What is Important when Working with Multiple Stakeholders?

The purpose of the Collective Leadership Compass is to guide leaders in advancing transformative collective action for sustainability in complex, often cross-sector and nonhierarchical multi-stakeholder initiatives. Working with the Compass  in planning, implementing, and evaluating change initiatives, helps actors shift into a systemic mode of navigating complex change.  A group of collaborating cross-institutional actors exhibits collective leadership  when they are capable of catalyzing systemic change for the common good. Since 2015, when the Sustainable Development Goals were agreed at UN level, many multi-stakeholder initiatives emerged, globally and locally. It has become increasingly clear that sustainability challenges can only be addressed in collaboration with multiple actors, no matter if the issues relate to climate change, biodiversity loss, water scarcity or sustainable agriculture. Yet, it is important to consider that multi-stakeholder settings are different from organization change

  • Complex change endeavors in multi-actor settings are too often geared toward an outer change with regard to sustainability. This is certainly most often the case in the implementation of the SDGs. They focus on solving a problem or finding new solutions with regard to a certain issue of common concern. Little attention is placed on the process of how individuals and collectives bring about the envisioned future together in interaction. The Compass supports the awareness of how co-creative processes become constructive, for example in sustainable value chains
  • Multi-stakeholder collaboration takes place in a rational issue-based environment and is most often seen as a technical implementation challenge only. Yet when it fails, and results are difficult to achieve, the failure can most often be traced back to non-rational aspects like trust, misunderstanding, pressure, or disrespect. The Compass as a guiding model helps actors to pay attention to these human factors. It integrates rational and non-rational aspects in the planning, implementing, and evaluation of projects and initiatives.
  • The urgency of addressing sustainability issues often leaves too little time for extensive joint reflection between the protagonists of change. Although it is obvious that, like all other leadership challenges, navigating change in multi-actor settings requires reflection, this rarely takes place collectively. The Compass as a guiding model functions both at an outer level by enhancing concrete actions that make a collaboration system operational and at a deeper, more reflective level of fostering the cohesiveness and effectiveness of the collaboration system. It also encourages both personal and collective reflections.
  • Complex challenges around sustainability issues require collective action responses in multi-actor settings which in themselves are complex. The Compass as a guiding model for multi-stakeholder collaboration reflects the complexity of the tasks and settings but is at the same time practical and action-oriented.

The application of the Compass  in complex sustainability initiatives has demonstrated that, if the six competencies were enacted and consciously attended to, more constructive collaboration patterns emerged. People were more forthcoming, conflicts could be laid to rest with an acknowledgement of difference, and generally collaboration led to better results in less time.

Find out more about leadership as the capacity of a collective in the new Report to the Club of Rome: Stewarding Sustainability Transformations, Chapter 3. The sets the scene for understanding transformative change in the context of sustainability as a stewarding task and a collective leadership challenge.

Or take a deep dive into the application of collective leadership by reading The Art of Leading Collectively.

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