“The Dialogues call for governments to create spaces and mechanisms for engagement, not only as a way to strengthen people’s basic political rights but also because it helps to create better policies and generate better development outcomes.”
Post-2015 Dialogues on Implementation (UNDG 2014)
As evidenced by the quotation above, central to the legitimacy and quality of a society-wide agenda is the design of multi-stakeholder policy development and implementation modalities to encourage and facilitate partnerships between government and nationally and sub-nationally active stakeholder networks of civil society, universities, think tanks, the private sector, workers’ and employers’ organizations, other development actors, and national human rights institutions (UNDP-OHCHR 2012). In reaching out, it is important that actors reach out to all groups, including ones that are at times vulnerable and marginalised, such as refugees, internally displaced and stateless persons, in recognition that the SDGs are built on a principle of universality and a pledge that no one shall be left behind from sustainable development.
As further rationale, consider the conclusions of the Post-2015 Dialogues on Implementation with regard to participation and inclusion (UNDG 2015):
- “The Dialogue on localizing the agenda pointed to the need for stronger engagement of local stakeholders in the definition, implementation and monitoring of the post-2015 development agenda, as the achievement of many of the MDGs depended on the work of local governments and stakeholders.
- Community participation and ownership, rooted in local culture, are instrumental in development programmes, including for environmental protection, for sustainable urban development and for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
- An engaged business sector is critical for innovation, technological advancement and sustainable economic growth.
- Governments and civil society already have working models to tap into people’s desire and capacities for engagement; but these examples are too few and not yet fully institutionalized into how public policy is delivered.
- While consultations are a good start, they should not be one-off events but, rather, mechanisms that provide for a continued dialogue with feedback loops that inspire ownership from various stakeholders.
- The inclusion of the full diversity of stakeholders means paying specific attention to the inclusion of all voices, including women and children, with a particular focus on marginalized groups and individuals. People living in poverty, indigenous communities and other minorities, persons with disabilities, refugees, others forcibly displaced and stateless persons, children and young people, migrants and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community are some of the groups and individuals who are not necessarily included in policy- and decision-making processes.”
This section presents guidance for involving stakeholders in the process of adapting SDGs to the national context, and is applicable also at the sub-national and local levels.
The need for multi-stakeholder approaches is ubiquitous across the eight guidance areas in this document. Four specific aspects are presented below to clarify the means by which Member States can engage an array of different stakeholders at different stages of mainstreaming The 2030 Agenda and SDGs.
It is recognized that all nations already have in place existing processes for planning, budgeting and monitoring, with varying degrees of stakeholder involvement. The guidance areas herein strive for transformation, to go ‘beyond governance as usual’ and match the transformative ambition of The 2030 Agenda.
- Initial multi-stakeholder engagement: for increasing public awareness of The 2030 Agenda and SDGs;
- Working with national multi-stakeholder bodies or forums: for reviewing existing plans;
- Guidance on multi-stakeholder dialogue: to assist with the process of engagement;
- Fostering public-private partnerships: to leverage the ingenuity, scaling-up ability, and investment potential of business.
These guidance aspects represent successively deeper integration of The 2030 Agenda and SDGs, starting with sensitization of The 2030 Agenda (guidance aspect #1) and evolving to a purposeful analysis by formal multi-stakeholder bodies, forums and planning commissions for how the SDGs could be practically reflected in development strategies and plans at the national, sub-national and local levels (#2). For governments that are already about to engage in a visioning process for their national plan or are interested in a deep conversation with their citizens on how to land the global SDGs at a national, sub-national or local level, the guidance on multi-stakeholder dialogue (#3) will be useful.
Initial Multi-stakeholder Engagement for Increasing Public Awareness of The 2030 Agenda and SDGs
As a first stage of multi-stakeholder engagement for mainstreaming The 2030 Agenda and SDGs Member States with guidance from UNCTs can begin raising public awareness of the global agenda and also the country’s existing national development plan and planning process. Guidance in this regard was provided in Section B1, including the types of stakeholders that could be engaged and the content that would be useful to share at this early stage.
Working with National Councils or Forums on SDG Review and Implementation
“Arrangements for engaging stakeholders need to be flexible to take account of changing patterns of stakeholders’ organisation. But they can be strengthened by institutional arrangements to enable long-term engagement to flourish and deliver results. National Councils for Sustainable Development, Commissioners or Ombudsmen for Future Generations, Economic and Social Councils can all play a valuable part. Such bodies can develop expertise in the creation of strategies and the policies pursued within them and in the monitoring and review of progress. They can build crucial relationships of trust with all the parts of Government that are concerned and with the major stakeholder groups in society.”
