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Process Model - Initiating

Setting up constitutes the beginning phase of any MSP. It’s here that the reasons, focus and direction are explored and initial decisions are made on whether or not to proceed with the initiative.  The importance of ‘setting up’ is often overlooked due to well-intentioned haste or the pressures placed on groups to respond to urgent issues. The way an MSP is set up can spell success or failure for the initiative right from the start.


1 - Clarify the reasons for an MSP

Examining why a particular group of stakeholders wants to engage in some form of MSP is a critical first step. It is important to ask:

  • What are the motivating factors?
  • What drives people? What are their major concerns? 
  • How will an MSP enhance what is already being done? 
  • Is it worth the effort?

It is very important that all the key stakeholders and the wider community are involved in the process of clarifying the reasons for an MSP. The process of developing a shared vision needs to start right at the beginning. This does not mean that the stakeholders have diverse interests; as long as the common objective is clear and shared, the MSP could build itself. 

Being clear about your purpose is fundamental to knowing what sort of institutional arrangements will be needed, who will need to be involved, what planning processes will be needed, what resources must be secured, and what the priorities should be.

Beware of the development of a ‘cargo cult’ mentality (becoming involved just to access funding) amongst participants. It is important to focus on real needs and priorities and how to utilise available resources effectively. While external resources will often be critical, do not develop an initiative just to chase program funding.


2 - Undertake initial situation analysis (stakeholders, issues, institutions, power and politics)

Early on you need to understand the regional and wider environmental, economic, political and funding environment in which you are operating. Of particular importance is undertaking an initial stakeholder and institutional analysis. As a prelude to more detailed planning it is important to explore how change has occurred, why different things are the way they are, and why groups and individuals hold their particular perspectives. Trends, key local information and historical changes, as well as a greater understanding of why the community may be reticent, even hostile to ‘opportunities for consultation’, can be gleaned from examining all relevant (written and verbal) information sources. The context for a MSP is not isolated. It can be affected by markets, politics, technology, people, programs and policies both within and beyond boundary of the MSP. Your MSP in turn may influence activities and policies outside its boundaries.

If done well, the ‘setting up’ phase contributes significantly to the group’s development: a shared understanding is gained of the history and background to situation and problems / goals of the stakeholders.

  • Determine what processes have been used previously in your region (e.g. to gain community input). Which ones were successful? Don’t blunder in and repeat mistakes of the past.
  • In many areas, considerable discussion, work, trials, consultation, mapping, review, data-gathering and analysis have already been done. This is your chance to use and build on — not duplicate - existing strategies, initiatives, studies and information. Pull it all together, line it up and decide which bits are critical for you. 
  • Identify the gaps in data/information. Determine what else you need and who has responsibility for getting it. 
  • Learn from history - locally, regionally, your region, other places. 
  • It is important to become familiar with various relevant policies, strategies programs and projects.  Often these are informed by trends and research which you may not have access to. 
  • Clarify (where possible) the trends that are evident in relation to: civic participation, demographics, technology, skills and extent of the labour force, available work, expressed values and concerns, family and relationships, economic and market, institutional, communication, natural resources management ( search the web)
  • Develop a summary of the situation and communicate this with the key stakeholders. This will assist stakeholders to improve their awareness of the context.
  • Map the stakeholders & repeat this mapping regularly: 
    • Determine which stakeholders are key/critical to the success of your MSP and/or are working to achieve similar outcomes. 
    • Determine how best to enroll them, influence them and work with them. 
    • Determine who are the blockers, the floaters and the movers. 
    • Determine what role they have in which phase of the process: inform, consult & collaborate
    • Determine who has informal & formal power.


3 - Establish an interim steering body

To get an MSP off the ground will usually require an interim steering body or activation committee. Considering it as ‘interim’ often enables things to get started by removing some of the politics about control and concerns about being ‘stuck with all the responsibility’.

Beginning with interim management gives you a chance to see how things develop and then make a more informed decision as to the final coordination and management responsibilities. It also enables you to be more flexible in responding to the distinctions between planning and implementing. 

  • What type of body is appropriate? Don’t confuse an ‘advisory body’ with a ‘management body’ - members often grow weary and withdraw if their well-considered advice is constantly ignored. You need to be sure you are not just ‘placating’.
  • Who will be part of this steering body? How do you or the stakeholders choose? Take care or make use of the power, gender and ranking dynamics between the stakeholders.
  • Ask around — study other MSPs. See what structure best suits your needs and focus. Consider how a structure can be modified to best suit your needs. 
  • Clearly determine and communicate the responsibility, role and expected life of the interim steering body.


