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The Role of Stakeholder Participation in Sustainable Development Policies

Climate change,  water scarcity, systematic inequalities, famine – these are just a few of the challenges that humanity faces today. The consequences of some of these problems are inevitable, but that doesn’t mean the problems can’t be solved. It is necessary to look at the solution from a global perspective and take the required steps that are in accordance with the principles of sustainable development (SD).

Sustainable development is based on the balance of three fundamental pillars – economic, social, and environmental. By sustainability we understand the balance of development between these pillars, i.e. between the development of the economy, the standard of living of the population, and the burden on the environment (definition from the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002). The development in one pillar should not come at the expense of others. This way the possibility to satisfy basic life needs while not reducing the diversity of nature is preserved for current and future generations.

Every state must participate in ensuring that we and our descendants live well on this planet. The United Nations approved the 2030 Agenda, which contains the Sustainable Development Goals, a call to action to protect the planet and guarantee the global well-being for all people. It is a concrete plan, which offers steps to improve the overall situation in the world. It provides a global framework for international cooperation in the field of sustainable development and its economic, social, environmental and governance dimensions. In addition, individual states implement their own sustainable development strategies, within which they define sub-goals for individual areas of interest.

However, sustainable development cannot be achieved by governments alone. Transparency, understood not only as sufficient information about the decision-making processes, but also as the quality and comprehensibility of data, is a necessary condition for the establishment of SD policies. The basis of these policies must be the results of high-quality scientific knowledge, but also participation, i.e. the involvement of key actors and the public that would have enough high-quality information. The participation of various stakeholders in decision-making processes has been a central principle of sustainable development since the concept was created.

Participation and active dialogue with stakeholders in the sustainability management process contribute primarily to the identification of goals and targets. Stakeholders are enabled to co-produce policies and measures needed to achieve the objectives as well as identify actions needed to change unsustainable practices and behaviors. As co-creators of SD policies, stakeholders can also be involved in monitoring and reviewing processes in the form of ‘joint guardians’ and ‘watchdogs of progress’.

Among the benefits of stakeholder engagement, most experts name the following:

  • it leads to more effective work and production of better results by decision-makers;
  • it can improve the likelihood of equity in decision-making and provide solutions for conflict situations;
  • it allows the ideas to be tried, tested, and refined before adoption.

Successful and effective stakeholder engagement requires the following things among many others: active listening, openness, dialogue, resources, integration and collaboration, leadership commitment, understanding of needs, systemic thinking, and the ability to deal with environmental and market volatility. 

When creating new or updating existing policies, it is necessary to establish an expert team to lead participation efforts. This team will first proceed stakeholder mapping. For each field of human activity, it is necessary to determine the key organizations and state administration bodies that deal with the given agenda. Representatives of these organizations are subsequently invited to participate in participatory meetings, the aim of which is usually to determine or update the main priorities of sustainable development for the next decade.

The participation expert team is tasked with establishing a schedule and creating the script for participatory meetings so that effective data collection takes place. Knowledge of adequate participation and facilitation methods is therefore a prerequisite. Since participation is primarily about data, the output of each meeting must be a high-quality report that records the results of the discussion and all relevant observations.

Only with the engagement of all key actors is it possible to set conscious and informed goals for the further development of our society and the planet. Therefore, stakeholder participation is an essential part of the sustainable development agenda.

Do you want to learn more about stakeholder participation? Feel free to reach out!