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Status of key countries in the region

The following table summarizes some of the multi-stakeholder processes in countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Only those that operate at the national or sub-national levels have been selected. National Forest Programmes have not been included in this list as they occur in some form or another in all countries. Also excluded are the community forestry networks that operate in many countries. These exist primarily to exchange information among community forestry practitioners, but some of them are also effective in proposing policy changes to governments to enhance support to community forestry. They are rarely negotiation processes.

Table 3. Multi-stakeholder processes in countries in the Asia-Pacific region


Multi-stakeholder processes

National origin

Regional/international origin

  • Regional Forest Agreements (10 agreements signed)
  • Forest Dialogue Forum
  • Model forest (1 site)
  • National Forest Programme Facility
  • Model forest (1 site)
  • Forest Governance Learning Groups
  • Multi-stakeholder Forestry Programme (donor stimulated)
  • Model forest (2 sites)
  • National Forest Programme Facility
  • Forest Governance Learning Groups
  • National Forest Programme Facility
  • Model forest (1 site)
  • Community forestry multi-stakeholder platforms (Middle Hills)
  • District level multi-stakeholder coordination platforms (Terai)
  • National Forest Programme Facility
  • National Forest Programme Facility
  • Alliances of Local Government Units
  • Protected Area Management Boards
  • Model forest (1 site)
  • National Forest Programme Facility
  • Model forest (1 site)
  • National Forest Programme Facility
  • ForestPACT (1 site)
  • National Forest Programme Facility
Viet Nam
  • Forest Sector Support Partnership
  • National Forest Programme Facility
  • Forest Governance Learning Groups

Lessons learned

The majority of the processes described in the previous sections define themselves as MSPs. However, it could be argued that many of them do not really conform to the criteria that would make them MSPs. In many of them, powerful stakeholders such as national governments make use of the processes for informing or consulting, rather than negotiating and deciding together (i.e., they operate at the lower level of Arnstein’s ladder of participation). Many of the national forest programmes would fall into this category, and as a result, the outcomes might not enjoy wide stakeholder support. Even where there is no domination by powerful stakeholders, the primary purpose of many of them seems to be to promote discussion and exchange of ideas, rather than negotiating outcomes using participatory approaches and involving all stakeholder groups that are likely to be affected by any decisions. In particular, those groups that are marginalized (such as poor local communities) and are likely to be the ones most immediately affected by forest management decisions, are often the least represented.

Several of the MSPs such as ForestPACT and the Local Governance Learning Groups are in the nature of small scale pilot initiatives with limited institutional linkages. Consequently, they are not likely to have any significant impact unless they can be scaled up.

Another observation is that most multi-stakeholder processes investigated in this study are relatively recent in origin, and in many cases it is still too early to judge their effectiveness. Indeed, there are few critical evaluations available of the extent to which they have achieved their objectives.

O’Hara and Puhlin (2006) note that participatory processes are well developed and applied in village settings in the Philippines and many other countries, but are applied much less at the national level. They describe trials in the Philippines aimed at testing participatory approaches at the national level, whereby stakeholders from all levels are brought together in a multi-stakeholder process to discuss and decide on policies to support community-based forest management. In 2006, these processes were brought under the auspices of the Philippine National Forest Programme.

Some MSPs such as the Model Forests, while demonstrating useful approaches for addressing diverse forest issues with a range of partnerships across large areas of the landscape, remain enclave developments. In some cases, there has been a close connection between the Model Forests and the national government, as in the Philippines (B. Bonnell, pers. com.), but in many cases the connection has been tenuous.

One of the explicit assumptions behind functional MSPs is that stakeholders should be able to organize themselves and have the confidence to assert views that may be contradictory to those expressed by powerful groups such as governments, corporations or political parties. A vibrant and vigorous civil society is probably a pre-condition for the effective functioning of MSPs. This is borne out in countries that apply strong central planning approaches to their natural resource management. For example, Viet Nam, Lao PDR, China and Myanmar have not embraced MSPs to the same extent as countries with more open and inclusive societal systems. However, while a vigorous civil society might be a necessary condition for the development of multi-stakeholder platforms, it is not sufficient, as the situation in India demonstrates.

India has a very strong democratic tradition and a vibrant civil society. Nonetheless, the key national agency for forestry (Ministry of Environment and Forests) has traditionally exercised strong central control of key national policy decisions. For example, India developed a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan with extensive engagement of civil society (the process was an effective MSP). However, the Plan has not been released by the Ministry. Perhaps more significantly, the Supreme Court of India has exercised a major role in deciding many aspects of forest management through public interest litigation (Madhu Sarin, pers. com.). In spite of the situation at the national level in India, a few of the states sometimes engage in processes that can be likened to MSPs, such as the multi-stakeholder working groups for Joint Forest Management. The lesson to be drawn from these examples is that MSPs can not be expected to be viable if there is not sufficient political will to engage with multiple stakeholders in an open, transparent and participatory process. Further, appropriate institutions and the availability of effective resource management facilitators are also necessary. Experience suggests that traditionally trained foresters tend not to be very effective in performing these facilitation roles because of their narrow perspective and often a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

The water resources sector has made considerable progress with using multi-stakeholder processes for addressing conflicting and competing claims over water access and use. This is perhaps because there has been a long tradition in many countries of various forms of catchment management boards and committees. By their very nature, these tend to be somewhat multidisciplinary and inter-sectoral and bring together governments and civil society, even if the partnership is often unequal. Much of the available material for analysis of the effectiveness of multi-stakeholder processes comes from this sector (see for example, Faysse, 2006).

Many MSPs have not met initial high expectations, and Faysse (2006) suggested that many have been implemented in an unfavorable context, primarily of social inequities and where there are unresponsive institutions. Faysse has identified five main issues as being crucial to success:

Faysse also notes that some countries provide an enabling environment for successful MSPs, based mainly on well-organized stakeholder groups, few power imbalances, and a State that fully supports the process and its outcomes. He cites the case of groundwater overuse in California being negotiated through MSPs, with the results being largely successful. However, many documented MSPs, set up in unfavorable circumstances, have fallen short of expectations, with large differences between theory and results on the ground.

”Unfavorable circumstances” include:

In reviewing the multi-stakeholder processes that have been operating during the past few years in the forest sector in the Asia-Pacific region, most of them can be characterized as exhibiting one or more of the unfavorable circumstances given in the list above.

Funding is a critical issue for most MSPs. By and large, without the injection of external funds, the initiative stalls or dies. One of the few exceptions to this is community forestry in the Middle Hills of Nepal. Forest User Groups, the institutions at the heart of community forestry, generate their own funds and use them for forest management as well as community development and other activities. The engagement with multiple stakeholders in many cases has emerged as a natural reaction to a felt need or in response to pressure from civil society. The resulting institutional arrangements are, in effect, flexible and adaptable social learning opportunities. The lesson to come from this example is that MSPs that are addressing locally perceived needs and have the ability to generate their own funds are likely to be more sustainable than those that are responding to outside agendas and rely on outside funding.

Edmunds and Wollenberg (2002) note that the implications of multi-stakeholder negotiations for disadvantaged groups of people are seldom critically examined. They argue that negotiations that seek to neutralize differences among stakeholders pose considerable risks for disadvantaged groups. They go on to suggest that negotiations that are explicit about the conditions affecting disadvantaged groups and that emphasize politically informed behavior and selective alliance building promise better outcomes for disadvantaged groups. However, this begs the question of how these improved outcomes will emerge. There is an implicit assumption that the MSPs need to be managed to promote social learning.

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