4 - Build stakeholders support

Right at the beginning it is critical to start building community support. The key is to involve people at the start; this enables them to build the vision, assume high levels of involvement and develop ownership. MSPs require significant support from many different players. Stakeholders need to be confident that not only are their concerns and suggestions being listened to and considered, but that the MSP will deliver for the whole community and not just for a few people who have gained influence or who have more power the others.

Being open and inclusive also reduces the possibility of being undermined later on by those who were not involved from the start. Commitment from stakeholders and ownership of the process are essential for success. A few key factors to consider are:

  • Cast your net wide (residents, community groups, grower/industry groups, local government, regional bodies, enterprise centres, economic think-tanks, business, corporate).
  • Publicize the intent of the MSP. Actively and consistently welcome contributions and comment. 
  • Involve the right level. Insure that the people involved are at the right level to commit their organisation. 
  • Spread the knowledge. Get each person already involved to discuss the proposed development of a MSP with ten others (business, government, friends, family, community groups) over the next fortnight 
  • Involve stakeholders at the earliest opportunity to enable them to influence the objectives and activities of the process.
  • Organise true participation. Listen to stakeholders. Take notice. Demonstrate that you have listened and incorporated their concerns, understandings and suggestions. Ensure that everyone feels there is space for their ideas and concerns to be heard and taken on board. Keep expectations realistic though. Review the process with stakeholders regularly and make changes to overcome emerging problems.
  • Consider carefully the influence or independence of stakeholders and look also outside the region.
  • Determine stakeholder communications. Those directly involved as well as a wider network of stakeholders need to be kept informed — consider a variety of events and methods to keep informing everybody. Communicate clearly with all involved about progress and successes.
  • Ensure well facilitated processes that achieve results within an agreed timeframe. Focus on tangible results and early “wins”. 
  • Ensure commitment to shared responsibilities for implementing and funding agreed follow-up activities. Reimburse people appropriately for time and costs incurred.

Those initiating and organising multi-stakeholder processes need to realise that this is just one of many other things people are involved in and to which they are committed. Sometimes it may be necessary to go ahead with less than ideal levels of participation.


5 - Establish the scope, mandate and stakeholder expectations

With key relevant stakeholders it is important to reach consensus early on about the boundaries of the MSP.  It is easy for the scope of the MSP to become so wide that little can be achieved.  It is also very important to understand the mandate for the MSP.  Is the MSP officially sanctioned by government? Are different stakeholder groups supportive of the idea?  Do some groups see the process as legitimate and other groups not? Why?

In a complex multi-stakeholder situation it is easy for very different interpretations and expectations to evolve amongst the different groups.  While this difficulty can often never be fully overcome the more effort that goes into reaching some shared initially understanding the better.

Of course it must always be recognised that as a MSP proceeds the scope and mandate may well change. If it does, once again it is important for this to be explicit and for it to be understood by the stakeholders involved.

With many different stakeholders involved, all with potentially different interests try to ensure that expectations are as clear as possible and widely shard and understood.  Poorly defined expectations at the start can be a major source of conflict later on in the process.


6 - Outline the process, time frame, institutional requirements and resource needs

In the setting-up stage it is important to be as clear as possible about the overall process and time frame of the MSP and about the institutional requirements.  Also the principles of the MSP should be shared and monitored together. The different stakeholders need to know what sort of meeting, workshops and committees will be held and when.  The process must be transparent so that feelings of being manipulated don’t emerge.

Ensure that your chosen structure will maintain your independence whilst providing opportunities for productive partnerships.


Checklist of principles which should underpin MSP and institutional arrangements

Striving for...Explanation 
Sustainabilityas a central goal, including taking a precautionary approach so as not to diminish opportunities for future generations; also recognising the pre-eminent importance of ecological processes upon which communities and economies ultimately depend
Equityfor its own sake, but also as a means of reducing conflict
Inclusiveness and participationencouraging a high level of diverse stakeholder representation, involvement and ownership; participatory process that is clear, genuine, predictable and maintained over time — recognising that ‘participation’ is a highly complex matter
Accountabilityof all empowered participants to their constituents: i.e. to whom is the institution accountable? In practice, how is this accountability evidenced?
Effectivenessof the processes to really make a difference: i.e. does the capacity match the intent?
Efficiencyof the processes: i.e. do the ends (outcomes) justify the means (costs, trade-offs, time, dollars)? Also, has there been, or is there, unnecessary duplication?
Durabilityrelative to short-lived or ad hoc initiatives: i.e. has the institution had, or is likely to have, sufficient longevity to persist, experiment, learn and adapt, relative to short-lived or ad hoc initiatives?