Multistakeholder models: Maturity Levels

By Avri Doria.

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As more and more institutions begin to claim that they adhere to multistakeholder models, it becomes possible to either reject the claims of those with processes that do not promote the active participation of relevant communities or to develop a set of criteria that can be used to rate maturity levels and growth as a multistakeholder organization. As I chose not to reject an institution’s claims of its character and intentions, I have opted for trying to delineate some maturity levels that I have experienced in organizations that make a claim to being multistakeholder organizations.

At this point, I am working with the following set of Maturity Levels (ML):

Maturity Level 0: The organization displays awareness that they have stakeholders beyond membership status or financial relationship, but have not yet worked with the relevant communities as stakeholders with roles and responsibilities.

Maturity Level I: Does a organization do consultations. By consultation I include not only asking questions in a significant manner, but taking an analysis of the responses into account in proceeding toward a decision or action. These need to be serious consultations, not the sort that are often done for the checkmark, with very little forethought and even less post consideration.

Maturity Level II: Inclusion of stakeholders in standing advisory groups that deal with issues and produce reports that decision makers must take into account and which must get full consideration.

Maturity Level III: Do stakeholders have a significant role in decision making? There are many possible modalities for defining roles and responsibilities for stakeholders in decision making, for example representation and membership. What is key is that there is a sense of the relevant community, or even a predominant view in that community, that the stakeholders have an effective role in decision making. It is not necessary that everyone agree or that everyone is necessarily satisfied with the arrangement.

Maturity Level IV: Once a decision is made, is that the end of the story? Do the stakeholders have a voice in the implementation and deployment of the decision or performance of the action? One problem with the decision making process of Maturity Level III, is that it often involves the use of diplomatic and otherwise ambiguous language: everyone goes away satisficed with a different understanding. It is in the implementation and deployment that ambiguity must be unfolded into a way forward.

Maturity Level V: Do the stakeholders have the responsibility of providing oversight of the decision making process and do they have the ability to amend that process when necessary?

Each of these Maturity Levels needs a deeper analysis, stories for many other days. What is clear is that there are many ways in which each of these Maturity Levels can develop over time. There is a large number of methods and modalities that can be applied to achieve the goals at each Maturity Level. There may be other Maturity Levels that can be defined, and there are certainly intermediate Maturity Levels that can be extrapolated. As the set of criteria evolves, gradations and understanding of nuances within each Maturity Level may become apparent.

It should also be noted that the the Maturity Level structure is not dependent on whether a model is top down, bottom up, or hybrid, though that will affect which modalities are most useful and will also affect the directionality of process paths, also stories for other days. It should also be noted that roles and responsibilities vary at different stages in processes.

Since no organization is perfect, and all organizations are evolving, devolving, or lost somewhere in between, it is not necessary, or even possible, that any organization be a perfect example of the Maturity Level it is at.

Perfection may never be required in a multistakeholder model, but it may always be an aspiration.