Reclaiming the Multistakeholder Approach

//Annenberg School for Communication PhD student Katerina Girginova discusses the origin and usage of the term multistakeholderism, as well as how the term could be reclaimed.

Multistakeholderism has become a staple concept in internet policy discourse. Too often, however, it is uncritically applied, which either leads to its ineffective adoption or to its outright dismissal. This blog argues that in both cases multistakeholderism is used as an oversimplified heuristic, which has become descriptive in nature rather than analytical. In an attempt to reclaim multistakeholderism as a critical and practical tool, this blog first explores the origins and evolution of the concept, paying close attention to its normative assumptions and promises. It then teases out a suggestion for how the idea of multistakeholders can be applied inquisitively rather than descriptively in policy contexts.

When did the term originate?

Multistakeholderism is the grandchild of stakeholder theory, or stakeholderism. Briefly, a stakeholder is “any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the firm’s objectives (Freeman, 1984, p. 25).” Stakeholderism has its roots embedded in an industrial core; one of the first international bodies “to recognize the role of relevant stakeholders was the International Labor Organization (ILO), which in 1919 set a model for tripartite representation from governments, employers and unions (Hemmati, 2002, p. 36).” Similarly, some of the earliest academic works mentioning stakeholders emanate from…

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