Power, politics and participation in multi-stakeholder processes

A tale of two Brazilian states leads us to really useful tops to design meaningful, inclusive platforms for transformation.
Read at CIFOR-ICRAF’S Forests News

Participatory processes do not guarantee equality, as the interactions within them and in the wider contexts where they are enacted are shaped by power relations that define what kinds of actions are possible,

CIFOR-ICRAF scientists Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti, Anne Larson, and Nicole Heise Vigil in a 2021 study on how and why organisers plan their MSPs.

Here’s a cautionary tale for MSF convenors

In the 1990s and early 2000s – in response to calls for participatory land-use planning and concerns about deforestation – Brazil’s state governments began to carry out Ecological-Economic Zoning (ZEE in Portuguese) processes with the aim of collectively laying out land-use plans that were inclusive and sustainable. These processes were mandated to be developed and implemented using multi-stakeholder participatory mechanisms.

The two ended up with very different results, as described in this paper.

Acre and Mato Grosso are two landlocked Brazilian states, both of which contain part of the Amazonian rainforest. Acre’s ZEE map, completed in 2007, was widely hailed for advancing collective benefits and sustainability. For Mato Grosso, in contrast, the ZEE process was disastrous: it reflected deep-seated social and political conflicts, and to this day the state does not have a ZEE map, despite a number of valiant attempts by different parties to develop one. So, why did the two processes, which fell under the same federal mandate, turn out so differently?

This excellent article from CIFOR-ICRAF’s Forests News, not only outlines the different results and reasons behind them, but also provides links to really useful tools and resources to enable you to design and implement a multi-stakeholder process that’s far more like that of Acre, “widely hailed for advancing collective benefits and sustainability”, than of Mato Grosso, where “the ZEE process was disastrous: it reflected deep-seated social and political conflicts, and to this day the state does not have a ZEE map, despite a number of valiant attempts by different parties to develop one.”

… a lively living being, consistent with the identity of the populations living in the managed territory.

Acre government’s description of the map-making process after the addition of a cultural-political axis or ‘ethno-zoning’

Want to emulate that success in your own MSF?

Researchers and others at the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), along with partners in diverse organisations and locations around the world, have been exploring how MSFs might better achieve their goals in the future, within their Governance, Equity and Wellbeing programme. They’ve found a number of conceptual and practical measures to better take these social dimensions into account.

Find out more in this short video:

Practical fact sheets designed for you

To support participants and implementers in this multifaceted process of making MSPs more equitable and effective, CIFOR-ICRAF has produced a series of simple, accessible infosheets and ‘how-to’ guides. “We often take too much for granted in MSPs,” says author Anne Larson. “Some considerations are simple – like changing where the platform is held, or adjusting seating arrangements; and some require deeper strategic thinking. Our research has unearthed a host of practical steps that convenors can take to help empower marginalised stakeholders and create lasting impact.”

Click any image below to download its factsheet pdf.

¿Cómo vamos? A tool to support more equitable co-management of Peru’s protected areas

This brief presents the findings of an assessment conducted in Peru to understand and verify the adoption, outcomes, and potential impacts of the participatory reflective monitoring tool called "¿Cómo vamos?" (How are we doing?) in multistakeholder forums (MSFs). MSFs are recognized as a means of fostering transformative change to address the environmental and social impacts of the climate crisis. In Peru, the Protected Areas Service (SERNANP) mandates the establishment of MSFs or management committees (MCs) involving various stakeholders in the management of protected areas. The tool was co-developed and tested by CIFOR and SERNANP with eight MCs. The positive reception and interest in the tool led SERNANP to publish it as an official document and require its annual implementation by the MCs of its 75 protected areas. This assessment provides insights into the adoption, outcomes, and potential impacts of the tool in Peru.

