International development practitioners have gained valuable insights over the years. One of the most impactful realizations is the need to increase transparency and engagement in the development process. For years, senior representatives from multilateral institutions have met regularly to discuss standards and experiences to ensure consistency of approach and share good practice in the areas of environmental and social standards. This dialogue exists among institutions to collectively raise the bar in terms of quality of practice.
One of the most recent examples of this collaboration comes from the recognition that public consultations and stakeholder engagement need to be front and center in development. Why so?
We know that projects affect groups differently. Some may be particularly vulnerable to displacement based on their land tenure, ethnicity, gender and other identities. There is also a growing recognition that stakeholders, whether there are impacted positively or negatively in a project, should be identified and should have their views considered in the design and implementation phases. Doing this systematically will help create understanding, commitment and local ownership of involved populations. Failure to do so can create mistrust, lead to wrong decisions and cause significant delays, reputation al harm and credit/financial problems.
There is a clear need to strengthen the practice in this area. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), along with members of several other Multilateral Financial Institutions (MFIs), have prepared a note on Meaningful Stakeholder Engagement. This note aims to contribute to a more consistent approach to how stakeholder engagement is undertaken, applying good practice principles adapted to local context. It summarizes why stakeholder engagement is key to project sustainability and development outcomes, and stresses that stakeholder engagement should be seen as a process rather than as one or more isolated or stand-alone events.
The note proposes ten aspects and elements that ought to be present in a systematic and meaningful stakeholder engagement process. The approach recommended is to ensure that analytical, participatory, and operational aspects mutually inform each other, and constitute an ongoing, iterative process throughout the project cycle.
The ten elements, and key questions related to them, are:
- Identification of priority issues: What are the likely risks and opportunities arising from the project, and that are of concern or interest to stakeholders?
- Stakeholder analysis and engagement plan: Who is affected by the project, and who has an interest that can influence outcomes?
- Prior information: How will information be provided to stakeholders prior to consultation and consultation events in a meaningful way?
- Appropriate forums and methods: How should consultation events be organized?
- Documentation, disclosure, feedback: How will the stakeholders be informed about project decisions and how their views and inputs have been addressed?
- Design and implementation decisions: How will stakeholder concerns and recommendations be considered and addressed in project decision-making and the overall management system?
- Baseline data and action plans: Have appropriate data, indicators and benchmarks been established?
- Management System: How will the project establish and maintain a suitable and adaptive management system to address environmental and social issues throughout the lifetime of the project?
- Grievance mechanisms: How can stakeholders seek remedy if they feel the project is causing harm to them or the environment?
- Ongoing stakeholder engagement throughout project implementation and completion: What are the mechanisms established to ensure that stakeholders are kept informed and involved throughout project implementation and in transition arrangements for the closing of the project?
This note does not propose a “one size fits all” to consultation and stakeholder engagement. Stakeholder engagement is a process which should be done systematically but with flexibility.
Lastly, this note was informed by experiences and practices from around the world. While local context and sectors are different, the core elements and principles of this note are relevant across all regions.
As we continue strengthening stakeholder engagement, it becomes critical to also listen to the voices of others in the international development community. We welcome any comments that you may have on how we as practitioners can continue working to ensure a meaningful stakeholder engagement process.