The role of multi-stakeholder forums in subnational jurisdictions: Framing literature review for in-depth field research

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This Framing Literature Review for In-depth Field Research draws on the knowledge produced from 30+ years of experience in participatory processes. It informs the Center for International Forestry Research’s (CIFOR) research of multi-stakeholder forums (MSFs) set up to address land use and land-use change at the subnational level in Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Peru. This literature review should be read in tandem with the project’s Methods Training Manual for In-depth Field Research.
MSFs are set up as purposely organized interactive processes that bring together a range of stakeholders to participate in dialogue, decision making and/or implementation regarding actions to address a common problem or to achieve a goal for their common benefit. The growth of MSFs related to land use/land-use change reflects the awareness that environmental problems cannot be addressed without the effective engagement of the actors that determine land-use practices on the ground; nor can such problems be resolved within a conservation community when the drivers are located in other sectors. MSFs may produce more effective and sustainable outcomes by getting actors with contradictory development priorities to coordinate and align goals through discussion, negotiation and planning. In contrast, MSFs may also help to implement top-down approaches and create the illusion of participation. Scholars and activists note that ‘MSF’ may reify these approaches, and take the ‘participation’ of local stakeholders for granted in box-ticking exercises to please donors.
This research is timely, because MSFs have received renewed attention from policy makers and development and conservation practitioners in light of the growing urgency to address climate change and transform development trajectories. The comparative project aims to contribute empirically to the study of MSFs and similar participatory processes.

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