Gaining Focus: Stakeholder discussions on MSI effectiveness

Over the last few months, MSI Integrity has participated in a range of different discussions that all came back to the same theme: the effectiveness of MSIs. Participating in these dialogues—coordinated by organizations that ranged from universities to donor collaboratives to scientific communities—has made it clear that stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds are converging around the need to answer the very questions that MSI Integrity was established to research: whether, how, and when MSIs can be effective at addressing human rights issues.

While it may sound unbelievable now, this marks a sea-change from when MSI Integrity was first launched. It signals a willingness of stakeholders to use a more critical eye towards ensuring that existing efforts to protect human rights are, in fact, working. We hope these conversations prompt MSIs to openly work with independent researchers and organizations interested in assessing the effectiveness and impact of MSIs on the ground, as well as to encourage researchers and stakeholders to start to work cohesively on understanding what makes MSIs effective.

Recent conversations and upcoming reports on MSI effectiveness

Earlier this year, MSI Integrity participated in a workshop convened by the University of Denver and the Sie Center for International Security and Diplomacy. The workshop report that was released last month details the vibrant discussion about many complex questions that MSI Integrity has been posing about MSIs, such as:

  • What’s the effect of having numerous MSIs addressing a particular indutry or issue? Does it create an upward race to improving that issue/industry, or does it risk creating confusion and therefore watering down efforts to address the issue/industry?
  • How can MSIs set global standards that thoughtfully address the concerns of actors at different local levels?
  • How can MSIs better engage and involve affected communities?
  • How can we measure the effectiveness and impact of MSIs?

The Transparency and Accountability Initiative hosted a workshop looking at MSI effectiveness in February 2015, building upon discussions at Wilton Park in 2014 on the same topic. The workshop focused on public governance MSIs, and presented preliminary findings of a study into the current evidence relating to the effectiveness of MSIs that is due out in final form next week. The preliminary findings highlighted the lack of evidence currently available about the effectiveness of public governance MSIs, a trend that we believe holds true for other types of MSIs as well. The effectiveness of MSIs was also discussed by a panel MSI Integrity participated in at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Human Rights Coalition Meeting in July 2015, along with hopes that scientists would contribute to methodologies to assess their impact.

Next steps: turning questions into answers

Asking questions about effectiveness and impact (and understanding the difference between these two concepts) is only the beginning. Obtaining answers to those questions will require, to begin:

  1. Comprehensive and intensive independent research, evaluations, and assessments of impact;
  2. A willingness from MSIs and stakeholders to participate in research and to critically reflect on their outcomes and impacts; and,
  3. An open and wide discussion of findings.

We hope the release of our pilot MSI evaluations and MSI Evaluation Tool will be first steps towards enhancing critical thinking on MSI effectiveness, and that they will be read and used by MSIs, researchers, and other stakeholders. However, the research and effort required is too much for any single institution. To address this, we are spearheading a new effort to discuss and coordinate academic research into MSIs: more details will be available soon.

By collating and sharing research findings, providing evaluative tools, and spearheading new assessments into the impact of MSIs on the ground, we hope in the future that questions about the effectiveness of MSIs are not only asked, but answered.

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