Research Workshop on Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives at Occidental College: Introducing the Global MSI Research Network

Last month, the John Parke Young Initiative on the Global Economy at Occidental College, the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program, and MSI Integrity hosted academics and practitioners for a research workshop on multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs). Through research presentations and interactive discussions, participants reflected on what we know—and still don’t know—about the political dynamics, effectiveness, and impact of MSIs two decades after their emergence in the global governance field. The event also launched a new Global Research Network on MSIs to foster discussion and collaboration among academics, applied researchers, and practitioners on the institutional design, governance, and effectiveness challenges facing MSIs.

Participants in the two-day workshop included researchers and current and past leaders of MSIs from thirteen countries on five continents. A central goal of the workshop was to bring practitioners and researchers into dialogue about key unresolved questions about the role of MSIs in addressing global human rights, environmental, and governance challenges.

Highlights from the workshop included:

  • Perspectives from current and former leaders of MSIs – The opening panel traced the emergence of MSIs and other “Global Action Networks” following the end of the Cold War. Panelists, who included current and former heads of the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency, ICANN, and the Global Reporting Initiative also reflected on the challenges and questions they have faced as leaders of MSIs.
  • Critical reflection on MSI effectiveness – Multiple panel discussions addressed the promise, impact, and shortcomings of initiatives ranging from the International Code of Conduct Association and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights to the Fair Food Program and Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. As these and other MSIs have become an important part of the global governance conversation, participants discussed how best to measure their effectiveness and impact in the context of business and human rights and sustainable development.
  • Analysis of power dynamics in MSIs – Discussants grappled with the question of how MSI participants succeed—and sometimes fail—to work together effectively on issues that are often highly contentious. These power dynamics have proven to be particularly acute across the global North-South divide and between stakeholder groups within MSIs—such as industry, government, civil society, and industry-affected populations.

MSI Integrity was excited to work with participants and the workshop hosts at Occidental College’s John Parke Young Initiative. We plan to continue and broaden the discussions on MSIs that began at the workshop later this year and into 2018. In collaboration with workshop participants and our global steering committee, we will be working to expand the Global Research Network on MSIs to support continued engagement between MSI practitioners and researchers across research disciplines.

Interested researchers and MSI stakeholders who would like to stay updated about future events and other research network news are invited to contact us at to join the network’s email list.


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