- Multi-stakeholder forums (MSFs) have received renewed attention worldwide given the urgency to transform development trajectories during the climate crisis.
- We interviewed forty-five organizers of thirteen MSFs in four countries to understand how and why they organized their forums and their perception of their transformational potential. We found they held two non-mutually exclusive conceptions of MSFs – as an event and as a method of practice.
- In the MSF as an event, participants collaborated as equals towards their common goals. Yet, those events were short-lived, excluded some stakeholders, and did not always lead to tangible outcomes.
- The MSF as a method was framed by the political interests and development priorities that drove unsuitable land and resource use in each setting. Most MSFs brought actors together for implementation of their organizers’ ideas and only dealt with the effects rather than the structural causes of unsustainable land and resource use.
- The comparative analysis of organizers’ perspectives reiterates that for MSFs to reach their transformational potential, they must first recognise that power differentials cannot be addressed simply by bringing people together. Rather, they must include strategies to address power inequalities between stakeholders, assure the effective participation of underrepresented actors, and have funding strategies that will allow for more than short-term planning.
SUMMARY Multi-stakeholder forums (MSFs) have received much attention from policymakers and development and conservation practitioners as a transformative solution for more equitable coordination and decision-making over environmental challenges. Studies on “invited spaces” have previously shown the importance of balancing power relations and attending to context. To what extent do the plans and expectations of MSF organizers reflect these previous lessons? This article examines how and why the organizers of 13 subnational MSFs addressing sustainable land and resource management in Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Peru established these forums, and if and how their plans and expectations compare to previous lessons on invited spaces. Findings reveal that the organizers conceived of power inequalities as obstacles that could be overcome by including historically disempowered peoples in the MSFs, but generally failed to consider specific measures to address inequalities; nor did they develop clear strategies to engage with unsustainable local development and political priorities.
Keywords: conservation, development, inequality, participation, power
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The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) is a non-profit, scientific facility that conducts research on the most pressing challenges of forest and landscapes management around the world. With our global, multidisciplinary approach, we aim to improve human well-being, protect the environment, and increase equity. To do so, we help policymakers, practitioners and communities make decisions based on solid science about how they use and manage their forests and landscapes.