How Multistakeholder Partnerships Can Accelerate the UN Sustainable Development Goals



  • Business: for-profit organization. Also referenced as the private sector.
  • Civil society organization (CSO): nonprofit or nongovernmental organization. CSOs can range from small community organizations to large international groups.
  • Contribution analysis: methodology to assess how a program, partnership, or organization contributes to a particular outcome.
  • Enabling partnership: partnerships convening stakeholders within an industry, supply chain, sector, or issue area to exchange knowledge, set standards, or influence policy. These partnerships affect transformation by shifting policy or sharing information that shifts an entire sector or group of actors onto a sustainable pathway.
  • Evaluation: the process of analyzing information and data to answer whether a partnership is meeting its objectives. Evaluation is about “sense-making, reality-checking, assumption testing, and answering questions” (FSG and Collective Impact Forum 2020).
  • External stakeholder: an individual or organization outside of a given partnership that has interests in or is affected by said partnership.
  • Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR): the fusion of physical, biological, and digital spheres through technologies such as the Internet of Things, advanced energy storage, 3D printing, precision agriculture, and autonomous vehicles (Schwab 2016).
  • Government: governing body, agency, or ministry at the national, regional, or state level. Also referenced as the public sector.
  • Intermediate actions: a partnership’s immediate next steps or the activities needed to achieve its near-term goals and, ultimately, its transformation vision.
  • Learning: the ability to take evaluation results and integrate them into a partnership’s approach to improve its effectiveness at meeting its objectives, to plan ahead, and to take risks.
  • Market-driven partnership: partnerships creating a new product, asset, service, or business model that can overcome market barriers and eventually find commercial viability. These partnerships affect transformation by launching a new product or service that incentivize other actors in a market operate in line with sustainable practices.
  • Monitoring, evaluation, learning, and reporting (MELR): performance-tracking system used to understand progress on goals and learn from successes and failures. MELR moves beyond short-term performance tracking to integrate systems thinking.
  • Monitoring: the process of systematically and regularly collecting information and data to track a partnership’s progress on its activities.
  • Multistakeholder partnership : A voluntary collaboration among two or more stakeholders, whereby stakeholders are committed through a formal agreement to share resources, accountability, risks, leadership, and benefits to meet a specific SDG-related objective (UN 2015). These are also often referred to as cross-sectoral partnerships. This report focuses on multistakeholder partnerships with transformation potential. That is, partnerships comprising at least one government and one business and/or CSO that aspire to change the system in which they operate. Also referenced as partnerships, or partnerships with transformative ambitions.
  • Near-term goals: a partnership’s one- to five-year goals related to building a strong foundation to implement its approach. Goals could include securing stakeholder commitments, piloting an approach, securing funding, or collecting data.
  • Reporting: efforts to summarize evaluation findings and lessons learned with different audiences. Reporting can come in many forms, including annual reports, quarterly updates, PowerPoint presentations, and webinars.
  • Stakeholder: an organization (business, government, or CSO) that is participating in a partnership.
  • Success factor: a partnership behavior or structural component, identified in existing literature on multistakeholder partnerships as critical for, but not a guarantee of, partnership success.
  • System mapping: process of identifying and understanding the components (i.e., actors, institutions, graphics, relationships, power dynamics) of a given system. Tools to do this include social network analysis, actor mapping, timeline mapping, and appreciative inquiry.
  • System: interconnected elements, including diverse actors, institutions, and geographies, with a function or purpose (Meadows 2008; Holland 1998). Systems can operate across multiple levels and scale and are characterized by the relationships and power dynamics among elements.
  • Systems change: often used in academic literature to refer to sweeping changes to an existing construct or system. For the purposes of this paper, we consider this the same as transformation.
  • Systems thinking: the ability to see how a partnership is influencing system conditions, how system conditions interact and influence each other, and ultimately how the partnership is contributing to addressing the problem of interest (adapted from Preskill and Cook 2020).
  • Theory of change: articulates how a partnership’s strategy and actions will lead to its transformation goal. A complete theory of change requires an understanding of the system of interest and the underlying assumptions about how partnership actions will change system conditions.
  • Transformation: the outcome of transformative change or action, which can be thought of as the transformational impact; a drastic shift in the way a system operates whereby change percolates throughout a system’s elements and interrelations. This report characterizes transformation as change that is systemic, nonlinear, disruptive of the status quo, and long-term and sustained.
  • Transformation impacts: measurable transformation outcome.
  • Transformation maturity spectrum: a partnership’s progress to date on fulfilling its full transformation potential.
  • Transformation potential: a partnership’s predicted ability to effect transformative change based on seven criteria across four categories: innovation, impact, scaling, and implementation viability. See Appendix D for partnership evaluation methodology.
  • Transformation vision: a partnership’s ultimate systems-change goal. This may be the launch of a new product or service, the exchange of key information, or the development of a policy that will shift system conditions.
  • Transformative change: the process of transformation.
  • Transformative partnership: multistakeholder partnership that results in transformation. Also referenced as transformative multistakeholder partnership or transformative collaborations.
Start reading