Learning spaces in multi-stakeholder initiatives: The German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles as a platform for dialogue and learning?

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Learning in collaborative governance is often recognized as an important component for sustainability transformation, but is mainly seen as a side-effect alongside governance outcomes. However, bringing together heterogeneous perspectives is crucial to fully capture the wicked sustainability challenges. We know very little about how learning is facilitated in collaborative governance. This empirical article assesses a multi-stakeholder initiative (MSI) and examines the extent to which it provides spaces for learning. It proposes an analytical framework for investigating social learning spaces along three prerequisites: diversity of member organizations, structure and quality of interactions. A qualitative and quantitative social network analysis (SNA) indicates that the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles (Textiles Partnership) has a large number of heterogeneous members, which holds great potential for learning. However, due to deliberative-democratic structures and the prioritisation of governance outcomes it closes down spaces for learning for the wide diversity of members. The article argues for the design of spaces for learning by emphasising that diversity of perceptions is crucial for a better understanding of the wicked sustainability challenges.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100113
JournalEarth System Governance
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 01.09.2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was made possible within the graduate school “Processes of Sustainability Transformation”, which is a cooperation between Leuphana University of Lüneburg and the Robert Bosch Stiftung. The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support from the Robert Bosch Stiftung ( 12.5. F082.0021.0 ).

Funding Information:
Furthermore, the structures around the three pillars of individual responsibility, joined commitment and mutual support show limits and potentials of private governance to create learning spaces for the whole network (Fig. 3 ? dimension C). With regard to individual responsibility, where all members are expected to submit binding annual roadmaps to make progress towards sustainability visible, the platform offers a wealth of knowledge aggregates on sector risks and due diligence guidance: ?We are now so well organized in the members' area, where webinars are offered on all kinds of topics. So I think this learning character is given for many and you can enter into an exchange with all the views that are represented in Germany if you want to? (Transcript 3, Company 01). However, civil society representatives and especially more critical NGOs question the impact due to the binding roadmaps: ?[ ?] random samples are taken to check whether what is written in the roadmaps [is implemented], but you know, this is nothing fundamental, [ ?] so you can also question how much is not audited [?]? (Transcript 14, NGO 05). With regard to joined commitment, partnership initiatives actively strive for improvements in textile-producing countries. These are also appointed by the steering committee and attention is paid to ensuring that they consist of a multi-actor constellation. However, here again, the voluntary commitment of business actors is sparse, which may also be due to the fact that economic actors have to co-finance 50% of the projects and, like others, weigh up their financial and human resources. A successful example, however, is the Tamil Nadu Partnership Initiative, which aims to systematically improve working conditions in the southern Indian state (Textiles Partnership, 2018). Through cooperation the initiative has trained ?more than 10,000 workers in South India in their rights and has begun to build up structures on the ground to support and promote long-term dialogue on this issue? (Transcript 04, Company 02). Here, representatives of the state, an NGO and four companies have joined together as main partners, with two associated partners from another company and a standard organization, as well as two NGOs from India. Initially, it was the NGO representative who introduced the issue and today, cross-stakeholder organizational structures have since been formed (Textiles Partnership, 2019). The last pillar, which stands for the dialogue and learning of the partnership, also invites external associate members (Fig. 3 ? dimension D), to create learning and exchange spaces. At so-called networking events, all members are invited to discuss specific topics in workshop formats. In addition, there is the online platform where jointly developed knowledge aggregates are made available, but which also functions as a communication tool for all members.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors

    Research areas

  • Collaborative governance, Multi-stakeholder governance, Social network analysis, Deliberative democracy, Corporate social responsibility, Sustainability transformations
  • Environmental Governance