Multi-stakeholder Partnerships for Sustainability: Designing Decision-Making Processes for Partnership Capacity

  • Adriane MacDonaldEmail author
  • Amelia Clarke
  • Lei Huang
Original Article


To address the prevalence and complexities of sustainable development challenges around the world, organizations in the business, government, and non-profit sectors are increasingly collaborating via multi-stakeholder partnerships. Because complex problems can be neither understood nor addressed by a single organization, it is necessary to bring together the knowledge and resources of many stakeholders. Yet, how these partnerships coordinate their collaborative activities to achieve mutual and organization-specific goals is not well understood. This study takes an organization design perspective of collaborative decision-making processes to explore how they impact the effectiveness of multi-stakeholder partnerships. We compare the decision-making processes of 94 sustainability-focused multi-stakeholder partnerships and find that collaborative decision-making has an indirect and positive impact on partnership capacity through systems that keep partners informed, coordinate partner interactions, and facilitate ongoing learning. The implications of this study for multi-stakeholder partnership research and practice are that partnership capacity is contingent on the design of decision-making processes, as well as internal mechanisms that coordinate and monitor collaborative activities.


Collaborative governance Community sustainability plans Cross-sector social partnerships Local Agenda 21 Multi-stakeholder partnerships Partnership capacity Sustainable development Sustainable cities Stakeholder engagement 



This study was funded by the following agencies: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Mitacs, and the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Adriane MacDonald, Amelia Clarke, and Lei Huang declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dhillon School of BusinessUniversity of LethbridgeLethbridgeCanada
  2. 2.School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED)University of WaterlooWaterlooCanada
  3. 3.School of BusinessThe State University of New York at FredoniaFredoniaUSA

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