The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) promotes the execution of Agenda 21, which is an outline of actions to be taken globally, nationally, and locally by various groups around the world in every area in which humans directly affect the environment. For instance, it deals with changing consumption patterns, combating deforestation, and controlling pollution, among many other things. Agenda 21 was adopted at the 1992 Rio Conference on Environment and Development. Since 1998, the CSD has used multi-stakeholder dialogues to encourage conversation on development problems between governments and “major groups.” These “major groups” include NGOs, local authorities, business and industry, farmers, trade unions, scientists, women, youth, and indigenous peoples — in short, groups which the UN sees as playing a particularly crucial role in the development and implementation of policies for sustainable development.

Through multi-stakeholder dialogues are an increasingly popular tool for engaging non-state actors in international negotiations, they risk being inefficient and uncoordinated if not well-run. CBI was asked to evaluate the CSD’s multi-stakeholder dialogue processes from 1998-2001. These included dialogues on the issues of industry, tourism, agriculture, and energy, all in relation to sustainability.


CBI conducts a study to determine the effectiveness of CSD’s multi-stakeholder dialogues.

The central research questions for CBI’s study were:

  • How successful has the CSD been in conducting its multi-stakeholder dialogue segments?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of its participatory model?
  • How should intergovernmental policy forums structure their participatory processes to maximize constructive input from a disparate set of social forces?

To answer these questions, CBI observed multi-stakeholder dialogue sessions, analyzed written surveys, conducted seventy personal interviews, reviewed background papers and negotiating texts, and viewed past CSD dialogues recorded on video. The study measured the effectiveness of these dialogue in terms of how well they met the organizers’ and participants’ goals; the extent to which the process was legitimate and productive; and how fully government representatives recognized the recommendations of the multi-stakeholder dialogue in summary documents and subsequent actions.


CBI’s study identifies six key elements for effective dialogue and includes recommendations for organizers and participants.

The assessment identifies six key elements for effective dialogue:

  • representation and participation;
  • time constraints;
  • agenda-setting;
  • facilitation;
  • linkage to decision making; and
  • follow-through.

The study also urged participants to keep in mind the organic relationship between the preparation, meeting, and implementation phases of the dialogues. The study concluded with a series of recommendations for organizers and participants.