Despite the proliferation of MSIs over the past two decades, understanding of their internal and external political dynamics, operations, and impacts remains limited and fragmented. To date, academic efforts to research MSIs have been ad hoc and small-scale, largely conducted by individual academics within disciplinary silos. The political function and dynamics of MSIs also remain under-researched, even as many of these initiatives have become significant sites of contention between civil society, governments, and the private sector. In addition, research on MSI functioning has yet to concretely integrate perspectives on MSI functioning from the communities and individuals whose rights and well-being MSIs are intended to address. This fragmentation inhibits the capacity for MSIs to develop as robust and effective global accountability initiatives.

To close this knowledge gap, MSI Integrity has partnered with the John Parke Young Initiative on the Global Economy at Occidental College and the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School to launch a Global Research Network on MSIs. The Research Network brings together academics, applied researchers, and MSI practitioners to deepen academic engagement with multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) as governance mechanisms for the private sector. The initiative will host conferences, facilitate collaboration over research agendas, and support robust empirical research on the politics, impacts, and evolution of MSIs.

This academic research network focuses on four workstreams: 

(1) Conducting research on the global landscape of MSIs, such as mapping the global landscape of MSIs and publishing comparative data on MSI design, standards, and governance;

(2) Convening a community of thought and practice around MSIs through a series of academic convenings. The first convening was hosted by the John Parke Young Initiative at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California in April 2017. Future convenings are expected to rotate between Global North and Global South institutions on alternate years;

(3) Supporting the evolution of a multi-disciplinary research agenda that poses important questions regarding the form, function, and impact of MSIs, and coordinating publication of research;

(4) Facilitating research into MSIs by building research networks and connecting researchers with funding sources, MSI practitioners, civil society organizations, and affected communities.

The development of the research network is led by a Steering Committee of leading scholars and practitioners. As of 2017 the research network included the following members: 

Sanjeev Khagram, Co-Chair, Occidental College/John Parke Young Initiative
Deval Desai, Co-Chair, Harvard Law School Human Rights Program
Jaff Bamenjo, RELUFA – Cameroon
Ben Collins, MSI Integrity
Ann Florini, Singapore Management University, Brookings Institution
Josua Loots, University of Pretoria
Cielo Magno, University of Philippines School of Economics
Anita Ramasastry, University of Washington
Martijn Scheltema, Erasmus University
Mariëtte van Huijstee, SOMO
Claret Vargas, De Justicia, Stanford University
Stepan Wood, York University