In an era of 360° communication, where data circulates the blogosphere and bounces between stakeholders, it has become vital to forecast and capture stakeholder concerns upfront. This implies giving stakeholders a voice in the process of reaching solutions and making decisions. That is what multi-stakeholder dialogue is all about.

Why multi-stakeholder dialogue?

• Because the new public sphere – shaped by the internet – encompasses a plurality of voices that express themselves with unmatched speed and at transnational level. The global civil society  is increasingly interconnected. Therefore, the ability to run the gamut of high-tech devices, social media platforms and software applications for proactive stakeholder engagement is paramount to business success.

• Because multi-stakeholder dialogue is a critical means of addressing our most significant global challenges – poverty, education, unemployment, climate change, food security, healthcare accessibility, etc. To tackle them, numerous organisations endorse an multi-stakeholder dialogue-based business model: the Fair Labour Association , GAVI  (vaccines), GAIN  (nutrition), GPE (education), EITI  (revenue transparency), UPFI  (housing), WBCSD  initiatives, or the UN Global Compact itself, and many more. This is evidence of the potential of multi-stakeholder dialogues for instilling a value consensus.

• Because the rules that govern communications have fundamentally changed. Three concepts – accountability, legitimacy and inclusiveness – have gained tremendous importance. All organisations (for profit or non-profit, publicly listed or privately-owned, service or industry-based) impact society while running their day-to-day activities, and therefore all organisations are required to be accountable to society. Similarly, legitimacy is guaranteed only if granted by a majority of stakeholders including the vast ecosystem of influencers who shape opinions on and off-line. Clearly, there is no accountability and legitimacy if there is no stakeholder involvement.

Three tips for securing a multi-stakeholder dialogue 

  1. Run a scoping exercise: the multi-stakeholder dialogue concept implies conversing with all stakeholders, but not necessarily with the same intensity or at the same pace. A sense of hierarchy is needed to allocate the right level of time and resources. This is achieved through careful issue and stakeholder mapping combined with a materiality analysis. Those who have a stake in the organisation’s sustainability should come first.
  2. Juggle multi-facetted and tailored multi-stakeholder dialogue campaigns: they may include perception surveys, polls, webinar series, benchmarks, workshops, research communities networks, grievance mechanisms, public forums, etc. The more tailored to your (stakeholders’) areas of interest they are, the more time and cost-efficient they will be.
  3. Keep your finger on the pulse: a single bout of exercise has limited effects. Consultation efforts must be sustained over time. Continuity is vital to secure a proper understanding of the public opinion landscape and act adequately upon it. In other words, multi-stakeholder dialogue is deemed to be a communication 'routine'.

Multi-stakeholder dialogue plants a seed of trust in stakeholder relationships. It helps take on board various viewpoints, fill opinion gaps and foster ownership of shared strategies and solutions. As such, it has become central to today’s global society and economy, and it provides powerful direction for efficient communications, corporate social responsibility and reputation management.

Marie-Gabrielle Cajoly is the founder of CorporatEngagement, an independent consultancy in communications, corporate social responsibility and philanthropy. She has over 17 years’ experience in positioning corporations for market valuation and reputation enhancement in Europe, North America, Africa and China, having operated both in the corporate and agency worlds in the energy, pharmaceutical, chemical, FMCG, high-tech, and defense industries.

A version of this article was originally published on the website of the EACD's partner magazine Communication Director.