Report to the European Economic and Social Committee by the Stakeholder Forum (2015)
Stakeholders have collectively made the call “for governments to create spaces and mechanisms for engagement.” In some countries these ‘spaces’ have already been institutionalized as some type of formal multi-stakeholder council or similar body and may have a proven track record in facilitating national stakeholder dialogue on sustainable development issues. Notable examples from developed countries include the German Council for Sustainable Development and the Finnish National Commission for Sustainable Development (Stakeholder Forum 2015).  Examples of similar national councils can also be found in a number of developing countries from around the world, such as in the Philippines, Vietnam, Mozambique, Mauritius, and Dominican Republic (GN-NCSDS 2015).
In countries where multi-stakeholder bodies currently exist, or where planning commissions operate in collaboration with multi-stakeholder forums, such bodies represent a logical starting point for raising public awareness and creating a broader media or social marketing campaign (Section B1). Such consultative bodies are also the logical point of departure for reviewing existing development plans and the process of adapting SDGs to national contexts (Section B3), as well as a mechanism for facilitating ongoing national dialogue on the implementation of nationally-adapted SDGs. In many countries, the tripartite social dialogue structures between governments, business and workers can serve as platform for the development of more comprehensive implementation and accountability mechanisms.
Innovative Case Example: German Council for Sustainable Development and its SDG Statement to the Federal Government
The independently led The German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE) has led several wide stakeholder engagement processes around highly substantial sustainability issues including corporate responsibility and the major energy transformation now in progress (the “Energiewende”), and helped to build national consensus on the way forward (Stakeholder Forum 2015). Since 2001, the German Chancellor renews the Council every three years and mandates 15 Members representing all parts of society. A State Secretaries’ Committee on Sustainable Development is in charge of the national SD Strategy.
In 2014 the German Government asked the Council to assess how a national implementation of the SDGs will impact the structures and institutions of Germany’s sustainability policy. The RNE responded in 2015 by engaging experts in and outside of government and submitted its statement to the federal government on ‘Germany’s Sustainability Architecture and the SDGs’.
Source: RNE (2015)
Where such formal bodies or forums do not already exist in a country, governments could convene a consultative forum for purposes of SDG review and implementation.
For example, at the EU level, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) recently instructed its Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment to draw up an information report on ‘Opportunities and processes for civil society involvement in the implementation of the post-2015 agenda in the EU’. A key proposal of the information report is “to establish a regular platform or forum for the EU sustainable development agenda.” Key guidance elements proposed for this regular forum include (EESC 2015):
- “The Committee strongly believes that participatory governance requires a political framework and an organisational and procedural structure in order to become operative. Stakeholder engagement in long-term sustainable development works best if it is organised as a continuous process rather than being conducted on an ad-hoc basis or through unrelated one off engagement exercises at different points of the policy cycle. A structured process enables stakeholders as well as governments to plan ahead, to assemble evidence, reports and other material to make well-researched contributions at the appropriate time in the policy cycle. Standing institutional arrangements allow the capacities of civil society representatives to be strengthened over time and the trusting relationships of support and cooperation to be built up.
- This forum will bring together, on a regular basis, policy actors from EU institutions with a broad range of civil society representatives, including the private sector. The process must match with the EU Semester cycle as well as with the UN SDG monitoring intervals.
- The forum will provide the required regular, stable, structured and independent framework for civil society dialogue and debate at EU level:
- The Committee recognises that for such a framework to be effective, it should include all the core EU decision-makers on economic and financial policies, including the Commission’s First Vice-President and the Commissioner responsible for the EU Semester as they need to engage in the debate on sustainable development policies. This will create the environment that will enable civil society representatives to be able to hold the decision-makers to account.
- The Committee recommends that the participation structure for civil society must include the whole spectrum of organisations representing sectors of relevance for the sustainable development agenda, including industry, micro, small and medium-sized businesses, trade unions, farmers as well as development, social and environment NGOs.
- The Committee knows from long experience that participatory governance must be based on transparency, knowledge and monitoring. Regular progress reports on the implementation of the SDGs provided by the Commission and Eurostat are therefore an important prerequisite for organised civil society to play an active role in the monitoring.”
Excluded groups, including women, children, adolescents, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities often lack adequate forums in which to build consensus and articulate demands for their social, economic and other rights, and UNCTs may wish to examine how to foster the development of new stakeholder groups, where necessary.
Innovative Case Example: Somalia
The development and implementation of a compact in Somalia under the ‘The New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States’ framework is a good example of applying a multi-stakeholder approach to implementation of the SDGs.
In 2013, with the adoption of a new Constitution, formation of a new Parliament and selection of the President, a window of opportunity for a new phase of stabilization and peacebuilding in Somalia was presented. In order to help manage the transition process, the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), with civil society, parliament and other Somali stakeholders, and the international community agreed to develop a Compact, guided by the principles of the New Deal.
