Pattern #46

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Inclusive Stakeholder Governance

Credit: Assembly in Newham UK by Andy Paice

Democracy ideally means people affected by a decision play meaningful roles in making it and those closest to a situation take meaningful action to address it. So help full-spectrum networked stakeholders — who already play informed (if conflicted) roles in their shared areas of concern — manage their issue domains responsibly and wisely together.

  • How might we help the networked stakeholders in this realm work together to wisely govern it?
  • Who else needs to be woven into the existing collaborating networks here to manage this area well and fairly?
  • How can we link up and engage the diversity of players in this scene so that what they do covers the ground that needs to be covered?
  • How can we minimize the conflict and confusion among the stakeholders involved and enhance their ability to collaborate across the boundaries between their networks?
  • Can you imagine a democratic system that was centered on the people involved in various realms and issues, rather than on citizens electing representatives? What would that look like? What would the pros and cons of that be?

Going Deeper …

This is an edited version of the video on this page.

Inclusive stakeholder governance – in a democratic sense – ideally means that the people who will be affected by a decision play meaningful roles in making it, and that those closest to a situation take meaningful action to address it. So we want to help full-spectrum networked stakeholders who already play informed – if often conflicting – roles in their shared areas of concern, we want to help them manage their issue domains responsibly and wisely together.

“Stakeholder” is an important concept in a number of patterns, including this one. The sense of “stakeholder” which I’ve embedded into this pattern is somewhat broader and more philosophical than many other people’s definitions. It is not just about the power players – although they are included. Rather, in any given situation, we’re interested in who is involved in any significant way and who should be involved in order to have this situation have a good outcome. Whatever the realm of life – healthcare, governance, education, climate, whatever – we need to ask who is involved and who should be involved to have a good outcome. Those folks are the stakeholders in that realm. They are the actors, they’re being impacted by the situation and they have information or resources or power that is relevant to the scene and they’re involved.

The background of this is a worldview that is covered in the Universal Participation pattern that suggests that any given scene is being played out with the engagement of lots of different entities and factors. And if that’s true, then whatever problems are in the area, whatever issues or difficulties or disturbances are characteristic of that realm, they are being co-created by the entities that are involved.

So what would happen if you could bring all those entities together to deal with that realm collaboratively – to share information, to share energy, to share resources? What if you could somehow help them work together to manage that domain together? Well, that’s obviously a form of governance, and probably a good one.

I was first introduced to that perspective two or three years ago. I ran into two people over period of a few weeks who both pointed out to me that there’s an emerging dynamic through which many networks of stakeholders – multi-sector, multi-stakeholder, multi-scale networks – have people working together across those boundaries to deal with a particular issue domain they’re all involved in.

That’s happening somewhat spontaneously around the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Many of these multi-sector, multi-stakeholder, multi-scale networks are coming together around each of the goals. There are also regional multi-sector, multi-stakeholder, multi-scale (MS3) networks coming together in domains like food systems. All the different players who are dealing with food at different levels – the policymakers, growers, grocers, restaurants, farmers’ markets, consumers and so on – are all coming together to deal better with their regional food system. There are other examples of this happening, as well. The evolutionary leap I was introduced to was that this is, in fact, an emerging form of governance. GovernMENTS are playing a role in it because they are stakeholders, they also constitute a sector – the public sector – and they involve different scales or levels of government, all of which are involved in this kind of effort. But the whole effort is much broader than just government, and the different sectors and stakeholders have different roles to play. Government has particular roles to play, hopefully complementary with different roles by other players.

This is a part of the inquiry that is dancing around this emerging phenomenon. What are the proper roles that each network or type of player should be playing in order to have the whole thing work really well to the benefit of all the players and the larger system?

And so we’re working here with another definition of democracy, another perspective on “self-governance”. We usually think of democracy as grounded in “we the people”, you know. It’s like, we the members of this community, or we the members of this city, or the members of this state, or the members of this nation, whatever – we the citizens, the active residents, are collectively deciding what happens.

So now we find there are two different understandings and manifestations of democracy we’re encountering here. One of the other patterns in this set is Citizen-Stakeholder Integration, which explicitly brings those two versions together. But this Inclusive Stakeholder Governance pattern is all about the stakeholder part of it. How do we productively engage the diversity of stakeholders who are relevant to a particular issue domain? If we want to do good governance for healthcare, who is involved in healthcare who should be making the decisions that govern healthcare? If we’re dealing with food, then who is involved with food systems who should be involved in handling it? When it comes to climate, you know, there’s lots of players involved with that.

We have hundreds of other issues and what I’m calling “issue domains”, each of which has many different players in it. In any of them this MS3 network phenomena could emerge or be organized.

In community security, for example, who are those players? We don’t just want to address policing and we don’t want to engage just the policemen and the people who been arrested. No. That’s fine as a start, of course, but what about all the other players, and the bigger sense of what constitutes community security? There are so many players in that system and if you want to actually transform it and have it work out sensibly, you need to involve all those players – or people who represent all those players, who can speak from those viewpoints.

The effort to embrace different domains and full spectrums of the relevant players brings us to the word “inclusive” in this pattern’s name. That word is about the fact that once you get the diversity together (which is part of inclusivity), you then face the challenge that those different folks don’t necessarily agree with each other. They don’t necessarily know how to work together. They don’t necessarily have the same sense of how the world works. Luckily, there are ways to help people who are that different to work together. Many of the other patterns in this pattern language are all about helping people who are very different from each other work together.

So you want to include diverse stakeholders and you want to enable them to work together and you want them to collectively address the particular domain in which they are all involved so that their actions become co-creative instead of mutually interfering or mutually destructive. That means setting things up so that the collaborative process includes and makes good use of the full range of their views and interests. That challenge and calling applies to every single issue domain that there is. And we can help it become governance.

Of course we also have the issue of where the citizens fit in. They – AS citizens – are the other piece of the puzzle. There’s lots of good work to do in that realm, but this stakeholder piece of it has its own vision – the idea that if you could get the right diversity together, and help all the people who are involved in a domain become really able to work together, then that realm and its issues will be governed in the best possible way, since it “covers all the bases” and takes into account what needs to be taken into account.