By Dr. Gilbert Probst and Dr. Andrea M. Bassi
In today’s complex systems, in which the dominant dynamics may be beyond our control, it is essential to build strong relationships if organizations are to achieve desired results.
Everyone needs to contribute solutions for complex problems such as global warming, poverty, unemployment, etc. Many different, independent variables create these complex problems. Therefore, multi-dimensional approaches and diverse points of view are required to understand these problems and to take actions to overcome them.
Identify Stakeholders, Causes and Impacts
Neither humans nor organizations have a magic wand to make the world a better place. Their collaborative efforts can, however, produce outstanding outcomes. These partnerships can provide economic, social and environmental benefits in the long run and in the short run.
In order to tackle complexity, we should first avoid focusing solely on the problem and try to maximize the system performance by taking the various possible causes and impacts of a problem into consideration.
If we don’t, we may exclude important actors from the solution process and limit the effectiveness of our actions. Systemic decision-making brings different stakeholders and their contributions together, thus creating a diversity of opinions and an opportunity to anticipate all possible challenges.
The UNDP Guyana Low Carbon Emission Strategy
The UNDP Guyana Low Carbon Emission Strategy, developed by a multi-stakeholder steering committee is one such example. The steering committee was composed of agents from different levels, sectors, and interests – including the World Wildlife Fund [WWF], the Ministry of Agriculture, the Forest Producers Association, and indigenous group associations – enabling better decision making and tackle local issues better because of the different perspectives involved.
Each stakeholder brings different assets to the table, generally unique to that stakeholder. Companies, for example, have financial means, while NGOs have local knowledge and the power that comes from working with volunteers.
These entities also have different human resource capacities and knowledge. NGOs cannot replace companies, nor companies NGOs – all the parts of the puzzle are required to complete it. Each partner needs the other’s resources and knowledge.
Partnerships have therefore become more important. Not surprisingly, the number of partnerships is also on the rise. The research and work done at the Public-Private Partnerships Research Center at the University of Geneva have focused on this growth and mutual dependence.
Overcoming Barriers to Partnerships
However, history has also shown that partnerships aimed at tackling complexity aren’t easily formed because of the disparity between partners’ goals, organizational structures, cultures, etc.
To overcome these differences, stakeholders should first agree on the general rules, goals, and tools. It is very important to have a mutual understanding and to build trust. Thereafter, roles and responsibilities should be allocated.
In addition, the decision-making process should involve participants from different levels (international, national, regional), different sectors (economic, social, environmental) with different interests (public, private, civil society). All the relevant stakeholders should be part of each step in the decision-making process.
The Madrasati Initiative
Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan established the Madrasati Initiative, a good example of a multi-stakeholder perspective on tackling complexity. The aim of the initiative is to ensure that all the stakeholders involved in the education sector share responsibility for it.
In one of their projects – the Husban School – they collaborated with Toyota. In the first stage, they defined clear roles and responsibilities for the different stakeholders, which prevented them from perceiving Toyota as the “fairy godfather” who would provide everything without expecting them to shoulder responsibilities. This project, with its different perspectives, was a success and provided beneficial outcomes on all societal levels.
Making effective decisions on complex problems implies using multi-stakeholder approaches to find a balanced and an inclusive strategy. It’s not easy but with the right partner and a balanced effort, much can be achieved.
About the Authors:
Dr. Andrea M. Bassi is the founder and CEO of KnowlEdge Srl, a consulting company exploring socio-economic and environmental complexity to inform decision making for sustainability. He is also an Extraordinary Professor at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. In his work Dr. Bassi is a project leader and researcher with over 10 years of experience supporting more than 20 governments, several international organizations and business leaders primarily on green economy and green growth strategies, action plans for resilience and risk mitigation, and sustainable development planning.
Gilbert Probst is Managing Director, Leadership Office and Academic Affairs, and Dean of the Global Leadership Fellows Program at the World Economic Forum. He is also a full professor for organizational behavior and management and Co-director of the Executive-MBA program at HEC, University of Geneva, Switzerland. He served as the president of the board of Swiss Top Executive Training (SKU), the Swiss Board Institute and as a member of the board of the Swiss Management Society.