Global Governance | Readout and Recommendations

Understanding the Future Actors in Transnational Governance

December 2015


On October 14–16, 2015, experts and policymakers from academia, government, international organizations, and civil society gathered at the Airlie Center outside Washington, DC, to participate in the Stanley Center’s 56th annual Strategy for Peace Conference. This year’s conference featured autonomous roundtables where experts focused on ideas, challenges, and recommendations in four key global issue areas: Climate Change/Carbon Pricing, Human Protection from Mass Atrocity, Nuclear Security, and Global Governance

Transnational governance provides a way to fill complex and interdependent international policy gaps. Experts and policymakers discussed several fundamental questions about how nonstate actors and global governance institutions should interact.

This policy dialogue brief uses examples highlighted during the discussion to outline the context in which transnational actors operate, the processes and forms that transnational governance can take, and the practices of transnational governance or results of these processes. The objectives of the roundtable were to develop a method to identify the main actors and their roles for any issue area and to develop options for transnational governance that could be applied across a variety of issue areas. The roundtable grew out of a Stanley Center workshop in November 2014, cohosted with the World Future Society and the National Defense University.

Key points in the discussion included:

  • Forms that transnational governance takes depend on a variety of factors, including the type of actors involved and their functional capabilities, the issue area under consideration, relationships between transnational and local actors, and the method of engagement between transnational actors and traditional state-centric institutions. Engagement can be categorized along a spectrum, including from oppositional to collaborative, top down to bottom up, or formal to informal. Even in polarized policy environments, transnational actors can play a crucial role of building bridges between stakeholders.
  • Transnational actors should decide on the issue or goal to pursue and build a coalition around it rather than attempting to form a coalition before deciding what issue to pursue. In formulating multistakeholder processes around a policy issue, nonstate actors, states, and international organizations should engage each other to achieve the greatest amount of legitimacy through widespread buy-in, accountability to stakeholders (especially locals), and demonstration of effectiveness.
  • More understanding is needed on how to improve accountability of transnational actors, emerging global governance gaps where transnational actors can fill in, settings where nonstate actors are restricted by heavy-handed governance or take governing roles where the state is weak, and how to view violent nonstate actors.