A Key Expertise for Multi-Stakeholder Change Network’s Success

Most multi-stakeholder networks need capacity development support. But I’ve always been highly skeptical of the value of workshops as a capacity development or even learning strategy, when they are not embedded in some sort of real activity. A great article in the latest issue of Capacity.org writes about the need for action capacity-development…a take-off on the term action research.  (The whole issue is on Multi-Actor Change) It should help people engaged in developing multi-stakeholder networks frame their work in a more powerful way.   

The article Multi-actor systems as entry points for capacity development[1] draws from three cases from the “development” world:  transforming livestock marketing in Kenya, developing the oil-seed value chain in Uganda and boosting the honey trade in Ethiopia. 

Multi-actor development faces a particular challenge, since even more than in other situations as the article states “their capacity exists largely in the relationships between actors and grow through interaction rather than from training or organizational development.”  All of these cases needed help over a period of time, to take the stakeholders through a process where they could see the system and take effective action to develop it.  

In such a situation what is needed is what I usually call “stewarding” of the network’s development that is context-specific.  In such a situation, something more than training or consulting approaches are needed.  Rather, there must be an entrepreneurial strategy that combines those approaches grounded in strong knowledge about, and experience with, multi-stakeholder processes.   The authors identify a list of “elements” (I’d call them “roles) that is needed:

Brokering new contacts Brokering information and knowledge to understand context Hosting, chairing or facilitating meetings, trips, visits, etc. Facilitating negotiation and deal-making between actors Participating in innovation between actors, ‘cultivating’ their commitment Giving individual advice or coaching to actors to strengthen their roles/capacities Mediating in conflicts or difficult situations Facilitating multi-stakeholder processes or platforms that extend over time Being an administrative agent for financial arrangements between actors Promoting issues or perspectives that others can not take on

This list describes what I’ve done with networks, although without such a good list and that’s created confusion about my role. I would add something about the need to have access to substantial tools and frameworks, so these roles can be played effectively.

Three Multi-Stakeholder Change Network Expertise

The article also describes the shift from “expert” roles to “facilitation” roles. I don’t like that language, although I agree with the meaning. There is no particular need to have a high degree of what I call “substantive” expertise; rather, then need is for process and relationship-building expertise….in short, community development. I find useful distinguishing between three different types of expertise:

  1. Expertise in the problem…honey, oil-seed, livestock production, marketing etc.
  2. Expertise in tools and methods…this refers to a particular strategy to address an issue, such as the development of an index, creating a certification process, or applying a technology like integrated water resource management;
  3. Expertise in processes:  this refers to knowledge and skill in bringing people together so they have effective exchanges and interactions to realize their distinct and shared goals.

Of course any successful multi-actor change strategy needs all of these expertise.  However, the last is usually under-defined and that’s what this capacity.org article makes a useful contribution to addressing. 

Authors are Naa-Aku Acquaye-Baddoo, Julia Ekong, Duncan Mwesige, Lucia Nass, Rem Neefjes, Jan Ubels, Piet Visser, Kencho Wangdi and Thomas Were; all of whom work at SNV’s offices worldwide, and  Jan Brouwers, senior consultant at Context, international cooperation.

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