people work together and share responsibilities. Clear communication channels and platforms must be established to allow people express themselves freely. From the start, clear leadership structures, and responsibilities must be developed and agreed on by all involved. Leadership roles should be vested in a range of actors, not only on those with formal authority.

Fostering participatory learning
Learning is essential in MSPs, hence, through the life cycle of an MSP, there should be events and activities that bring stakeholders together to reflect on what they are doing and learning together.

Thinking back to the partnership I have been evaluating, there is a need to clearly discuss MSPs in health systems, and how they function. Attention needs to be paid on their design in order for them to succeed. If well designed, MSPs can be a powerful governance mechanism for shared decision making, co-creation of innovation, and collaborative practices.

Given the many requirements outlined above, it is not surprising that building effective MSPs is difficult and time consuming, it involves changing systems, changing the way people work and do things through new structures and collaboration mechanisms.

1. Haas P. Addressing the global governance deficit. Glob Environ Polit. 2004;4(4):1-15.
2. Brouwer H, Woodhill J, Vugt M, Verhoosel K, Van S. How to design and facilitate multi-steholder partnerships MSP. Vol 95.; 2001.
3. Hazlewood P. Global Multi-stakeholder Partnerships : Scaling up public-private collective impact for the SDGs. World Resour Inst. 2015;(Background Paper 4):1-8.
4. Lasker RD, Weiss ES, Miller R. Partnership Synergy: A Practical Framework for Studying and Strengthening the Collaborative Advantage. Milbank Q. 2001;79(2):179-205. doi:10.1111/1468-0009.00203

Edits from Helen Schneider

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