Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships and the 2030 Agenda: Challenges and Options for Oversight at the United Nations
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United Nations entities have long entered into multi-stakeholder partnerships with companies and civil society organizations. However, concerns about transparency, accountability, and effectiveness have prompted new discussions about the potential need for greater intergovernmental oversight over these partnerships. This study analyzes how oversight of multi-stakeholder partnerships is, or is not, occurring in the UN, identifies where gaps and challenges exist, and offers scenarios and options for how increased oversight of multi-stakeholder partnerships by UN member states could be structured with respect to: principles and guidelines for partnerships; due diligence mechanisms; and monitoring, reporting, and review of multi-stakeholder partnerships and their results.
For these issues, three scenarios illustrate the different options that member states could consider for expanding oversight in these areas:
- A “building on existing practices” scenario that maintains the trajectory of incrementally building on the current system of managing multi-stakeholder partnerships at the United Nations, but without formal intergovernmental oversight beyond what already exists at the level of agencies, funds, and programs. As such, options are generally limited to adopting good practices that already exist and basic measures to ensure organizations are following their own policies with regards to guidelines, due diligence, and monitoring, reporting, and review.
- A “light intergovernmental oversight” scenario that provides options for a marginally formalized system of member state oversight across these issue areas. These options would primarily serve to promote more standardization and harmonization on these issues across the UN system.
- A “heavy intergovernmental oversight” scenario that provides options for moving towards a much more demanding system of intergovernmental oversight. This would entail the creation of extra system-wide oversight mechanisms to ensure that common standards are being adhered to.
The range of options presented in these scenarios offer tentative suggestions for increased member state oversight on multi-stakeholder partnerships at the United Nations. In discussing these options, the key is to encourage a risk-managed – not risk-averse – approach that allows for experimentation by UN entities. Member states will need to address the trade-off between, on one hand, the real or perceived need for more or stronger oversight mechanisms and, on the other hand, the flexibility to let UN entities try something new or innovative. Too little oversight could potentially damage the United Nations brand or waste valuable resources, while too much oversight could complicate UN entities’ ability to both find good partners and try innovative partnership models.
Given that the agencies, funds, and programs serve as the primary location for conducting oversight of multi-stakeholder partnerships and ensuring integrity, effectiveness, and results, any system-wide or centralized oversight efforts could not only create burdensome processes and bureaucracy, but also limit the ability of these entities to create an impact. Therefore, while some of the options presented in the “light intergovernmental oversight” scenarios may be worth considering, those options in the “heavy intergovernmental oversight” scenarios, particularly with regards to the creation of new intergovernmental oversight mechanisms, should be discussed and considered with caution. In this context, using and improving existing structures and mechanisms for managing partnerships is preferable, and new oversight mechanisms should be introduced only in clear-cut cases. A balanced solution – one with the flexibility for each entity to implement partnerships consistent with their capacities, mandates, and risk-management systems – would likely be the most effective.