Increasing calls from stakeholders for a greater role in public decision making has led to the rapid world-wide adoption of multi stakeholder collaboration for policymaking. In line with this emerging trend the Government of Nepal with support from its long-time development partners and bi-lateral donors initiated a policy level experiment in January 2012. A new forestry program, the Multi Stakeholder Forestry Program (MSFP) was designed to be steered by multiple stakeholders from planning to the implementation stage. This was by far the most ambitious forestry program in the country with a financial commitment of USD 150 million for ten years. The overarching aim of the program was donor-aid harmonization, institutionalization of multiple stakeholder collaboration in decision-making processes, and governance reform in the forest sector. In 2016, only four years after its launch, the MSFP terminated early.
What explains this early termination? Through analysis of the stakeholders' perceptions about the factors that enabled or constrained the collaborative processes in the MSFP, this study provides insights into the issues in policy-level collaborations specific to the context in developing countries where international aid plays an important role in shaping country priorities and processes. The Integrated Framework for Collaborative Governance is applied to understand the stakeholder perceptions related to collaboration challenges at the program level. And the Framework of Socio-Technical Imaginaries is applied to understand challenges associated with the broader contextual and/or system level factors.
The findings of the study indicate that the straightforward explanation for the MSFP’s early termination was the failure to meet the benchmark set for the successful completion of the first phase. This was the creation of a new multi stakeholder national forest entity to manage the program in the second phase. While a majority of stakeholders viewed the lack of Nepal government’s leadership and ownership to form the entity as the prime constraint in the program, deeper investigation provides insights into a myriad of challenges that contributed to the program’s collapse. This included struggles for power and authority between the powerful actors, disparity in stakeholder capacities to collaborate, inability of the program leadership to generate political support, and the lack of adaptive capacity of the program management to respond to the changing socio-political environment.
Analysis of the study findings contribute to the scholarly debates on the normative positioning of development as a technical matter and suggests reassessing technical solutions such as creating new institutions to solve development problems. Further, the study draws attention on the time investment needed for collaborative processes especially in complex programs such as the MSFP that was experimenting with new approaches in a fluid political context. This case study recommends acknowledging the centrality of politics in development processes, and further highlights the need for adaptive program management that is responsive to the evolving socio-political context.