What conditions have to be met for a multi-stakeholder partnership to drive change in biodiversity conservation management?

  By Romain Schumm, Research Fellow, offshore oil and gas activities, IDDRI

In its 2016-2022 strategy, the MAVA Foundation proposes an approach based on multi-stakeholder partnerships to promote change in environmental management. In the light of an environmental purpose (sea turtles or seagrass beds, for example) or a human-induced threat (offshore extractive activities, coastal infrastructures etc.), the partnerships established must allow the different associated organisations to have a significant impact on biodiversity conservation.  This approach, which is the very essence of MAVA’s action plans, requires a detailed analysis of the components of these partnerships in order to identify the conditions in which the latter can have the desired impact on the environmental status of a given species or its management style.

The very idea of a multi-stakeholder partnership as an answer to a biodiversity conservation problem is based on two assumptions: (i) biodiversity loss arises from the failure to manage and coordinate the different stakeholders involved – a failure that the collective ownership of the problem and coordinated action could overcome; (ii) ultimately, the collective response to a conservation problem only amounts to the institutionalisation of the balance of power in the presence of stakeholders without modifying the management system that is the source of the degradation of the environment. However, we know that it is not enough to simply bring the stakeholders together in order to change practices, and today my own experience in the coordination of an Outcome Action Plan (OAP) allows me to identify which conditions are essential in order to allow a multi-stakeholder partnership to really bring about a change in the management of a conservation problem.

First condition for success: the identification of the environmental objective

Without a compass, this is impossible, and it is thus essential to reach an agreement very quickly on the desired environmental goal. Simple in appearance, this stage is crucial because it gives the partnership a purpose.

In the Oil and Gas action plan, for example, otherwise known as the COBIA initiative, the aim is to improve the management of the marine environment in response to the development of the offshore extractive sector. The objective teaches us about the very essence of the partnership, which is not seeking to oppose the development of the sector, or to facilitate its development, but instead to establish environmental safeguards so that this sector can develop whilst managing its impact on the marine environment as best it can.

Second condition for success: the definition of how actions should be implemented

Once the partnership’s objective has been formulated precisely, the stakeholders can focus on identifying how actions should be implemented; in other words how the activities should be carried out to achieve this goal.  This is where the key challenge for the coordination of the objective and how the actions should be implemented lies. Each activity should serve the set objective, and each action should be analysed in the light of the desired objective. It is all the strength and relevance of the scorecards developed by the MAVA Foundation with the help of the Foundations of Success (FOS) that highlight to what extent the partnership’s methods of action are aligned with its goal. This also reveals the strategic importance of the Mid-term evaluation (MTE) of the action plans for redirecting certain activities that, when analysed, appear not to serve the set objective sufficiently.

Third condition for success: the governance of the partnership

As underlined by the Regional Partnership for Coastal and Marine Conservation (PRCM) in its blog of 6 May 2019, the success of multi-stakeholder collaboration involves the implementation of the “appropriate architecture in the governance of the OAPs”. This is the goal of proper coordination, which, using different tools (steering committee, coordination meetings, online platform for the exchange of ideas, etc.) should allow for fluid, regular and relevant exchanges between the stakeholders. The strategic reflection on improving communication, the evolution in the monitoring mechanisms, and the creation of new coordination bodies must constantly be the focus of discussions. The collective success promoted by these coordination tools also depends on the desire of each and every individual to get involved in the process. Indeed, in order to ensure success, all actors have to be present and each one has to be fully involved.

Strength lies in unity!

In short, my experience in the management of an OAP leads me to note that, when it meets certain conditions, a partnership can play a decisive role in improving a conservation problem. This is particularly true for issues linked to offshore extractive activities.  By coming together, conservation stakeholders help change the power balance and can thus make a real impact on the powerful, institutionalised and globalised oil and gas stakeholders. Proud of a solid partnership, the stakeholders of the Oil and Gas OAP will be able to exclaim that they started out from Saly in 2017 but that, thanks to speedy reinforcement, several dozen reached safe harbour in 2022, each one having helped improve the management of the environment within the West African offshore sector!

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