Puzzle pieces or poker chips? What people bring to the table in “multistakeholder” processes

Anne Larson (CIFOR-ICRSF) explores how best to support participatory processes to address conservation, sustainable development or climate initiatives. There is a key risk as the need for “transformational change” pulls in two directions. On the one hand, addressing land use change in light of the climate crisis is recognized as a complex and wicked problem that requires policy and practice at all levels to be aligned toward a common vision. Hence, the call for participation, collaboration and coordination is heard virtually everywhere in these arenas. On the other, there is an overriding sense of urgency – it we do not act soon, we will lose the climate battle. Urgency has always overridden the slow and messy processes of participation and democracy, and of assuring the rights and livelihoods of indigenous peoples and local communities. How do we address the climate crisis hand in hand with the crisis of growing inequality? How do assure that certain “trade-offs” are not on the table? This talk draws on a comparative study of 13 subnational multistakeholder forums (MSFs) in four countries. It looks specifically at the interests and perspectives of indigenous peoples in these forums, who are overall optimistic but far more likely to be skeptical in comparison to other participants – and to see the risk of putting all their cards on the table. The results suggest the importance of addressing power and inequality as an integral part of any serious strategy for change.

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