Introduction – Multi-stakeholder forums and the promise of more equitable and sustainable land and resource use: perspectives from Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Peru

This Special Issue of the International Forestry Review presents a multi-country comparative research project by CIFOR, exploring the potential of multi-stakeholder forums (MSFs) as participatory mechanisms for sustainable land and resource use. The seven papers analyse power inequalities inherent in MSFs and discuss their capacity for equitable decision-making. While approaching MSFs from different perspectives, the papers emphasize the need for transformative MSFs that go beyond mere participation to achieve meaningful change.
Download from CIFOR

The role of multi-stakeholder forums in subnational jurisdictions: Framing literature review for in-depth field research

Drawing on 30+ years of experience, this Literature Review informs CIFOR's research on multi-stakeholder forums addressing land use in Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Peru. It explores the potential of MSFs to coordinate goals effectively while cautioning against token participation and aims to contribute to the study of participatory processes in the context of climate change.
Published by CIFOR

Trust building in a multi-stakeholder forum in Jambi, Indonesia

Liswanti et al. examine trust in multi-stakeholder forums (MSFs) through a literature review and Q-methodology analysis, finding that effective cooperation, unbiased facilitation, and a shared vision foster trust and contribute to the success of MSFs.
Download from CIFOR

Organizing for transformation? How and why organizers plan their multi-stakeholder forums

This article investigates the alignment of multi-stakeholder forum (MSF) organizers' plans and expectations with previous lessons on "invited spaces" regarding power relations and contextual considerations. Analysing 13 subnational MSFs in Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Peru, the study reveals that while organizers aimed to include historically disempowered groups, they often overlooked addressing power inequalities and lacked strategies to engage with unsustainable local development and political priorities.
Download from CIFOR

Designing for engagement: Insights for more equitable and resilient multi-stakeholder forums

A literature review that looks closely at the importance of engagement, allowing all actors to build trust and respect to ensure an approach that can lead to equitable outcomes.
Published by CIFOR

Home on the range

Our Kenyan project's lead organisation, the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), has long experience with conservation through communities, which will have considerable relevance to other conservation-oriented projects in the LFF programme. 

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: E4Impact’s Chebet Cheruiyot, centre, with entrepreneurs Maiamu Kamasial and Nasha Bagiriani. | RangER’s vision. | Tree seedling recipients. | Net-Mapping exercise with project leads. | Kim Geheb, LFF Central Component coordinator, Net-Mapping with local community women. | NRT’s Aloise Nitira, ICRAF’s Eric Wanjira and LFF’s Kim Geheb inspect the new Nasuulu farm pond. | Virginia Wahome presents an overview of the work of the Amaya Triangle Initiative.

We couldn’t have asked for a warmer – or more accommodating – welcome than the one we received in April in magical Kenya, when the RangER (Kenya Rangelands Ecosystem Services pRoductivity) Programme hosted members of the Central Component on our first learning mission.

Since four of the five mission team members are based in Nairobi and ICRAF is one of the project partners, RangER was an obvious choice for our first trip, aimed at informing and adapting our Learning Strategy and Protocol. Aloise Naitira, RangER’s programme lead, accommodated our needs admirably with a three-day agenda that included a combination of bi-lateral interviews with project teams, a Net-Mapping exercise to discuss stakeholder engagement and power dynamics, presentations and discussion on the project’s theory of change, and field visits to a newly-built surface run-off pond and the hand-over of trees to one of the communities. 

About RangER

We quickly discovered that ameliorating communal conflict in the area is one of RangER’s major goals, which identifies a clear relationship between livelihoods, environmental degradation and drought (or, at least, reduced access to natural resources), and conflict in the Amaya Triangle, a mosaic of savanna grasslands, shrublands and woodlands to the north of Mount Kenya. 

Traditional pastoralist communities living in the region are among the most marginalized and poorly served groups in Kenya, living within a highly degraded landscape and facing high levels of poverty and threats from conflict. Key wildlife and pastoralist grazing corridors connect the four participating counties  – Baringo, Laikipia, Samburu and Isiolo – at a landscape level, with livestock and wildlife transiting to the Aberdare mountain range to the southwest and Mount Kenya to the east, especially during drought years.

The area hosts private and community conservancies which support both livestock production and wildlife conservation. Increasing changes in land use away from pastoralist rangeland to crop production and settlements have resulted in clusters of problems around insecurity, resource conflicts, poverty, food insecurity, social exclusion, and severe degradation of natural resources. Frequent droughts and climate change coupled with human and livestock population growth have exacerbated this situation.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Typical pastoralist scenery: herder and cattle on the move. | Honey entrepreneur Samuel Kipyo. | Isiolo market chairman Abdi Hallake. | Drought conditions around the Nasuulu farm pond. | First greenery after the rains at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, home to NRT’s headquarters.

We learned…

One  of the core activity areas of the Central Component is systematizing the knowledge and lessons generated from the implementation of the 22 ILM projects in our programme. Our learning visits are intended to yield answers to 32 targeted questions on ILM readiness and implementation. 

