World- wide consensus agrees that multi-stakeholder partnerships are necessary to achieve sustainable urban development. They are needed at every level of decision- making from developing plans, policies and programs to their implementation. This policy paper endeavors to lay out principles to guide public, private and civil society leaders in crafting effective and transformative multi-stakeholder partnerships in the service of promoting sustainable urban development.
Four years ago, global leaders laid out a framework for 21st century sustainable urban development, the UN’s Agenda 2030, endorsing 17 universally-applicable goals ranging from dealing with basic needs like hunger and health, to rights like gender and under- represented groups, to spatial framing like housing, transport, public space. At the same time, they acknowledged that the achievement of any and all of the goals requires strong partnerships at all levels. They reinforced this belief by designating a stand-alone goal on partnerships (SDG 17). One target identifies multi-stakeholder partnerships as critical to the enterprise (e.g. 17.6)1. They confirmed this belief in three other global agreements formulated in 2015-2016 (Sendai Framework [para 19i]; Addis Ababa Action Agenda [ para 10]; New Urban Agenda [para 153]. At the heart of this idea, is that the participation of many diverse people drawn from various constituencies is necessary to meet their aspirations.
To come down from the lofty realm of international deliberations to the practical sphere of local level implementation where these aspirations have to be carried out, the question of just what constitutes an effective multi-stakeholder partnership is central. Moreover, any construct of sustainable urban development views multi-stakeholder partnerships as carrying out special responsibilities relating to promoting the transformation of cities and their surrounds. So the real question to be deliberated is: how can a multi-stakeholder partnership be transformative?
In the realm of sustainable urban development, multi-stakeholder partnerships are complicated. They engage with the tasks associated with managing cities requiring balancing the many inter-related systems affecting the built environment and human resources. While the overall aim is to produce environmentally responsible land use, equitable provision of services, and shared economic prosperity, execution is full of twist and turns, tailored to the political context of a given city and aligned with that city’s needs, resources and objectives.
To be effective and transformative, a joint understanding of the types and purposes of the partnership contributions needs to be clearly worked out among the parties. For example, partnerships can be deployed in problem identification, policy prioritization and alignment, and in mobilization for implementation.
In the first instance, they can contribute many needed elements (e.g. data, specialized knowledge, pilot projects, capacity-building, funding). In the second instance, they can provide a means to negotiate integrated policies and programs (dispute resolution and compromise). In the third instance, through their engagement, they can help ensure the implementation of an agreed on direction with their networks (participation, “buy in,” mobilization of support).
In sum, depending on the issue at hand, multi-stakeholder partnerships can provide additional learning and resources, new solutions, and access to wider networks, audiences, supporters that can have an impact on the system-wide changes required to achieve sustainable urban development. They can tackle large issues such as climate change – the recently renewed City Climate Change Finance Leadership Alliance with 60 partners, all major players in the field, offers an example – or they can focus on smaller concerns – the Guangzhou Prize for Innovation finalist, Public Participatory in 3R Waste Management for Better Surabaya , with far fewer partners but broad citizen participation, is another example. The point is, that in the urban arena, multi-stakeholder partnerships take on many forms, tackle a range of concerns to produce new solutions.