Are multi-stakeholder platforms effective approaches to agri-food sustainability? Towards better assessment

Jodie Thorpe*, Thom Sprenger, Joost Guijt, Darian Stibbe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Multi-stakeholder platforms (MSPs) have proved popular as network governance approaches to align business, government, NGOs and other stakeholders in dealing with complex sustainability challenges in the agri-food sector. However, secretariats, members, stakeholders and funders rarely possess good information regarding MSP effectiveness, leaving them in the dark regarding how best to allocate resources and expectations towards different MSPs or MSP activities. This paper explores the feasibility of generating better and more timely evidence of the effectiveness of MSPs as agents of agri-food system transformation. It is based on the findings of action research with two agri-food MSPs: Bonsucro and the Farm to Market Alliance (FtMA), which used a theory-based methodology to understand progress towards intended results. Through critical questioning of their theory of change alongside multiple sources of evidence, the approach generated new insights regarding MSP effectiveness. The findings also offer lessons on three critical challenges in assessing network governance forms like MSPs: causal inference, goal attainment, and the potential for scale. The findings have implications for improving MSPs’ own monitoring in order to adaptively manage and improve their effectiveness, and for generating meaningful evidence of MSP contribution to more sustainable food systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-183
JournalInternational Journal of Agricultural Sustainability
Issue number2
Early online date16 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2022


  • agri-food system
  • effectiveness
  • Multi-stakeholder platform
  • network governance
  • theory-based assessment


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