RangER’s lead organisation, the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), has long experience with conservation through communities, which will have considerable relevance to other conservation-oriented projects in the LFF programme. Here’s a sample of our findings about the project they lead, centred around the six ‘characteristics’ of ILM we have identified. 

Stakeholder Identification
Stakeholder identification

The project’s Theory of Change (ToC) was presented by Dr Clifford Obiero from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, a key partner in the project. The ToC is dependent on the Northern Rangelands Trust’s (NRT) ‘community conservancy model’ – which “has been piloted, tested, and proven to achieve multiple objectives working at the nexus of livelihoods, biodiversity conservation and peace/security.” 

NRT defines ‘community conservancy as a “community-owned and community-run institution which aims to improve biodiversity conservation, land management and the livelihoods of its constituents over a defined area of land traditional owned, or used, by that constituent community.”

NRT believes that the long-term success of conservation on community land depends on building strong, well governed community-owned institutions that ensure rights and responsibilities of conservation by local land-owners and equitable benefits to communities from conservation. Community Conservancies develop programmes for peace, livelihoods, conservation and business development; they provide a formal structure for partner engagement and an organized platform and voice for people to manage their common resources. Community Conservancies recognize the coexistence of people, their livelihoods and wildlife and the integration of all these in the management of the land. They do not create ‘hard’ boundaries which separate people from wildlife nor do they exclude other people from using the land.”

Multi-Stakeholder Fora
Multi-stakeholder fora (MSF)

MSF appear to be central to RangER’s systems and approach.

NRT/RangER staff would seem to be very capable facilitators, and the learning mission provided much to suggest that NRT has significant in-house negotiation capacity and convening power. 

Common vision
Common vision 

The outcome described in the project’s logical framework is:

Improved sustainable rangelands ecosystem services productivity through climate smart natural resource management and natural resource-based livelihoods, effective governance, peace and security for both wildlife and people. 

The project aims to achieve these via five results:

  1. Effective governance, wildlife, and human security: Amaya Counties are supported to deepen and build effective governance for adoption of climate smart livelihoods, peace and security.
  2. Co-production of knowledge to guide and inform project interventions: communities are assisted to map degraded hotspots and identify restoration options, undertake land use planning and adopt climate-smart livelihoods.
  3. Deepening and expanding the community conservancy model: communities are assisted to establish/strengthen existing cross-border and multi-ethnic conservancies and adopt climate resilient and ecologically sustainable feed livelihood systems.
  4. Re-designing landscape and promoting feed-and food-security through tree-and natural resource-based livelihood systems: communities will be introduced to different agroforestry and afforestation/reforestation options for feed-and food-security’.
  5. Support to integrated climate resilient and ecologically sustainable feed-and food-security and natural resource-based livelihood systems: support to sustainable county livelihood initiatives.


NRT – and RangER with it – is well institutionalised. The NRT is well resourced, attracts high capacity, and is supported by relatively sophisticated monitoring and decision-support systems. The NRT also enjoys the explicit support of the central government.

Institutionalisation also occurs at lower levels underneath the NRT, in which county government and communities are integrated into the NRT’s programme systems, implementing on behalf of the NRT. It is possible to argue that the NRT has the popularity it does in northern Kenya because many of its objective’s dovetail with those of the counties.

Iterative and adaptive management

The NRT’s project experience suggests that it has well-established systems and processes to enable this.  

Technical solutions and tools
Technical solutions and tools

The project’s knowledge of its biophysical and ecosystem conditions is high. Its in-house and project-based systems for monitoring these trends are well established.

The project includes climate-change-related dimensions, inputs, activities and/or outcomes. The carbon credits raised via grassland seems particularly innovative.


Thanks to this dynamic, hardworking, experienced and committed team, including leads of the project steering committee and county leaders, for sharing your expertise and insights so openly: 

Northern Rangelands Trust: Aloise Naitira, Daniel Njihia , Abdikadir Bagajo and Elijah Waishanguru

Laikipia County: John Orata, George Ndungu, Virginia Wahome and Boniface Thumi

Samburu County: Daniel Lesaigor and Tony Leleruk

Community Safety Initiative: Lekamparish John, Julius Loishopoko, Robin Letunta and Milcah Lenolkurum

E4Impact Foundation: Judy Chebet, Nasha Kitonga and Nolotuesha Nkamasiai

Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT): Robai Liambila and Dr. Clifford Obiero