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NWO Shifts in Governance research project on Partnerships for Sustainable Development

The shift from decision-making by governments towards the increasing inclusion of non-state actors has long been observed at the national level, and it stands at the cen­tre of the recent debate on ‘global governance’, which empha­sises the growing in­volvement of private actors, both profit and non-profit, in global standard-setting and standard-implementa­tion. A substantial literature has analysed the political role of nongovernmental advocacy groups, major firms and business associations, scientists and epistemic communities, and ‘public non-state actors’ such as intergovernmental organisations. An increasing number of studies also address public-private and pri­vate-private governance arrange­ments at the global level, for example regarding global advocacy coalitions, global public policy networks, or joint private-private standard-setting bodies such as the Marine Stewardship Council. This litera­ture builds, however, largely on single-disciplinary case-study research by indi­vidual re­searchers, with case-study selection often influenced by practical considera­tions or flawed through case-selection on the dependent variable, in particular when only ‘success sto­ries’ are chosen. A key problem has been the empirical scarcity of the few examples of public-private and pri­vate-pri­vate governance arrange­ments in most issue areas of global governance, which has limited the poten­tial for cross-case comparison.

This empirical situation is now changing with the fresh impetus that the 2002 Johan­nes­burg World Sum­mit on Sustainable Development has given to the idea of mul­tisectoral partnerships—the so-called Partnerships for Sustainable Development. These partnerships were supported in the Plan of Implementation agreed in Johannes­burg, with over 220 partnerships with 235 million US dollars committed already be­fore the summit. These new multisectoral partnerships usually bring together govern­ments, non-governmental organisations and the private sector; in contrast to the tradi­tional outcomes of international summits such as intergovernmental treaties or decla­rations, they are also known as the ‘type 2’ outcomes of the summit.

More than four hundred of such partnerships have been announced so far, of which 350 have been formally registered with the United Nations Commission on Sustain­able Development. This offers social sci­entists interested in understanding nongov­ernmental forms of global governance a unique opportunity to capitalise on new, ex­tensive, and comparable empirical material. The partnership project hosted by the Department of Environmental Policy Analysis at the Free University of Amsterdam is interested in three interrelated questions: first, under what conditions do partnership arrangements emerge in global sustainability politics and in how far are they an answer to problems of decreasing state capacity to solve border-spanning environmental problems? Second, what determines their effectiveness and what generic mechanisms of influence can be observed? And finally, how do partnerships perform in terms of democratic legitimacy and accountability? To answer these questions, the research project will utilise both large-n studies based on a partnership database as well as in-depth qualitative case studies using a semi-structured interview approach.


Philipp Pattberg
Frank Biermann 
Sander Chan
Aysem Mert
Kenneth Bergsli Hansen

Key Publications

Partnerships, Governance and Sustainable Development

Partnerships, Governance and Sustainable Development - Reflections on Theory and Practice, edited by Pieter Glasbergen, Frank Biermann and Arthur P.J. Mol

Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development

Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development. Emergence, Influence and Legitimacy, edited by Philipp Pattberg, Frank Biermann, Sander Chan and Ayşem Mert.