Seeing Eye to Eye: Recognising the ‘Public’ as a Stakeholder in Multistakeholder Initiatives

By Connor Rees

The Seeing Eye to Eye: Developing Sustainable Multistakeholder Communities (SE2E) project was developed and funded through the 2022 Terrorism and Social Media (TASM) Conference sandpit event. The project aim is conducting empirical research into how various stakeholders view and experience multistakeholderism in countering terrorism and violent extremism online (TVE) as part of the larger umbrella of “preventing and countering violent extremism,” or P/CVE. A primary animating question of the sandpit team as we developed the project was: “How can a shared responsibility framework for robust cross sector work be developed?” Read the firstsecond,  third, and fourth blog posts in the series.

The term multistakeholder (MS) has become increasingly visible in research, initiatives, and funding across the P/CVE domain. Whilst there is no clear definition there are many ways to understand this term, particularly due to its wide application across domains. A contemporary definition that has seen widespread use is Harris Gleckman’s 2019 definition which states that MS can be understood as bringing together actors that have a potential “stake” in an issue and asking them to collaborate on solutions. In P/CVE contexts, one stakeholder group that is often overlooked is the ‘public,’ the everyday individuals who suffer the impacts and material effects of extremism and terrorism.

The increased uptake of MS initiatives in P/CVE indicates there are numerous advantages to taking this approach to carry out a project. Drawing on the views and experiences of numerous P/CVE practitioners in our SE2E workshop, some advantages of multistakeholderism include message communication, networking, knowledge sharing, trust, and credibility building. However, successfully realising these benefits requires careful balancing and meaningful integration of different stakeholder perspectives, needs, and concerns. Often perceptions that large, powerful organisations use an MS framework for reputation building can limit these benefits. Serious consideration of the ‘public’ as stakeholders, rather than simply as beneficiaries of MS initiatives, offers a framework for maximising the desired outcomes of MS work in P/CVE.

The Public’s Role in Multistakeholder Initiatives

Supporting the public is often a key purpose of MS initiatives. Despite this, in many MS initiatives in P/CVE the public lack representation as a stakeholder. Despite variability in scope and application there are key factors that are present across MS P/CVE initiatives. The purpose of these initiatives is to involve actors that have a “stake” in an issue and engage with them to collaborate on solutions with the primary function of serving the public.

Stakeholder collaboration, shared solutions, and serving the public are present in a range of P/CVE MS initiatives. Their qualities can be seen in a number of international networks within the domain, created for differing purposes. For example, these range from the European Commission’s Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), to governmental policies such as the UK’s Prevent Strategy, to industry-led forums such as the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT). However, there is little clarity on the public’s role within these initiatives and others like them.

The Qualities of Multistakeholder Initiatives

The primary category that epitomises the strength of a MS approach largely refers to communication. The significance of communication in MS initiatives can be found in examples where the local involvement of community is embedded from the beginning, so that those who are slated to benefit from MS solutions are involved in the process. If used more widely, this approach would contribute to a larger aim of using the MS model to make informed decisions forged from numerous differing perspectives. This points to an understanding drawn from one of the project participants which is to phrase MS work as a process of translation. Through this lens, the language of a variety of stakeholders can be more clearly communicated to make essential information more comprehensible to other stakeholders, including beneficiaries.

In many cases MS initiatives include or are established by large organisations. From the individual accounts and themes in the research, there is concern and scepticism around the agendas of such organisations. Some researchers caution that large organisations may use MS initiatives as a means to improve their social standing and reputation without giving due regard to incorporating wider stakeholder interests, needs, and perspectives. Although the many potential benefits can act to offset these concerns, it is necessary to identify and emphasise MS initiatives as a means to a solution and not a solution within itself.

There is a lack of consensus as to what public representation means in practice. Future research into what true public representation looks like could increase the effectiveness of this method. For example, are civil society organisations, charities, or lived-experience experts regarded as ‘the public’, or is a more detached, less expert viewpoint necessary to meet this criterion. A shared understanding of what is meant by public representation could help build transparency and remove any loopholes to meet this criterion.

The Future of the Public in Multistakeholder Initiatives

Having established that communication (and informed decision making), is the primary function for MS work, understanding how to leverage this strength to offset the limitations of this approach is essential. Opening MS initiatives to include the public is an underexplored avenue in the P/CVE space. The practice and academic domains are seeing a gradual shift towards recognising the role of the public in MS work. However, this route can be overlooked for a number of reasons, from the sensitivity of information to the necessity of specialised knowledge.

Despite potential reservations, it is important to communicate the numerous advantages that considering the public as a stakeholder in MS initiatives yields. The Internet Society identifies four key reasons to consider adopting a MS approach. These consist of having contact with the people who the work will impact, considering responsibilities across sectors, acquiring the necessary expertise, and furthering legitimacy and acceptance of process and outcomes. The involvement of a member of the public relevant to the aims of the initiative is likely to contribute positively to each of these four aspects, as well as offsetting limiting factors including corporate agendas. Despite this there are currently only a limited number of examples where this can be seen as the public has so far been underrepresented as a stakeholder in MS initiatives.


This blog has used practitioner insights alongside literature to identify some of the many strengths associated with carrying out a MS approach in the P/CVE sector. From pairing observations taken from P/CVE practitioners with research on the MS model, there are a number of distinct strengths that practitioners should be conscious of when considering this model. These strengths centre around a broad theme of communication. Including the public in some capacity as a recognised stakeholder in MS initiatives can maximise the strengths and minimise limitations associated with a MS approach.

Connor Rees is a PhD researcher and a member of the Cyber Threats Research Centre (CYTREC) at Swansea University, and a member of the VOX-Pol Network.  Found on X: @Connor_Rees67

Image Credit: FREEPIK

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