As part of the Compact, which was produced on the basis of a fragility assessment, the FGS and international community defined mutual roles and responsibilities including a financing architecture and setting up of overall framework for advancing peacebuilding and state-building in Somalia. The compact was the result of an inclusive process and strong partnership between the FGS, the United Nations, the World Bank, EU and donors and other key partners. The FGS and partners made sure there was strong alignment between international assistance and the Somali Compact priorities and partnership principles. With support from the UN, the government established an Aid Coordination Unit for effective coordination and implementation of the compact.
Guidance on Multi-stakeholder Dialogue
Some countries may already be poised for deeper dialogue on the integration of SDGs, for example, if it is about to engage in a national visioning process. In such instances, guidance on how to conduct large-scale multi-stakeholder dialogues will be helpful to Member States.
To inform the Post-2015 ‘World We Want’ Global Conversation initiated in 2012, the UNDG issued guidelines to UNCTs for conducting national consultations (UNDG 2012). The national dialogues were designed to “stimulate an inclusive, bottom-up debate on a post-2015 development agenda in order to complement the existing intergovernmental process.” In the context of the dialogues, the guidelines provided “ideas for how to promote inclusive consultations with government representatives, NGOs, civil society, community-based organizations (CBOs), indigenous peoples, women’s and social movements, youth and children, and the private sector, among others (UNDG 2012).”
Two core process principles were put forth as a foundation for the consultation guidelines:
- INCLUSION: Efforts should be made to open the consultations to all stakeholders in the country who will be affected by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with particular focus on effectively involving those who are commonly underrepresented or marginalized in decision-making processes; and
- ACCOUNTABILITY: Efforts should also be made to ensure that people who participate in the consultations have access to relevant information and can provide feedback and influence the results and the process of the consultations. More specifically, a critical aspect of accountability in any kind of consultation process has to do with who controls the information that is generated, how that information is analysed and how it is subsequently used. Another very important aspect of accountability is transparency — not just about how the results of the consultation are arrived at, but also transparency in how the consultation itself will relate to the wider process of decision-making about the 2030 Agenda.
Innovative Case Example: National Post-2015 Consultations Across Africa
The post-2015 consultation processes in Africa largely benefited from the legacy of formulating long-term development plans (vision documents) and short- to medium-term plans (poverty reduction strategy papers, PRSPs, and national development plans, NDPs)—processes which have demanded broad consultations with different stakeholders.
The post-2015 consultations, therefore, built on this foundation and included new forms of consulting stakeholders and bringing in other groups that would not normally participate in national planning processes. The methodologies used were largely similar, with a few exceptions. Most of the consultations in Africa were organized by the various UN country teams (UNCTs), national governments (mainly ministries/departments of planning or finance) and key actors of civil society, including women and youth groups, people with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS, academia and the private sector.
Face-to-face meetings in various formats dominated consultation methodologies in all the 30 countries conducting national consultations. To increase inclusion and accountability, however, focus group discussions, stakeholder interviews, radio phone-in programmes, television panel interviews and specific group and expert group meetings were used. In addition, on- and offline surveys were used in several countries including MY World surveys and the use of text messaging, which managed to obtain feedback from 17,000 young people in Uganda.
In total, close to 350,000 stakeholders were consulted on the post-2015 agenda in Africa. Many of the countries conducted consultations in selected districts, regions, provinces or zones as representative samples of entire countries followed by consultations and validation at the national level.
Source: UNDG (2013)
Fostering Public-Private Partnerships
“Private business activity, investment and innovation are major drivers of productivity, inclusive economic growth and job creation. We acknowledge the diversity of the private sector, ranging from micro-enterprises to cooperatives to multinationals. We call on all businesses to apply their creativity and innovation to solving sustainable development challenges. We will foster a dynamic and well-functioning business sector, while protecting labour rights and environmental and health standards in accordance with relevant international standards and agreements and other on-going initiatives in this regard, such as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the labour standards of ILO, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and key multilateral environmental agreements, for parties to those agreements.”
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (para 67)
Partnerships with the business sector will be a crucial part of implementing The 2030 Agenda. Businesses around the world have experience with integrating sustainable development and corporate social responsibility (CSR) principles into planning and reporting practices through the adoption of volunteer guidelines such as the Global Reporting Initiative, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP 2015) and Greenhouse Gas Protocol, UN Global Compact (UN-GC 2015), the ‘Equality Means Business’ Women Empowerment Principles (UN Global Compact & UN Women, 2010), Principles for Responsible Investment, and the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011), just to name a few. The innovativeness of the private sector can bring new insights to the solution of systemic sustainable development issues and the ubiquitous nature of supply chains represents a leverage point for scaling up the impact of sustainability practices. Combined with the investment potential of the private sector in driving local, sub-national, national and global development, the necessity of public-private partnerships for implementing The 2030 Agenda is clear.
