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.