How private meta-governance helps standard-setting partnerships deliver

Lili Mundle (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, Bonn, Germany)
Marianne Beisheim (German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin, Germany)
Lars Berger (Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, Bonn, Germany)

Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal

ISSN: 2040-8021

Publication date: 6 November 2017



This paper aims to analyze the relevance of private meta-governance for multi-stakeholder partnerships. The authors assume that meta-governance, defined as higher level rules that shall guide partnerships’ governance activities, could build on and institutionalize lessons learned about partnerships’ success conditions and, in doing so, may render partnerships’ work more effective in the future.


The research paper investigates a case of non-state meta-governance in the standard-setting arena. It explores how actors assess the interaction of the meta-governance efforts of the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling (ISEAL) Alliance (mainly in the form of their three Codes of Good Practice) and the Alliance for Water Stewardship’s efforts when setting and implementing their International Water Stewardship Standard. For this, a combination of research methods is applied: a literature review for deriving propositions on success conditions; document analysis, participatory observation and semi-structured interviews for gathering empirical evidence on the interaction between meta-governance and the partnership’s work.


Respondents praise the benefits of ISEAL’s enabling meta-governance measures to strengthen their standard, structures and processes, as well as from ensuring activities, as these also improve their internal governance system while simultaneously providing credibility. In this context, they confirm the relevance of three success factors mentioned in the literature on voluntary standards: an inclusive process, a locally adapted design of the standard and institutionalized compliance management.

Practical implications

Instead of reinventing the wheel with every new multi-stakeholder partnership, meta-governance frameworks should be used to enable partnership staff and members, policymakers and stakeholders to learn from experience.


The authors’ analysis generates unique insights into perceptions of partnerships’ staff and stakeholders regarding lessons learned and private meta-governance. The present study on these actors’ perspectives provides a starting-point for further research on how meta-governance could help institutionalize success factors to scale-up and improve the impact of standard-setting partnerships.



Mundle, L., Beisheim, M. and Berger, L. (2017), "How private meta-governance helps standard-setting partnerships deliver", Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, Vol. 8 No. 5, pp. 525-546.

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