Given this context, Member States with the support of UNCTs where required can endeavor to include the private sector in awareness raising efforts (Section B1) and as valued stakeholders in adapting SDGs to national, sub-national and local contexts (Section B3), creating horizontal and vertical policy coherence (Sections B4 and B5), budgeting for the future (Section B6), monitoring, reporting and accountability (Section B7), and in assessing risk and fostering adaptability of plans and policies (Section B8).
Innovative Case Example: Public-Private Partnerships: UNEP/GEF’s en.Lighten – A Global Efficient Lighting Partnership
The initiative is a public/private partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme, OSRAM and Philips Lighting, with the support of the Global Environment Facility. The National Lighting Test Centre of China became a partner in 2011 and the Australian Government joined to support developing countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific in 2013.
Interested countries make a dedicated pledge signaling the intent to work with en.lighten to design and implement a set of policies and approaches that will enable the transition to energy-efficient lighting quickly and cost-effectively. Emphasis is placed on an integrated approach for designing policy measures so that the transition can be sustained by the domestic market without continued external support or resources.
Source: UNEP-GEF (2015).
UNDG National Consultation Guidelines
In 2012 the UNDG issued national consultation guidelines for UN Country Teams to “facilitate post-2015 consultations …to stimulate discussion amongst national stakeholders, and to garner inputs and ideas for a shared global vision of The Future We Want.” These guidelines can be of use today in a country’s efforts to engage multiple stakeholders in a dialogue on how to improve an existing national strategy or plan through the integration of the global SDGs. The process-related guidance included the following areas (UNDG 2012):
- Whom to engage? (a) Identifying stakeholders, (b) Considerations for selecting stakeholders
- How to engage? Preparing an inclusive consultation. (a) Questions to ensure inclusiveness and accountability when planning, (b) Format (or ‘shape’) of the consultation process, (c) Designing of consultation activities
- Which method should be used?
- The role of the facilitator
- Logistics: Preparing a consultation. (a) Preparations, (b) Venue of meeting, (c) Post-consultation
Human Rights Guidance
- Toolkit for collaboration with National Human Rights Institutions. UNDP-OHCHR (2012)
- UNDG Guidelines on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues. UNDG (2009)
- Frequently Asked Questions on a Human Rights-Based Approach to Development Cooperation. OHCHR (2006)
- Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework OHCHR (2011).
Information Report of the European Economic and Social Committee on CSO Involvement in the Post-2015 Development Agenda at the EU Level
The EESC information report on civil society involvement in the Post-2015 Development Agenda at the EU level provides guidance that is relevant to any country (EESC 2015).
Website of the Global Network of National Councils for Sustainable Development and Similar Bodies
The Global Network of National Councils for Sustainable Development and Similar Bodies (GN-NCSDS) aims to help strengthen national level sustainable development bodies through information exchange and collaboration. Operated by the UK-based Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future, the network’s website maintains a global database of existing national councils or similar bodies and provides links to useful research and guidance.
References and Links
Bertelsmann Stiftung (2013a). Winning Strategies for a Sustainable Future. Page 31. Verlag Bertelsmann Stiftung: Gutersloh.
CDP (2015). The Carbon Disclosure Project.
EESC (2015). Opportunities and processes for civil society involvement in the implementation of the post-2015 agenda in the EU. Information Report of the Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, European Economic and Social Committee. Available at:
PRI (015). Principles for Responsible Investment.
Stakeholder Forum (2015). Building the Europe We Want: Models for civil society involvement in the implementation of the Post-2015 agenda at the EU level. Study by Stakeholder Forum for the European Economic and Social Committee.
UN (2015). Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Outcome Document for the United Nations Summit to Adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
UNDG (2009). Guidelines on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues.
UNDG (2012). Post-2015 Development Agenda: Guidelines for Country Dialogues – What Future Do You Want? United Nations Development Group.
UNDG (2014). Delivering the Post-2015 Development Agenda: Opportunities at the National and Local Levels. United Nations Development Group.
UNDG (2013). A Million Voices: The World We Want, Annex 1: Process Description of National Consultations.
UNDP-OHCHR (2012). Toolkit for collaboration with National Human Rights Institutions.
UN-GC (2015). United Nations Global Compact.
UN Global Compact & UN Women (2010). ‘Equality Means Business’ Women Empowerment Principles.
WRI and WBCSD (2015). The Greenhouse Gas Protocol. World Resources Institute and World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
 It is worth noting that in some countries, such formalized stakeholder bodies have already come and gone for a myriad of reasons. Notable examples include the United Kingdom’s Sustainable Development Commission, Canada’s National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy and the Tasmania Progress Board (Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2013a). Perceived reasons for the dissolution of these bodies vary from fiscal pressures, to not reflecting current government policy, and to the perception that sustainable development is already sufficiently integrated within government.